Breathing Exercises for Singing: 360 Ring of Breath

Let’s do some breathing exercises for singing!

Shall we?breathing exercises for singing: 360 ring of breath

You’ve probably heard about the diaphragm and its importance for breathing when singing.

That is great but do you know other body parts that participate in proper breath control?

Some of you are saying (I can hear you): “Chest muscles.”

Yes!

And that’s where it usually ends.

Do you know that your back also moves during inhalation?

What about your sides? Or pelvic floor?

Many singers tend to focus just on the diaphragm. But that’s not the only muscle involved in breathing.

In this blog post, let us discover all the muscles and body parts involved in the inhalation phase of the breathing cycle. 

So how to breathe when singing?

I am going to introduce you to breathing exercises for singing that will help you uncover what it feels and looks like when you inhale efficiently for singing.

I like to call it The 360 Ring of Breath.

BONUS: Do You Breathe Correctly for Singing? Download a FREE Breathing Checklist. Discover Your Strengths and Areas for Development. Transform Your Breathing and Sing With Ease and Confidence. Click Here to Download It NOW!

breathing exercises for singing: posture

Posture

O.K. Posture.

You’ve heard it many times: “One way to improve your singing instantly is to work on your posture.”

It’s true.

I know it sounds basic but good posture for singing is often ignored.

It is easy to set up the right posture but may be challenging to maintain this posture while singing. Once we shift our focus from standing tall to other aspects of singing (sound production, breathing, etc.), we lose good posture. Therefore, it is important to spend time and create the habit of maintaining good posture. 

Here is a little secret:

Really outstanding singing is all about having your entire body properly aligned to ensure that your vocal cords can move freely without any tension.

Here are a few tips to help you:

First, assess your posture when singing.

Ask yourself and observe:

  • Where is your head in relation to your body?
  • What about your chest and shoulders? Do they feel free or stiff?
  • Is your spine tall and straight?
  • How do your knees feel?
  • Where are your feet?

Here are some tips to find a good position for your body:

1. Stand up. Your feet are shoulder width apart with weight distributed evenly. You can put one foot forward if that is better for you but do not swing your body from side to side when singing. 

2. Relax your knees and hips. Do not lock your knees otherwise you can fall during singing. You don’t want that to happen to you! Relaxed knees allow you to be flexible and energized. Align your pelvis with the rest of the body.

3. Bring your chest up but do not stand like a soldier. Your shoulders are wide and down but not stiff. Your body feels tall and free! Imagine that your head is leading your whole torso in the upsight position. Follow the head and everything else will get aligned in a nice vertical line.

It is easy to say and much harder to actually do.

Use a mirror to check your position.

Initially, try to keep this position for 5 minutes; later increase the time to 7, 10 … minutes.

You may feel tired at the beginning because you are using muscles that you are not used to working.

Practice the position when you are not singing – just to get used to it.

The next step is to maintain good posture during breathing exercises for singing.

Then try to maintain it during short singing exercises.

The next step … you get the idea. Move one step at a time.

The more you do it, the more automatic it will become.

Here is another entire blog post about posture for singing.

the hands up technique

The Hands-Up Technique

Here is a little trick to find good posture quickly:

Lift your arms over your head. Notice how your chest has also lifted up (even without inhaling).

Stay in this position, breathe normally, and observe your body.

Then bring your arms slowly down while keeping your chest up and open.

Breathe normally. (The tendency is to hold your breath so be cautious about your breathing.)

I like to call this little trick “The Hands-Up Technique”.

Do you know the song from the 80’s sung by a duo called Ottawan? It’s a song from the disco era and it’s called “Hands Up!” It’s a fun song and I remember this song every time I “get into the correct position for singing”.

The goal of the Hands-Up Technique is to keep your chest raised and open (your sternum, the flat bone in the middle of the chest, is raised up and forward).

The tricky part (again) is to maintain this chest posture during breathing exercises for singing, during singing practice and eventually during singing, without creating any tension in your body.

I find it helpful to just think “hands up” to maintain the position. Or observe your body position (chest) in the mirror.

If this is difficult to do at first, take baby steps.

Sustain the posture for 1 minute. Once you can do that, increase it to 3 or 5 minutes, etc.

Eventually, good posture will become a habit.

breathing exercises for singing: inhalation

Inhalation: Breathing Exercises for Singing

So now, our bodies are well aligned and our chest is open.

Let us now explore all body parts that participate in inhalation and feelings associated with the movements of inhalation.

It is a good idea to focus on inhalation and exhalation separately as there are many body parts involved in this process.

Before we start I have a word of warning though:

When new singers focus their attention on inhalation, they initially tend to hold their breath or manipulate it in an unnatural way.

After a few attempts, they become discouraged and they claim that learning to breathe for singing is not necessary. They feel that overthinking the process takes the automatic nature of breathing away and they revert to “normal” breathing, which is more suitable for speech.

However, breathing for singing and breathing for speech are different (to read more about this topic, please visit this page).

It is true that initially it may feel like your breathing is uncoordinated and out of sync but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Coordination of all the muscle groups can be challenging at first.

So please be patient with me and you.

In this article, my intention is to explore how the body opens to accept the breath naturally.

I repeat – naturally.

It’s not rocket science but it takes self-exploration.

Let’s explore one motion (body part) at a time so you can become aware of all the details and feelings.

Later, we can put the motions all together in one quick dynamic system.

When each body part is moving in a coordinated way with the rest of your body, an invisible “ring” of breath is created around the mid to lower section of your body. In reality, there is no ring around you. Your body expands in all directions.

I like to call it The 360 Ring of Breath.

Watch this video, where I demonstrate step-by-step how to achieve the 360 Ring of Breath:

The following exercises are not the “end” result. They serve more as a tool to develop the final product, which is a quick and silent breath.

The word “silent” is an important attribute of inhalation.

If you hear your breath during inhalation, it means that your instrument is not open enough and there is some resistance to the airflow (somewhere along the vocal tract).

The other attribute of inhalation is “quick”.

During singing, we often do not have much time to inhale for a prolonged time so the breath has to enter the lungs quickly.

Moreover, the inhaled air has to be sufficient for the sung phrase.   

And one more attribute of inhalation: effortless.

As I said previously, initially inhalation may feel uncoordinated and awkward but it should never feel effortful.

Remember that words like fluid, smooth, and flowing best describe breathing.

If you catch yourself pushing, tensing or tightening, stop and try again.

breathing exercises for singing: inhalation

The body parts we are going to explore are:

  • Abdomen (belly),
  • Sides of the body and lower ribs,
  • Back,
  • Pelvic floor.

BONUS: Do You Breathe Correctly for Singing? Download a FREE Breathing Checklist. Discover Your Strengths and Areas for Development. Transform Your Breathing and Sing With Ease and Confidence. Click Here to Download It NOW!

During self-exploration, I want you to pay attention to every detail. Observe yourself in a mirror (or you can record yourself).

Scan your body and feel. Become aware of movements and sensations:

  • What body parts are moving?
  • What direction are they moving to and from?
  • Do you feel any tension?

breathing exercises for singing: abdomen

Abdomen

Let’s start with the abdomen (belly).

Lie down on your back on the floor or in your bed and breathe normally. Put one hand on your upper abdomen above the belly button and one hand on your lower abdomen below the belly button.

Relax and observe. Feel the movements of your hands.

Do not try to push anything out or in. Just relax.

Your abdomen is moving out (up when you are lying) on inhalation and moving in (down when you are lying) on exhalation. This movement is not exaggerated; it is fluid and free of any tension.

What you feel and observe is your diaphragm hard at work. (Therefore, people call these simple exercises diaphragmatic breathing exercises for singing.) 

Let me explain.

You cannot directly feel your diaphragm.

What you are feeling is the effect of the diaphragm moving downward on inhalation and pushing down on the inner organs of your belly.

Because your abdominal muscles are relaxed, the abdominal wall is able to move out as a result of inner organs being pushed out.

During breathing, the most visible movement is the movement of the abdominal wall.

Therefore, you may have heard people saying: “Breathe into the belly.”

The phrase really means to use “diaphragmatic breathing” or allowing the diaphragm to descend fully. (The name “diaphragmatic breathing” is also not completely accurate because we use the diaphragm for breathing at rest, during speaking or singing. We use the diaphragm all the time so calling breathing for singing “diaphragmatic breathing” does not make much sense.)  

The diaphragm descends only a few centimeters (contrary to a popular belief) so the phrase “breathe into your belly” is anatomically inaccurate.

Of course, the air never enters the belly because the air is contained in the lungs!

The downward movement of the diaphragm creates more space in the lungs and therefore, air enters the lungs.

You did not have to put any effort into getting the air into your lungs.

And if you are really relaxed, the inhalation is quiet because your airways are open and there are no obstacles in the way.

Now, stand up and try to achieve the same relaxed belly movement as during lying down.

Keep your abdominal muscles relaxed and allow them to move fluidly in and out.

Breathe in for the count of four and then exhale for the count of 4.

 

Key points to remember:

  • Do not flop or push your belly out on inhalation (no need to use effort)
  • Do relax your abdominal muscles somewhat to allow for the movement to happen (when you are standing or even moving, your abdominal muscles are naturally engaged somewhat otherwise you would fall to the floor)
  • Keep your airways open so that the breath is quiet

If you have trouble releasing the abdominal muscles, explore the breathing on all fours – your belly drops down with gravity.

breathing exercises for singers: ribs

Ribs

Now, let’s turn our attention to the lower ribs and sides of your body.

(Remember, your chest is open and up.)

The lower ribs and the sides of your body move sideways on inhalation.

As you may know, people have 12 pairs of ribs.

The first seven ribs are attached to the breastbone (the flat bone in the middle of your chest) and to the spine at the back. These ribs are not as flexible as the next five pairs of ribs.

The 8th, 9th and 10th pairs of ribs are attached to rib number seven in the front and to the spine in the back.

And the 11th and 12th pairs are “floating” ribs, which means that they are not attached to other ribs at the front of the ribcage. They are attached only to the spine at the back.

This anatomical position makes the last five pairs of ribs more flexible.

anatomy of breathing for singers: lungs and ribcage

What does that mean for singing?

It means that much of the movement in the ribcage during inhalation is possible at the lower ribs and sides of your body.

This is where singers should focus most when exploring inhalation.

This part of the body is very important for creating the 360 Ring of Breath.

To explore this movement, put your hands on your lower ribs (at the sides of your body) while standing up.

To find your bottom ribs, find the low edge of your breastbone and follow the hard bony structure (your 10th rib) downward and sideway.

Place your hands on the sides of your body above your waist and hips.

Now inhale. You should feel your hands move sideways. Your body becomes wider.

Imagine sending air into your hands placed on the lower ribs.

Focus just on this part of your body. As you inhale, you want to make your waist wide.

As an alternative, you can place a thera band (elastic band used for yoga or pilates exercises) around your lower ribs and inhale. You will feel the elastic band stretch slightly in all directions as your lower ribs move sideways.

Again, you do not need to exert any effort or push anything.

Breathe in a relaxed manner and observe how your body responds.

Your breath is fluid and quiet.

Inhale for the count of four and exhale for the count of four.

Key points to remember:

  • Do not push anything out, don’t use effort, and don’t hold your breath
  • Mentally focus on the sides of your body and make your body wider
  • Keep your airways open so that the breath is quiet

If you have a hard time moving your lower ribs sideways, lift one arm up and reach around with your other hand to this side of your body. Try to breathe into your hand. Feel how your hand moves sideways.  

breathing exercises for singers: back

Back

Many singers are not aware of or forget that their backs are also expanding during inhalation.

This movement is very slight but expansion of this part of the body plays an important role in creating the 360 Ring of Breath.

To maximize the space inside the ribcage, we want to expand the mid-section of your back.

This is where your ribcage is most flexible.

Place your hands on the mid-section of your back.

Inhale and feel how your hands move away from each other.

The movement is small so you need to pay attention to details.

You can watch yourself in the mirror or record yourself.

Imagine you have a tight shirt that you want to rip open your back but without moving your shoulders or chest.

Focus on your back and feel how it expands during inhalation.

Use your imagination to “send the air” to these anatomical spaces.

Feel, feel and feel.

Explore your sensations and repeat the exercise while standing up.

Inhale for the count of four and exhale for the count of four.

Key points to remember:

  • Relax your body. Even if you have trouble moving your back, do not force, tense or push any muscles.
  • Don’t overfill your lungs in an attempt to feel the expansion in the back
  • Let the breathing muscles do what they do best – let them do the breathing for you naturally.

If you have trouble moving your back, sit down on a chair and bend over slightly at your waist. Place your forearms on your legs to support the torso. Breathe in and feel the back expand in this position. Then slowly move to the upright position and repeat the same sensation during inhalation. 

breathing exercises for singers: pelvic floor

Pelvic floor

The pelvic floor is formed by muscles at the bottom of the abdomen attached to the pelvic bone.

Many singers have no idea that they can use their pelvic floor for singing.

Well, the truth is that the use of the pelvic floor is an advanced technique

If you are a mother (and have the knowledge of Kegel exercises from pre-natal training), yoga or pilates user, then you probably know about the pelvic floor and where to find it.

For the rest of the world, here is a quick trick to find yours:

The easiest way to find your pelvic floor is when you pee.

Next time you need to go to the washroom, hold it. Discover the sensations at the bottom of your abdomen.

This is where your pelvic floor is and this is what it feels like when the pelvic floor is engaged.

Then, as you pee, stop the flow and again – feel the sensations.

This is your pelvic floor at work!

 

This may not make sense for you right now but let me explain.

By relaxing the pelvic floor, you are making more room in your abdomen for the inner organs. This in turn makes room for your diaphragm to descend fully during inhalation.

During exhalation, the contraction of the pelvic floor muscles helps the abdominal muscles to create pressure in the abdomen and therefore participates in controlling your exhalation.

The pelvic floor elevates and moves the inner organs upward, which helps control the amount of air passing through the vocal cords.

pelvic floor

Simple?

Let’s use the pelvic floor during breathing.

Initially, it may be difficult to drop the pelvic floor and inhale at the same time.

So here is what you do:

First, drop the pelvic floor, and then start inhaling while keeping the pelvic floor relaxed.

Exhale.

Drop the pelvic floor, inhale.

Repeat.

As you get better at coordinating the movements, you can drop the pelvic floor and inhale at the same time.

Eventually, the coordination will become so natural that every time you inhale you will also relax your pelvic floor.

Inhale for the count of four and exhale for the count of four.

Key points to remember:

  • Keep breathing naturally, no need to manipulate the inhalation
  • Your airways are open and the breath is quiet

Got it?

Here is one of my YouTube videos, in which I am sharing a very simple but powerful method to achieve the 360 Ring Of Breath:

Link to the video: https://youtu.be/xZ9SnpVjqgQ

breathing exercises

Inhalation: The 360 Ring of Breath

Now it’s time to put all the “moving parts” together in one coordinated motion:

  • Abdomen,
  • Sides of the body and lower ribs,
  • Back,
  • Pelvic floor.

Now (after lots of self-exploration and practice), you are aware of the role of individual body parts during inhalation. Start practicing inhalation while engaging all of them at the same time:

Your body is tall. Your chest is up and open.

The abdomen is relaxed and therefore moves out as you inhale.

Sides of your body and lower ribs are moving sideways and your body widens during inhalation.

The back expands during inhalation.

The pelvic floor drops (relaxes) when you inhale.

Your airways are open and your inhale is quiet.

360 ring of breath inhalation

Inhale for the count of four and exhale for the count of four.

It may be mentally difficult at first.

You’ll need to shift your focus but eventually, you’ll be able to breathe with a fluid and coordinated motion.

It will take some practice and patience.

The final goal is to shorten the inhalation phase.

Inhale for the count of two and exhale for the count of six. Then, inhale for the count of one and exhale for the count of eight (while maintaining good posture, open chest and silent breath.)

And that’s it.

BONUS: Do You Breathe Correctly for Singing? Download a FREE Breathing Checklist. Discover Your Strengths and Areas for Development. Transform Your Breathing and Sing With Ease and Confidence. Click Here to Download It NOW!

This is one way to explore your breathing mechanism and develop inhalation that is coordinated, quick, quiet and sufficient.

I hope these breathing exercises for singing have inspired you to sing more and improve your singing.

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