Breathing Well by Phillip Pawley, Alexander Teacher

I subscribe to the free version of Mr. Pawley's regular email pamphlet. I highly recommend you consider doing the same. He has a way of rendering esoteric or tricky aspects of healthy body awareness into crystal clear instructions and descriptions. The following is a brilliant description of the simplest AND most important aspects of good breathing, and by extension, good use.

phillip pawley the back magician

Why do people breathe too fast?

By Philip Pawley- The Back Magician

Breathing may not be the thing that worries you the most. But breathing badly affects everything else you do.

Learning to breathe well will also help you not suffer so much when you get the flu. So all in all, I recommend you use this article to help fix your breathing.

Why do people breathe too fast?

Four breaths a minute (or even less). That's all you really need. Yet, even at rest, people take twenty or thirty breaths a minute.

Why do people breathe so fast?

They breathe so fast because they're breathing very shallowly. Breathing shallowly, not much oxygen or carbon dioxide is exchanged with each breath. They breathe quickly to compensate.

Is it possible to slow your breathing down?

You could slow your breathing down by deliberately taking longer on each breath.

...but this is not recommended. If you deliberately slow your breathing down, you will make breathing even less efficient and you will soon have to go back to breathing fast because you're running out of oxygen.

Instead, you can watch your breathing. Watch it and leave it alone.

Watching your breathing

To watch your breathing, simply become aware of whether you're breathing in or out right now. Stay with it: keep track of the breath as it you progress through the breathing cycle.

Then, when you notice you're coming to the end of an out-breath, resist the temptation to immediately start a new in-breath. Instead, just wait. Wait and watch what happens at the end of that out-breath.

At different times, watching the end of your out-breath, different things can happen:-

  • You can find yourself falling back into your usual pattern and quickly starting the next in-breath.
  • You can just stop breathing for a short while.
  • You can discover that, actually, you still have a little more air to breathe out.

Whichever happens, don't try and change it: just let it happen and continue monitoring where you are in your breathing cycle. Keep monitoring through the next in-breath and the following out-breath. When you get to the end of the next out-breath, again resist the temptation to snatch your next in-breath. Just watch, wait and, whatever happens, allow that thing to happen.

What will happen when you watch your breath in this way?

Watching your breath in this way, one of two things will very soon happen. Quite likely you will feel yourself short of air and be unable to resist the temptation to snatch your next in-breath.

More likely still, your attention will wander away and you will stop watching your breath at all. Only later will you realise that you are no longer watching your breath. If this happens, don't worry, just go back to the task.

With practice, you'll find yourself able to stay watching your breath a little longer: long enough to feel short of air.

What should you do when you feel short of air?

Feeling short of air doesn't mean you are short of air. It just means you're breathing differently from the way you usually do. It means that the habits that control your breathing, the habits that keep your breathing shallow, are screaming at you to let them take control again.

You won't really be short of air, I guarantee that. It's actually physically impossible for you to deprive yourself of the air you need through doing this exercise.

What happens next?

If your habit doesn't succeed in making you forget what you were doing (and doesn't succeed in panicking you into take a hurried breath either) then two things will happen.

The first thing is that you will be taking a little more time to start each new in-breath. Your breathing will be slower.

The second thing is that you will be breathing with more of your chest and maybe even with your back. This is what needs to happen. It will make your breathing deeper. Occasionally, you will likely find a sudden deep breath taking itself. That sudden deep breath will probably also be quite fast.

Although it will be fast, in every other way that sudden deep breath will be very different from the panicky quick breaths you take whenever you give in to the screaming demands of your old breathing habit.

You will, in fact, be breathing more efficiently than you've breathed in a long while. Being new and unfamiliar, you won't be able to keep it up, however. Your attention will wander and your old breathing habit will take over again.

...and then what happens?

Yes, your old breathing habit will take over but there will be a difference. Your habit will not be able to make you forget the experience you just had.

Remembering that experience, the next time you repeat this experiment, you will have just a little more confidence in your ability to breathe differently. That extra confidence will make it possible for the difference in your breathing to be to be a little greater than last time.

So repeat this experiment often

Repeat this experiment often enough and your habit will gradually change for the better. Your breathing will gradually become more efficient -- even when you're not paying attention to it. Your breathing will become slower, deeper, easier and more enjoyable.

You will, however, still have a tendency to sigh.

How you can stop the sighing

What do I mean by "a tendency to sigh". I mean that your out-breath will tend to be too fast -- and a little noisy as well. Although you will have partially overcome your tendency to suck air in too soon and too quickly, you will still have your habit of pushing air out too soon and too quickly.

You can learn to stop the tendency to sigh by repeating the experiment in reverse. Instead of watching and waiting at the end of your out-breath, do the watching and waiting at the end of your in-breath.

Eventually, when you can do that too, you can watch and wait at the end of both in- and out-breath.

Follow these simple instructions and you will be on a journey to ever easier, deeper, more leisurely breathing.

Philip Pawley- The Back Magician

Would you like to share practice ideas with other musicians? You could do so at the Practice Café.

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