Breathing and dystonia

Now that I have recovered from embouchure dystonia I can look back and reflect on what caused it. I believe that decades of playing with insufficient air flow contributed to the problem. This reduced air flow was caused by a misunderstanding of how breathing works and an insistent adherence to some traditional, yet flawed, breathing mantras.

Mantras such as “breathe low”…meaning that to breathe well, one must push out the abdomen, where the bellybutton is. To be clear: there is most certainly abdominal expansion when we breathe, but the abdominal expansion is not what causes air to come into the body. The abdominal expansion is the natural result of the diaphragm’s descent. As the diaphragm contracts (upon INHALATION), it pushes down on the contents of the abdominal cavity (the internal organs). The contents of the abdominal cavity move out in every direction (and down) as the natural result of the diaphragm’s descent.

The abdominal expansion should be allowed to happen – not made to happen.

Those who try to MAKE abdominal expansion happen create tension in the body and (ironically) reduce the air flow. I did this for many years and I believe the reduced air flow made the muscles of my embouchure work harder, thereby contributing to the development of dystonia.

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  1. #1 by Amanda on December 12, 2010 - 3:30 am

    Hi. I am a euphonium player. Do you have any tips to share? And how do I know that my abdominal expansion happens naturally and not made to happen?

    • #2 by viningda on December 12, 2010 - 4:45 pm

      Hi Amanda,

      That’s a good question. Ask yourself if you are actively trying to push out your tummy – down where your bellybutton is. This can be a habit that is cultivated slowly over time so you don’t even know you are doing it!

      Try lying on the floor to observe your breathing. Don’t change anything – just observe the subtle movement of your breathing. See if you can sense any tension in your body. This can be tricky because, again, habitual movement patterns can be very subtle and very ingrained.

      Try listening to this constructive rest sound file as you lie on the floor:

      Constructive Rest

      When you breathe well as you hold the euphonium, the instrument is likely to move a little as your ribs move. You should let it move in response to your rib movement. If you are clutching the instrument tightly to your body, you will inhibit your breathing.

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