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Concept Spotlight: Breathing

by Ellen on August 10th, 2011

Sorry I missed the Quote of the Week on Monday, I was in the process of moving out of my apartment. But here’s this week’s Concept Spotlight as promised.

When Alexander first began teaching his new Technique, he touted it as a method of “full-chest breathing.” Even to this day, breathing plays a large part in the Technique. My teacher Alex Murray, being a flautist, is always drawing attention to the breathing aspects of good use.

Those of us in the performing arts (dance, theater, voice, music, etc.) are frequently inundated with teachers telling us how to breathe. Ballet dancers are told to breathe from their chest so as not to see the stomach moving, vocalists are told to breathe from the diaphragm so as to achieve greater power, and countless other performers are told to breathe in different ways, but none of these methods ever seem to work with any consistency. Alexander argues that this is because the many systems of breathing in use all seem entirely focused on the breath IN, with little or no thought given to the exhale. This creates the situation wherein a student can be fairly poised at the end of an inhale, but by the time they get to the end of the exhale their body has become completely disorganized and collapsed. In many cases the end of the exhale is precisely where good use is needed the most. This preoccupation with the inhale also leads to the prevalence of “sniffing” and “gasping,” as the student believes the only way to take a quick breath in is to forcefully TAKE the breath in.

In reality, inhaling is a reflex action that occurs naturally when the lungs are empty. Emptying the lungs creates a vacuum, and the inhale happens automatically to neutralize the vacuum. So to breathe most efficiently, one need only focus on the exhale, and maintaining poise all the way through the end of the exhale, and then simply allow the breath to come back in on its own.

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