I honestly believe that one of the best things we, as creative people can do is to observe the breath. It doesn’t matter what your medium or particular approach to expression, the breath is going to be connected in some way. Whether it’s the regulated inhale of the flutist or the subtle retention of the painter or the calculated release of the martial artist-we are all working with the breath as much as any other part of the body. The only difference is the lack of attention that many of us place on it.
This fact has become more and more relevant for me as I dive deeper into the practice of singing. One of the primary elements of a dynamic voice is the proper use of the breath. Without a deliberate and well placed inhale, the exhale is either drained of its power or inflated to the point of excess, resulting in breathiness and a diminishing of tone. If a song is to be sung in proper time with the proper notes and with the desired emotion, the breath has to be as intentional as the lyrics themselves.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to be in the presence of two different vocal masters and I was blown away by the similarities in their breathing. The origins and approach to their respective traditions was completely different but the presence of controlled and intentional breathing was unmistakable in both. They each had complete control of the notes the were singing and even though their techniques were dazzling and often acrobatic, they never once seemed strained or short of breath after a song. They had a firm command of the air that was required for each new phrase and never went beyond what was necessary to bring them forth.
Seeing this level of vocal mastery triggered a kind of realization in me that, even after many years of singing, I never fully realized until now. I suddenly saw the drawing in and letting go of the breath as a sort of highway for the song to travel upon. The intervals within the melody are like the vehicle that carries the notes but if it wasn’t for the breath, the vehicle would have nowhere to go. Anything impressive or emotionally stirring that can to be found within a song is going to have its roots in the inhalation.
Understanding the power and energy that lives within the breath is, I believe, of the upmost importance for developing our practices. Even for those who only use the hands or feet for their creative work, the breath is still intimately bound to that relationship. The best way to calm the mind and to relax the muscles is with a breath. The best way to steady the hands or to focus the eyes is with a breath. Whenever we become aware of our breathing and allow it to ground us in the moment and amplify our focus, we are engaging with an inner ally that has just been waiting to be utilized.