Extending the Exhale

If you tried the explorations in the breathing awareness post and discovered that your inhale is longer than your exhale, or it is equal and you’d like to extend your exhale, here are a few tips on how to do that.

As a reminder, an extended exhale helps to trigger the relaxation response – think about the need to fall asleep after you get home from a performance that ended at 11pm because you need to be up early to get to work the next day.  We often also need to be able to extend our exhale to sing longer phrases in some pieces of music*.

Nota Bene: If you are an asthmatic, please don’t try to attempt to extend your exhale when you are symptomatic, you are likely to trigger an asthma attack. Please wait until your breathing feels calm to try this. You may do even better to begin by thinking about shortening your inhale rather than stressing your system with extending your exhale.

We want to move gently through these explorations and not seek to force the body into a place it isn’t ready to go.

Before you begin, I recommend you move your body a bit – it could be as simple as setting a time for 2 minutes and shaking your body gently. Often we do well to burn off a little extra energy before settling in to focus on the breath. This is especially important if you are someone who finds focusing on your breath makes you agitated or anxious.

Get a Baseline- for all of these explorations you can either sit in a chair or lie in constructive rest.

  1. Bring your attention to the tip of your nose and feel the coolness of the air coming in through your nostrils.
  2. For a few cycles of breathing count the length your inhalation and exhalation – it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you count, just be consistent in your pace. Let’s say your ratio is 6 inhale, 3 exhale. Our first goal would be to extend your exhale by one count to 6 inhale, 4 exhale. Our second goal is to work to equal inhale and exhale 6:6. Then you can begin to extend the exhale 1 count at  a time to be longer than your inhale 6:7, 6:8, etc.

Strategies – try each for a minimum of 5 cycles of breath. Don’t try all of these at once, just do one at a time over a series of days to see which works best for you.

  1. Try first just thinking about slowing down your exhale to see if awareness is enough to bring about change.
  2. Use pursed lip exhalation: Inhale normally, and then purse your lips and exhale. Changing the shape of your aperture (opening) changes the rate at which you exhale, slowing it down.
  3. Straw breathing: inhale normally through the nose and then breathe out through a straw.
  4. Bee Breathing: inhale through the nose and then exhale on a gentle hum. There should be little effort in your hum and the jaw should be soft. You can experiment with having the tongue resting between your lower teeth and having the tip on the alveolar ridge (bumpy ridge behind the upper teeth and the rest of the tongue resting on the hard palate. Humming helps to extend your exhale, aides in air oscillating, increasing the exchanges of air between sinuses and the nose. It also helps boost the amount of NO, Nitric Oxide (not to be confused with N20, Nitrous Oxide, which is laughing gas!). Nitric Oxide is the third gas of breathing and it helps us find calm, fight on viruses and makes breathing easier.

As always, explore these options with a curious mind and share in the comments what you find!

  • Being able to sing through long phrases is also impacted by how your ribcage is positioned in the body – when we have ribs that habitually press forward we don’t get optimal movement especially in the back body when we breathe and sing.
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