I remember the confusion in my mind when I was told I’d have to get surgery. I had been a student of voice for about ten years at the time. “ Fill your belly w air, and squeeze it like a tube of toothpaste”, my teacher used to say. I don’t know why I was believing that the stomach holds air for a singer, and the six pack muscles,( rectus abdominis), pumps the air from the stomach through the larynx, etc?? I didn’t know that using this unnatural exertion would cause me to develop an umbilical hernia that I would have to get surgically removed. I wasn’t aware of the natural breathing patterns of mammals….. including humans.
For some odd reason, as the American human matures from childhood, we switch from the proper breathing patterns to one of fight or flight. We switch from appoggio (support), sides and back, to upper chest, shallow breathing. This breathing pattern stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which prepares us for fight or flight through the production of adrenaline. It also shuts off saliva production! Why do Americans (and many Western European nations), breathe this way? What is our natural breathing, AND how do we apply this breath as singers?
If you watch a mammal breathe, you will see an expansion in the rib cage as well as the back. An infant applies this breathing as well. The internal and external oblique muscles expand, as well as the latisimis dorsi (lats) in the back. These muscle groups expand in sync with the diaphragm, which is located at the base of the rib cage. The air expands the muscle groups mentioned, which in turn causes the muscles to contract and create what we singers call “ breath support”. This should be a relaxed breathing pattern as breathing from the base of the lungs stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us down. Breathing in this matter also encourages a greater amount of oxygen in the inhalation, thus more oxygen to all of our organs. My only guess is that this belly breathing technique was so prevalent for so long, because abdominal expansion does occur when the diaphragm presses against the stomach.
So friends and fellow singers, if you pay attention to the anatomy and physiology of your singing, and you switch to appoggio for your breathing, you’ll experience the ease in finding support for every note. Remember, inspiration is active. Expiration must be passive.