Posts Tagged breathing myths

Cause and Effect

When the ribs move in conjunction with the diaphragm’s descent, air is brought into the body. It is the movement of the ribs and diaphragm and subsequent expansion of the thoracic cavity which causes air to come into the body.

Air coming into the body does not cause the ribs and diaphragm to move – that’s backwards.

The lungs don’t do anything by themselves – they depend upon surrounding structures (the ribs and diaphragm) to move. If it weren’t for the ribs and diaphragm moving, the lungs would just sit there like a liver or an appendix.

 

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The Importance of Rib Movement

Ribs are designed to move by virtue of their attachment to the sternum via the costal cartiledge and their attachment to the spine via joints. The costal cartiledge is spongy and flexible, allowing the ribs to swing up and out. In fact, when the ribs swing up and out upon inhalation, they twist the cartiledge, storing energy in the cartiledge. When we exhale, the energy is released, in a phenomenon known as elastic recoil.

It’s the ribs moving that causes the thoracic cavity to expand in volume and the air to rush in.

It’s not the air rushing in that causes the ribs to move – that’s backwards! Rib motion is a primary motion of breathing.

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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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Give it a try…

Are you unsure of all this breathing information? Does some of it conflict with what you have been taught?

I encourage you to keep an open mind and give it a try. When I came to the information it was out of desperation because I couldn’t play at all; my incentive was simply to get better.

Perhaps your incentive is simply curiosity or a desire to improve upon what you can already do. Either way, give it a chance and genuinely learn the breathing information. You might be pleasantly surprised!

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Good and Bad Breathing

Check out this video demonstrating good and bad breathing.

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Breathing Quotes

“The lungs do not fill up like a pitcher filling with water from the bottom up. Air goes to all sections of the lungs at the same time.”   Page 40 of Also Sprach Arnold Jacobs compiled by Bruce Nelson

“Our breathing reflects every emotional or physical effort and every disturbance.”   Page 37 of Awareness Through Movement by Moshe Feldenkrais

“To have a minimum of stress, and therefore of strain, within the body, not only must the structure as a whole be in balanced relation with the outside forces, but each part must be in balance with every other part within the system.”   Page 56 of The Thinking Body by Mabel Todd

“Like circulation and digestion, breathing is a natural function, and the only way it can be improved is to create the right conditions in the whole organism by changing unnecessary tension patterns within the body that interfere with it.”   Page 135 of Body Learning by Michael Gelb

“Breathe to expand, don’t expand to breathe.”   Page 44 of Also Sprach Arnold Jacobs compiled by Bruce Nelson

“The activity of both sets of muscles, the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles, varies reciprocally. Thus, during inspiration the tonus of the diaphragm increases while that of the abdominal muscles decreases, and vice-versa during expiration. Hence there exists between these two muscle groups a floating equilibrium constantly shifting in both directions.”   Page 143 of The Body Moveable by David Gorman

“In order to recognize small changes in effort, the effort itself must first be reduced. More delicate and improved control of movement is possible only through the increase of sensitivity, through a greater ability to sense differences.”   Page 59 of Awareness Through Movement by Moshe Feldenkrais

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Handling the Naysayers

I have posted some of this information on the various forums which proliferate the internet. The responses to my postings have run the gamut from gratitude to vehement disagreement (to put it nicely!).

Few things in music are objective; rhythm comes to mind – either the phrase is in time or it’s not. The mechanics of breathing are also in this category; either you are moving well and breathing well or you are not. How one moves to breathe is not a matter of opinion, it is science.

The subjective part of breathing comes from how we choose to teach it and what we choose to think in order to do it well. Some teachers say “breathe like you are filling up a glass of water” as a metaphorical way of teaching breathing. This phrase is debunked elsewhere on this blog, but for now, I wanted to delve into the motivation for saying such a thing.

The moment the student hears the phrase, they are obligated to move in the way that it suggests. They will literally try to move their bodies as though the air travels to the bottom first and then upward a little at a time. If this motion were not really what the teacher intended then why did the teacher say this? Once the phrase is introduced, the motion is dictated.

“But I didn’t mean to take the phrase quite so literally…” rebuts the teacher. OK…then why did you say it? Once the phrase is introduced, the student will move in that way. If the student is not supposed to move in that way, then why introduce the phrase? It is a Mobius Strip of cause and effect which is unavoidable.

Don’t perpetuate myths that could not possibly be true. Let’s reserve subjective metaphors for subjective musical variables such as phrasing or vibrato. Breathing belongs in the objective category along with rhythm and intonation.

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