Let’s cover some basics about breath. Being better about your breathing will allow you to do more physically, make your dancing look much better, help you find more natural looking movement, and give you better presence. It’s not just enough to breathe, but actually to know some of the components to breath and how to change it. I caught myself the other day teaching and telling someone to breathe – but it’s not like they weren’t breathing and turning blue and passing out – it’s just that they weren’t breathing well.
We’re going to break breathing into 3 parts. Your breath could be one of these parts, two, or all three.
Part 1 : Belly breath
Part 1 is the deep belly breath – like a baby’s breath. This is the diaphragm (the muscular division between your rib-cage compartment and your abdominal compartment) pulling down (it’s got two little fingers that attach lower down the spine). In pulling down it expands space for the lungs pulling in air and pushing out the organs in the belly. Of the three parts, this one can expand the lungs the most. In a good dancer you’ll see a nice expansion out of the belly (the rectus abdominis muscles will be relaxed – the body gets real support from the transverse and obliques on the side). Various exercises can be done internally working the diaphragm against the transverse abdominis or timing it with the transverse (things like yoga fire breath etc).
In the average population you see a lot of people never use belly breath and they need to be retaught it.
Part 2 : Rib cage breath
Part 2 is rib cage breath. This involves expanding out the ribs. It doesn’t get at much volume to the lungs as belly breath but it’s what a lot of people will do thinking they’re doing a big breath. This can be a very nice breath and many exercises can be done to expand the rib cage in different directions to stretch out the intercostal muscles (the muscles in between the ribs) and strengthen them. Some nice exercise I like to do with students in learning to expand one side (left and right) more than the other.
Part 3 : Scalene muscle breath
Part 3 is scalene muscle breath. These are small muscles in the neck that reach down to the top of the rib cage to the tops of the lungs and pull the tops of the ribs upward. This is the weakest and smallest of the three breath parts. There’s no way it can deliver the oxygen you need to do even minimal exercise, but it’s amazing the number of people just breathe with just this part all the time. People look kind of tense just breathing with the scalene, if you ask them if they’re breathing they say and think they are, but it’s really not an effective breath.
A Nice breath
A nice breath would start with part 1, then do part 2, and then some part 3. Then release those in that order. Not that is what you’re going to do all the time – it’s just a really good breath to practice. It doesn’t take into account the lobes of the lungs and it’s relation to forward flexion of the spine or backward extension, or times you might want to hold your breath (like building inter-abdominal pressure), or different breath timings (exhale time, inhale time, and holds on both ends) – that’s all for later lessons.