The first thing we do when born is to breathe.
This initial action enables us to inhale vital nutrients such as oxygen and nitrogen from the air, that are fundamental to our existence and which we continue to utilise throughout our lives.
The last thing we do before we die is to exhale.
Our final action, letting go of life in a closing outward breath.
Breathing is fundamental to life, not only that, but breath is also essential for the voice. And being a voice coach myself has led me to greater respect breathing as a tool to improve not only our voice but also our lives.
The global human lifespan in 2019 is, on average, 80 years.
If we consider each person takes roughly about 16 breaths per minute that would lead us to assume we circulate 960 breaths an hour, 23,000 breaths a day, 8,500,000 a year, and presuming we do make it to the grand old age of 80, we’ll have taken almost 700,000,000 breaths throughout our lifetime.
A human can live up to three weeks without food, three days without water, but if starved of oxygen, will survive for only three minutes.
Even people like Wim Hof, who has the best breath control in the world, still have a limit, despite the fact they’ve pushed that limit further than most, through their training and beliefs.
The point I’m aiming at instilling in you is that this means breath and the act of breathing are such an essential part of our lives, which massively control our ability to thrive or to perish, so should not be taken lightly.
You may have heard that poor breathing habits can be responsible for us not having the voice we require or would like; that breathing can affect stress levels and the functionality of our everyday performance. But who would guess how severe the detrimental costs, of an inferior breathing system, can be.
Several components contribute to the act of breathing. If we develop lousy breathing habits, we tend not to receive air as well as we could and should.
The adverse effects of poor breathing can affect our sleep, mood, digestion, heart, nervous system, muscle function, brain and many other physical characteristics that a healthy human needs for optimum performance.
When executed correctly, the breath can increase energy, improve our health, lower stress levels, and provide us with a higher overall quality of life.
Coming from an acting and singing background, I know how essential proper breathing is for performance. When you carry out any task that requires more air, the body is quick to inform us of its needs. However, such feedback can be less evident in many sedentary work situations.
Everyday stress, tension and postural issues can contribute to the development of inferior breathing habits. Likewise, healthy breathing will inform and encourage the body of better posture, relieve tension and combat stresses.
With the enormous amount of breaths, we take throughout our lives; we are generally lucky to have this be an automated action. The brain and subconscious mind take care of all our autonomous behaviour and necessary bodily functions.
If we had to consciously breathe to survive, then we would never have a moments rest from the task, as we would always need to create the action of inhale-exhale all day long. Plus we wouldn’t be able to sleep as the second we would doze off we’d forget to breathe and so then die.
The tape recorder that is our subconscious mind (and body) knows how to breathe all by itself. It remembers, but like anything, if you learn how to do something badly, you’re only going to develop terrible form. Plus your breathing will need to adapt for the thing you do.
Look at runners, for example. A marathon runner would have to train to breathe differently to that of a sprinter. There are different bursts of energy required and varying amounts of oxygen needed in different ways.
But in everyday conditions, and for any occupation, we can still optimise our breath. It’s worth doing well, so by creating healthy habits and adopting a well-aligned body posture, we can build a breathing system that supports and impacts all areas of our lives for the better.
Learn poor breathing technique, and your body will remember this way of doing it. Learn to breathe well, and again your body will continue to do so.
So, how can we make those changes? What must we do to adopt new and healthy breathing habits, and how do we even know if our current system requires an overhaul?
If you often suffer from poor sleep, fatigue, stress and tension, or any of the other issues mentioned earlier, then it’s likely that your work environment plays a role in how you’re affected.
Considering most people spend on average 40 hours per week at work then that’s a considerable amount of time out of our day which we may be otherwise unconscious of our physicality. The insidious advance of traits linked to bad posture and unhealthy breathing habits stack up slowly over time until eventually, you have a problem and cannot make the distinction to it having any connection with your breathing.
But don’t worry, we can change our breathing and by doing so, regain more awareness over our bodies, receive better health benefits and grow happier as a result.
To change, we need a period of conscious attention to the breath after which the subconscious will learn to understand/remember and take it on board.
How long this takes is entirely up to you. The more time we spend becoming mindful of our breath, the quicker it will become automated and the sooner our lives can once again flourish as intended.
There are many mindfulness classes, courses and even apps on the market, which can be a great way to start the process of re-connecting and to advance our breathing system.
But for maximum benefit, and to ensure change remains permanent, mindfulness exercises should go hand in hand with new physical habits.
Learn to move, connect with nature, use the function of the breath to revitalise your senses and discover more about your self, both as a physiological machine and as spiritual, sentient being.
If you live somewhere that’s overcrowded, take some time to escape the hubbub and discover a new quiet place for yourself. If you happen to live in a particularly polluted area, travel and get out into nature.
As for our physicality, there is much to be gained from disciplines such as Tai Chi, Yoga and Pilates. But if you’re willing and eager to take a more holistic approach where you can learn to develop all areas fundamental to the breath it may suit you to visit a voice coach, like myself, or even take some acting classes where the voice and breath are treated with the respect they deserve.
But most importantly, breathe well, for it is the very essence of life and the spirit of existence itself.