At the start of every choir session, I ask members to join me in taking a breath (a few actually). I always see a mixture of happy compliance, eye rolling and even loud sighs (from more daring members)! I press on regardless.
But the question “Why?” always hangs in the air.
To be honest I’ve asked myself this question on numerous occasions and it wasn’t until my good friend Kate gave me her answer, that my own truth dawned on me. Until that point, I just sort of did it, because it worked (for me).
Her comment made me reflect on the many other ways to start a session. Some choir leaders jump straight into a vocal warm up, some have a special signal – clapping a rhythm or other behaviourist approach, some start with a simple song.
I have experienced and witnessed many of these approaches as choir leader and choir member. They all serve a similar purpose – that of drawing the group to attention.
But the breath.
Aaaah, I love taking a breath.
Breathing in luxuriously and deeply for the count of 4 then, breathing out slowly for the count of 6. Extending this by slowly adding sounds, for example breathing out on “sssss” (as in the S in smoothe).
The change in atmosphere is tangible. The silence – sublime. The relaxation. The stillness. The focus. That’s why.
Technically speaking I have reasons too. It helps to sing without tension and breathing slowly, calms us – soothing our nervous system. We also need to breathe well to support our singing and this simple repetitive action reminds us of our body’s capacity.
The impact in a 50 piece choir can be transformational. It creates a swift movement from loud chatter and laughter to silence. It brings calm focus and attention, bodies relaxing, minds opening. The perfect start to a session.
By the way Kate’s answer was this (I am paraphrasing here). “Some people haven’t had a chance to stop all day and just breath. To let go of the day. Mark an end to the stress. To empty ourselves just for a moment”
In a noisy family household or office (if you’re feeling super brave); ask everyone to stand with you and take a few breaths. Alternatively you can lie on the floor with your knees bent.* Obviously not in an office!!
Put one hand on your chest, and one at the top of your tummy. Keep your shoulders and neck relaxed.
Take a deep slow breathe in through your nose and visualise it travelling down to your tummy. A good breath is one that raises your lower hand, more than the hand on your chest. (If you are finding it hard, breathe in as if you are sipping through a large straw. Suck the breath in and feel it fill the bottom & sides of your lungs).
Breathe out through your mouth.
Once you get the hang of a deep breathe, start the count.
Close your eyes.
Breathe in for 4 and out for 7. Spend a minute or so, just breathing. You can also try adding “Ssss” to your breath out.
Afterwards take some time to notice the change in the room, on others and your body before getting busy again. It’s staggering how a simple breath can lift the moment, maybe even alter your day.
*breathing well can make you feel temporarily dizzy. If this happens, just pause for a bit. It will pass. And when it settles try again.