Joyful Dance Laura Stanyer

Joyful Dance Laura Stanyer

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Power of Breathing


Breathing is a vital element for relaxation and physical activity such as dance; being able to control your breathing pattern allows you to maintain self-control and help to relieve your body of excessive tension. Breathing is the process by which living cells in the body receive a constant supply of oxygen and removes carbon dioxide. Oxygen is needed by each cell in the body for survival as every bodily function and all movement requires oxygen.

The Mechanism of Breathing

It is a passive process by which air is drawn in and forced out of the lungs by the combined action of the diaphragm and intercostals muscles. The process of exhalation becomes an active one when we require exhaling more air for example when we cough, also dancing requires more oxygen.

Interesting Fact: The diaphragm is a large muscle that separates the chest and the abdomen. It is the major muscle of respiration and is responsible for 75% of the air drawn into the lungs. Correct breathing enhances our oxygen supply to allow us to function efficiently.

This active process is assisted by other muscles including:

  • Internal Intercostals
  • Internal and external obliques
  • Transverse Abdominus
  • Rectus Abdominus
All help to compress the abdomen and squeeze more air out of the lungs.
The special nature of breathing being both passive and active process (happens automatically and be under our conscious control) is because the parts of our brain that controls our breathing also controls our emotions, therefore our emotions affect our physiological and psychological state. Most people do not breathe efficiently we are habitual shallow breathers because we only use a small part of our lungs.

Interesting Fact: Our mental or emotional state is reflective in our breathing and our breathing can impact on our emotional state. Learning to control our breathing patterns will allow us to gain greater control over our emotions especially in times of stress.

Causes for shallow breathing include:

  • Stress
  • Bad posture
  • Lack of cardiovascular exercise
Just like dance training or mental skills practising breathing techniques can improve your well-being. The aim of breathing exercises is to breathe with maximum efficiency with minimum effort.

The process of inhalation

During inhalation the diaphragm contracts and flattens this increases the volume and size of the chest cavity. This lowers the pressure inside the chest, because the pressure inside the body is lower than the pressure outside the air is drawn into the lungs. At the same time the external intercostal muscles contract lifting the ribcage up and outwards, further increasing the volume and size of the chest cavity. 25% of the air is drawn in by the external intercostal muscles.



The process of exhalation

During exhalation the diaphragm relaxes and returns to its dome shape pushing the chest cavity upwards and reducing the chest cavity's volume and size. This increases the pressure inside the body, the air rushes out as the pressure is lower outside the body. At the same time the external intercostal muscles relax allowing the ribs to lower down and inwards decreases size of the chest cavity.




Breathing Exercises

These exercises can be performed laying down, sitting or standing but it is recommended firstly to lie on your back on a mat with a pillow under your knees and one under your head for support and comfort. The diaphragm is not working against gravity and prevents you using other voluntary muscles and allows you to focus on working the appropriate muscles.

Awareness of breath exercise

Place one hand on your chest and one on your lower abdomen to feel where you are breathing from:
  • Is your chest lifting?
  • Is your stomach expanding?
If you are breathing correctly, when you breathe in the hand placed on your lower abdomen should lift first and then your chest lifts upwards and expands but do not lift your shoulders.

Deep abdominal breathing

Learning deep or diaphragmatic breathing exercises can help to increase the vital capacity and the function of our lungs.

Benefits of breathing exercises:

  • Decreased heart rate
  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Reduces muscle tension
  • Decreased respiration rate
  • Reduces hyper tension
  • Improves circulation

Slow diaphragmatic breathing involves breathing into your lower abdomen before filling your chest cavity. This optimises oxygen consumption this allows more oxygen to reach your muscles and your brain to function more efficiently. If you are unaccustomed to deep breathing the following exercise may make you feel tired at first, do persevere as it will take less effort to breathe, it will enhance the co-ordination of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles when breathing. This will assist in breathing co-ordination when you dance.

Deep Abdominal Breathing Exercise
Inhale - Inhale slowly and deeply, say four counts. Breathe as fully as you can without discomfort. Imagine your torso slowly filling with air.
Pause - When you have completely inhaled, hold your breath for four counts. This is a comfortable pause. If you feel discomfort, reduce the counts.
Exhale - Exhale slowly and continually for four counts, letting the air out through your mouth slowly. Let out as much air as you can, down to the lower part of the lungs and feel yourself relaxing and any tension flowing out of you.
Pause - Once more when you have completely exhaled, hold your breath for four counts, releasing any further tension. This feels like a comfortable pause. If you feel discomfort, reduce the counts.

Many people find diaphragmatic breathing difficult at first as we are habitually shallow breathers but with practice it does become easier. If it is very difficult reduce the number of counts to two or three and build up to four. The important thing is to establish the slow relaxed breathing rate.

Rhythmic Breathing

When you are comfortable with diaphragmatic breathing try this exercise. Rhythmic breathing exercise allows you to gain greater control over your breathing, and more control over your voice. As you make progress, you can begin to increase the counts but to further develop breathing control hold different counts on inhalation, exhalation and the pauses between.

Mantra Breathing

Once you are comfortable with diaphragmatic breathing try adding positive words or phrases to your breathing. Mantras are sounds, words or phrases that are used to focus your concentration in a positive way. You can say them out loud or internally. If you choose to say the mantra out loud let the sound resonate in your chest.

The mantra should naturally fall into rhythm with your breathing. Make sure that the mantra follows your breathing.

Let go of any concerns that may arise about whether you are doing the mantra properly, there is no right or wrong way but what is right for you. Allow the wonderful silence to refresh your mind and emotions.

At the end of your breathing exercise you will begin to feel a calm feeling of warmth radiating from your core throughout your body. Bring your breathing to its natural state and focus on the pleasant feelings in your body.

If you ever feel stress, attempt to bring your attention back to you breathing, this allows more oxygen to reach your muscles and our brain to function more efficiently and will having a calming effect.


Bring your attention to your breath throughout your day:

  • If you are watching the time – breathe
  • When waiting - breathe
  • Before you start a dance class – breathe
  • Before you start a rehearsal – breathe
  • Before you start a performance – breathe
  • Before you start filming – breathe
By focusing on your breathing the mind is soothed and the body is nourished with fresh oxygen. Breathing slowly and deeply combined with relaxation and visualisation in dance can ease tension in you mind and body allowing you to move freely and reach your true potential.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laura Stanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.


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