dateMay 01, 2017
authorTerri Gerlach, PhD, CEENTA Voice & Swallowing Center Director
categoryOpera Carolina News
Sing Strongly with Nasal Breathing
Exercising your voice, resting it at the appropriate times and not overusing it, avoiding acid reflux, and treating your allergies are all good ways to keep your voice healthy and strong. Just as important as all of that, though, is knowing proper breathing techniques. Breathing through your nose has many benefits, especially if you’re preparing for a major singing engagement.
The science behind nasal breathing is complicated, CEENTA Voice & Swallowing Center Director Terri Gerlach, PhD, said, but it boils down to allowing the body to maintain more carbon dioxide (CO2).
“CO2 levels must be balanced with oxygen, but most of us breath too much too quickly and with too much volume,” Dr. Gerlach said. “We lose too much CO2, and this results in the narrowing of blood vessels, airways, and nasal passages, and challenges our overall health.”
Nasal breathing has a number of benefits for singers. First the nose filters out allergens and other particles that could irritate the throat. Air exhaled through the nose also reabsorbs moisture more efficiently than mouth breathing. This reduces the chance of dehydration. Mouth breathing, meanwhile, can dry out the mouth and throat, which can irritate the throat when singing.
Shallow mouth breathing can also activate the fight-or-flight response, which can raise your stress levels. On the other hand, nasal breathing forces you to slow down and relaxes you.
Nasal breathing also helps improve your concentration and memory, so you’ll have an easier time recalling all those complicated pieces you’ll be singing.
Nasal breathing also better regulates the amount of air you breathe and improves your lung volume, which will only be beneficial on those days you have long pieces to sing.
And when you’re done with all your hard work singing, nasal breathing will help you recover faster.
The practice of nasal breathing has become more well known in recent years in many aspects of life including meditation, yoga, exercise and most aspects of your day and night, Dr. Gerlach said. Even sleep must be nasal in order to allow for a more restful, healthy, and beneficial sleep.
“I have begun to use these nasal breathing techniques with most of my patients,” Dr. Gerlach said. “I have taught singers to inhale nasally while singing and public speakers to the same while speaking and athletes to remain nasal during workouts. The more we can reduce how much air we think we need for tasks, use our nose only, and work to become totally in our diaphragm with relaxed breathing, the healthier we become.”
“A quote from my Buteyko breathing trainer always sticks in my mind: ‘breathe through your mouth as much as you eat through your nose,’” Dr. Gerlach said.
Dr. Gerlach is a speech language pathologist who specializes in voice and swallowing disorders for both pediatric and adult populations. She is a Level II-certified Buteyko breathing practitioner for disorganized and disordered breathing. She received her undergraduate and master’s degrees from Miami University in Oxford, OH, and her doctorate from the University of South Carolina.