Flow Breathing

Flow Breathing is good breathing; good breathing enables Peak Mastery.

Flow Breathing is a new way to observe and learn from natural breathing motions. By mapping the motions of breathing a player gains tools to master breath control and body awareness and by extension all aspects of playing.

The motions of breathing are complex. Dozens of muscles and joints move in a ballet of coordinated motions. Since breathing is usually unconscious, the attempt to consciously control it can create misunderstanding and misuse of the proper muscles, joints and motions. The best way to learn to control breathing is to learn from the natural motions of the breath. Flow Breathing begins with the natural motions of the breath.

Beyond learning the natural motions of the breath, an advanced wind player or singer may not use optimum coordination of breath to support. To use the air in a subtle and natural way, a player must learn to control the changes in direction of the air, specifically at the top of the inhale. Learning to hold a full inhale with optimum coordination challenges even the best players. Flow Breathing focuses on the change in direction from inhale to exhale to enable mastery of breath support.

Three facts of Flow Breathing:

1- Flow Breathing is based on the natural motions of the breath.

2- Flow Breathing focuses on the changes in direction of the breath. The changes or turns in the breath are:

  • the bottom of the breath when exhale slows and turns to inhale, and
  • the top of the breath when inhale turns to exhale.

3- Flow Breathing teaches complex breath control and breath support. Advanced Flow Breathing exercises will teach:

  • control of the top turn (change of direction) of the breath, enabling "suspended-support" with buoyancy in the air.
  • control of the “top-down-all-at-once” inhale, which enhances quick inhales, useful for wind players.

Details of Flow Breathing -

Flow Breathing builds good breath control from awareness of the changes in direction of the breath.

The motions of breathing change directions twice in the breathing cycle.

The changes in directions, or turns, are controlled by complex coordination between inhale and exhale. It is at these two “turns” in the breath where subtle control can be learned.

By mastering the turns in the breath you have potential to master the breath.

Beginning Steps - A crash course in 2 cumulative exercises or "motions" -

At first, is is easier to feel the coordination between inhale and exhale motions at the bottom turn of the exhale as the inhale begins.

Each exercise (or motion) below familiarizes you with a particular sensation in natural breathing. I highly recommend setting aside a 1/2 hour a day for 3-4 days.

Motion 1 - First notice the pause at the end of the exhale. Then extend it.

There is always a pause at the end of the breath in relaxed breathing. You are actually exhaling much longer than you think from the “return to normal” elasticity in the diaphragm. Extend the pause at the end of the exhale by extending the stillness which accompanies it.

Motion 2 - Learn to feel the "top-down-all-at-once-inhale.

Just before the inhale and after you have extended the pause, you will feel an opening or cooling in the nasal passages. This is the beginning of the” top-down-all-at-once” inhale that indeed moves as the name implies! This motion is felt as a grand opening which begins in the nose and moves throughout the torso simultaneously from top to bottom. It is important to remain completely relaxed and passive, especially in your head and neck as this motion is felt.

Do these two steps perhaps 5-10 minutes a day for 3-4 days for them to sink in.

Explanation of important sensations which occur in natural Flow Breathing motions -

The pause at the end of the breath may feel as if you are a doll deflating the air from your arms and legs along with your chest and stomach. Or, imagining you are exhausted (you may be!) then release a huge sigh.

To Extend it, you actively do “nothing” as you stay in the room. Be passively still at the end as you continue to relax while your attention stays in the room.

The purpose of “staying in the room” is to distract you from “controlling” the breath motions in any way.

The sensations of breathing motions are better noticed from the body's self-awareness, with the mind “pretending” to look away. It is as if you wish to focus on a dim star in the night sky; it is better seen from looking slightly away.

Familiarity with the motions or sensations of these two primary parts of the breath will quickly enable you to apply that knowledge to more advanced use.

Suggestion- Please try to carry these two motions into other activities such as sitting, standing, walking. The rhythm of motion may be faster, but if you concentrate and “stay out of the way”, you will feel the motions just as you did lying down.

Advanced applications of Flow Breathing -

By controlling the top "turn" of the breath, from inhale to exhale, it becomes possible to translate that control into mastery of breath support.

Control at the top of the inhale is more difficult to master. This control involves several motions such as:

  • how the inhale is taken to the top of the breath,
  • how the change in direction is enacted and
  • how the exhale begins.

Flow Breathing and the control of stressful tension -

When attention is given to the “moving constant” of smooth flow-breath, you are much more likely to notice when you tighten parts you should not.

Reviews of Flow Breathing Technique:

Dr. Kyle Alexander, D.C.
Alexander Chiropractic
4000 Indianola Avenue
Columbus, OH 43214

“Mr. Thomas adds an innovative concept to the biomechanics of breathing. The delicate balance of breathing can be disturbed by a variety of problems in our everyday lives including psychosocial complaints (ex. stress), imbalances in musculature or skeletal structures, and personal habits. The idea of Flow Breathing takes these problems into consideration and provides a method for individuals to understand the barriers that keep them from improving their breath. Not only does Flow Breathing help identify the problem, but it also enables people to relearn how to breath in an effective and constructive manner.”

Carl Weinberg
Principal clarinet
Bloomington Symphony Orchestra

(Carl Weinberg is also Labor History scholar and Editor of the Organization of American Historians Magazine, one of the premier publications on the teaching of history on both the secondary and university levels)

“I play principal clarinet in a community orchestra and recently took a lesson from David Thomas, who has made a big impact on my playing and practicing.
After I warmed up, and played a bit for David, he took me through a series of exercises that at first seemed a bit bizarre. He had me use only my breath to start notes and to produce only enough air for the note to sound, and then to fade back out to the sound of my breath through the instrument. He had me do exercises where you work your way up the scale, repeating each note with a “ha” breath attack. Another kind of warm up exercise involved playing scales up one octave and fading the sound out as you go up, so that the last note at the top of the scale is the softest.

He also worked with me on the way I was breathing, thinking about using your whole body to breathe. I kind of think of it as breathing on two levels—taking a deep breath but holding some back, rather than taking one giant diaphragm breath, with your stomach heaving in and out. He told me to think about giving everything a kind of light feeling—I think I remember something about standing up very tall and imagine that I’m playing out of the top of my head!

Well, at first, it was really hard to play and focus on all of these ideas at the same time. But as I played my piece for him—the Brahms Clarinet Trio—it started to sink in.

One observation of his that really hit home was that I was basically blowing the air too hard through the instrument, forcing it, rather than letting it flow naturally. He mimicked this sound on his own clarinet, and I immediately recognized what he meant. That was a real “aha” moment for me. I had played clarinet through college and then switched to jazz sax and stopped playing clarinet for many years. I had probably worked so long getting a big sound on my alto sax that I had forgotten what a classical clarinet is meant to sound like.

Once this clicked, it made an immediate difference in my sound. Voicing the notes with the right amount of air—and not overdoing it—made me sound like . . . well, a professional clarinet player. THAT was the sound I was looking for.

Since my first lesson with David—and I don’t intend to make it the last—I have tried to apply these techniques to my playing. One amazing experience I had right after the lesson was when I was playing through the Jeanjean Etude No. 1, which is gorgeous, but also very difficult for me, because you have to play softly and also have a lot of stamina. It was often hard for me to get through the whole thing without stopping to take a break. But this time I got all the way through without a hitch. I think it’s a matter of learning to harness your body in a much more efficient and relaxed way. I’m now working on the Schumann Fantasiestucke and every once in a while, when I can relax and not overplay, I’m amazed at the sound I’m getting.

After practicing with these ideas in mind over the last few months, I can say that my playing is well on the way to reaching the next level, and that David’s teaching has been invaluable in setting me on the road to that destination.”

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