The Great Diaphragmatic Breathing Debate

Published Categorized as Singing Lessons Online
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About the great diaphragmatic breathing debate

Diaphragmatic breathing is touted as a useful breathing technique for singers. Some singers, however, have experienced untoward effects when implementing the method. This post explains that the diaphragmatic breathing technique has adverse effects that are not desirable when singing.

The greatdiaphragmatic breathing debate was sparked from a post encouraging singers not to use it

Reader reactions to a post on disphragmatic breathing
The post titled Six Reasons To Say “No” To Diaphragmatic Breathing was originally published in 2010. It produced a rather angry response from a proponent of diaphragmatic breathing which will be reviewed in this article.

A widely practiced technique in singing, diaphragmatic breathing was practiced by the writer when studying singing some years ago. However, it produced many problems.

What is the diaphragm

The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle. It lies at the base of the lungs. The muscle is located horizontally between the thoracic cavity (where the lungs are located) and the abdominal cavity which lies below it. It lies at the base of the lungs.

When a human inhales, the lungs fill with air and the diaphragm (green) flattens. This allows the lungs to obtain room to expand and fill up with air. During breathing out or exhalation, air pressure in the lungs decreases and they recoil without effort. The diaphragm also recoils effortlessly to its normal position.

the great diaphragmatic breathing debate
Changes in the diaphragm during breahing. Source: Wikipedia, 2021

What is the diaphragmatic breathing technique?

Diaphragmatic breathing, focuses on allowing the abdomen to raise during inhalation. Proponents believe that this allows the diaphragm to contract and flatten as the ribs expand. During exhalation, the stomach is returned to normal position and it is believed that this causes the diaphragm to return to its dome shape, thus pushing air out of the lungs.

Normal human breathing function does not support the diaphragmatic breathing technique

Normal human breathing function supports a natural recoil of the lungs and diaphragm when an individual breathes out after inhalation. Here is a brief overview of the changes in the breathing apparatus during inhalation and exhalation:

When we breathe in, air enters the lungs and the following changes take place:

1. the lungs and ribs expand and fill with air.
2. The diaphragm lowers and becomes flat to give way to the inflated lungs.

If you place your hand on the ribs (the bony part at the front of the chest), you will feel the chest rising and widening during inhalation.

When we breathe out:

1. the lungs and ribs recoil and return to normal position without effort.
2. the diaphragm returns to its normal position.

Again, place the hands on the ribs at the front during exhalation. You should feel the chest fall when you breathe out.

Normally some effort is required for breathing in (not much) while breathing out is an effortless activity. Normal breathing is an effortless activity and this should be maintained when singing.

One factor that affects normal breathing is the ELASTICITY AND FLEXIBILITY of the breathing structures.

One reason that singers “run out of air” is due to the inability to match the escape of air with the duration of the phrases or sentences that they need to sing.

Read the response of the reader to the post against diaphragmatic breathing

Reader One’s response on Aug 17, 2010 @ 01:52:17

You have completely misunderstood that article. Go and do your own research, speak to ENT’s, take an anatomy class and try to fully understand what diaphragmatic breathing should be about before giving out advice. A lot of people teach diaphragmatic breathing incorrectly, because they too were once students who misunderstood the concept, but that does not mean that the method is useless, just the teachers.

Another Reader also wrote the following on January 19, 2011 @ 12:14:21

Diaphragmatic Breathing is how a baby breaths. No harm in breathing like a baby. Get on your back on the floor,and put your hands on your stomach, You will breath in a relaxed way. Take in a deep breath,and when you do it right your elbows will come off of the floor. .A baby breaths this way naturally.

Our response to the Reader One who practices diaphragmatic breathing

Dear Reader,

Thanks for your comment. I have personally used diaphragmatic breathing in singing, based on the writings of Graham Green. Singers were taught to pull in on the stomach in order to help the diaphragm to push air out of the lungs.

I personally experienced the following results:

* exhaustion
* I had to concentrate fully on pushing air out of the lungs
* I experienced over-breathing and lack of adequate tone and volume in the voice

I was relieved to discover and use a more natural approach to breathing in singing. I have since improved and developed the tone, range and quality of my voice by simple breathing exercises. Now I use the natural approach to singing and have no problems at all.

I have taken and taught anatomy (sic). I have also personally observed that babies and other individuals such as asthmatics in severe respiratory distress use the abdominals to help the diaphragm to push air out of the lungs.

Any text on pathophysiology reveals that use of the abdominal muscles for breathing is an abnormal state in the respiratory system. People with this condition usually require immediate respiratory support.

My only logical conclusion is that diaphragmatic breathing will force the singer into a state of respiratory distress.

Sincerely
Blog Writer.

Conclusion

This site strongly recommends that breathing in singing should be a natural process. Simple breathing exercises should train the respiratory structures to become flexible and function to their fullest potential.

Singers with problems like asthma have reported improvement in breathing as a result of practicing these exercises. Here is one example:

Breathe in slowly, naturally, and quietly through the nose.
Allow the lungs to fill (ribs will expand).
Hold the breath for three counts.
Breathe out through the nose slowly, rhythmically, and in a controlled manner.
Do not let the air rush out of the lungs.

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