With the publication of new studies, doctors have started recommending breathing exercises for those with asthma in addition to medicine and other treatments. The goal of these exercises is to strengthen the diaphragm and increase breath control. Professional singers use some of these same exercises to learn to draw in more air and to control their exhalation while singing. Over time, the diaphragm and chest muscles strengthen, making breathing easier and more efficient.
So, can singing help your asthma? If you train and do the exercises, then yes, you might see some improvement in symptoms. Plus, you may discover some hidden talents you didn’t know you had. At the very least, you should have a bit of fun with the breathing exercises.
The Science Behind Breathing
Before we discuss breath control exercises, it is important that you understand exactly what happens when you inhale and exhale. Of course, we could fill pages and pages with the millions of small events that occur in your body with every breath. However, proper breath control only requires knowledge of the basics.
When you inhale, your body brings in oxygen. When you exhale, your body disposes of carbon dioxide. Each part of your respiratory system plays an important role (small or large) in ensuring that your body accomplishes these 2 things.
In order to breathe freely and comfortably, your lungs must have enough room to expand. When you inhale, your body makes room for your lungs by pushing your diaphragm down and expanding your rib cage. The air you inhale travels through a series of airways before eventually arriving at a group of tiny blood vessels, where oxygen is then transferred to your blood.
Singers primarily focus on controlling their diaphragm. The ability to monitor your own breathing muscles helps you take in a steady amount of oxygen while remaining calm and in control.
First Things First: Setting the Stage
Before beginning the actual breathing exercises, it is important to create the right environment. If you feel tense, stressed, panicked, etc., it will affect your breathing rate and also your ability to inhale.
Begin every breathing exercise with the following steps.
1. Adjust your posture.
You have probably noticed that you breathe better in certain positions. For regular breathing techniques, stand up and align your feet with your hips. Evenly distribute your weight on either side and relax your shoulders and knees. Keep your chin in a natural position and visualize relaxing the muscles in your neck.
Depending on the exercise you choose, you may have to adjust your position. However, for basic breath control, this posture provides an element of relaxation and focus.
2. Physically relax your muscles.
Most people unconsciously tense their muscles before tackling a task, even if the task requires relaxation. Before beginning your singing techniques, take care to feel each muscle relax. Pay particular attention to your neck, shoulders, back, jaw, and knees. Exhale slowly to drain your muscles of excess tension.
3. Focus intently on your breathing and your breathing only.
Often, people panic when they become aware of their own breathing and suddenly feel like they aren’t taking in enough oxygen. However, before you can gain unconscious control of your breathing, you must obtain conscious control. Close your eyes and listen to yourself breathe. Relax and focus.
Singing Exercises that Improve Breath Control
So, how exactly do professional singers master breath control? Most singers exercise their lungs regularly by applying the following methods.
1. Practice breathing quickly.
Singers have to learn to take quick breaths between phrases. Likewise, maximizing air intake in short spurts is extremely beneficial for those with chronic lung diseases.
To exercise quick breathing, begin by panting. Stay relaxed so as not to hyperventilate, but quickly inhale and exhale in short breaths. Focus on the movement of your diaphragm. Feel it move upwards and downwards. If you find panting difficult, practice gasping once. Gasping opens your airways and sucks oxygen into your body quickly. Try to gasp silently, like you are merely taking a breath between phrases.
Another way to breathe quickly is to breathe rhythmically. Count to 4, and inhale on each count, then count to 4 again, exhaling on each count. Keep your shoulders relaxed, and never suck in your stomach.
2. Take in large breaths in a slow, controlled manner.
You can perform this breath control exercise from any position, so practice both standing up and lying down. Inhaling and exhaling slowly strengthens your lungs and trains your body to stay calm and relaxed. Simply breathe in through your nose or mouth for 4 or 5 seconds, hold your breath for 8 seconds, then release your breath for 4 or 5 more seconds. Repeat until your body is fully relaxed.
Take care to avoid tensing your throat and jaws. Your body should stay relaxed, with your diaphragm in a natural position.
3. Practice controlled exhalation.
To practice exhaling slowly, light a candle, and hold it near your face. Take a deep breath, then slowly exhale through your mouth without blowing the flame out. Keep your diaphragm expanded as you exhale, then slowly return it to its natural position after you finish.
You can also test your breath control by doing all exercises on an “ah” or “oh” sound. If your voice sounds airy, you are probably not giving it enough breath support.
Do Breathing Exercises Increase Lung Capacity?
It is important to understand that breathing exercises cannot increase your total lung capacity. Additionally, no breathing exercise can permanently eliminate chronic lung disease. However, practicing breathing techniques can help you maintain control over your lung condition, reducing panic attacks, flare-ups, and hyperventilation.
Additionally, you can monitor your breathing through spirometry. Together, lung tests and breath control place you a step ahead of your lung disease, empowering you to take charge of your health.