Breath: Refresh vs. Refuel

How do you think about breathing?

Here’s a machine.

I am a woodwind player. I’ve thought about breathing within the context of oboe and saxophone for many years now.

But let’s not even start from the position of a wind player, but instead from that of a breathing human being. When someone brings your attention to your breath, what is that experience like for you? Does it bring relaxation or tension? Is there a feeling of activation and engagement or actively disengaging? I dunno. Maybe it’s different for all of us. For me the experience is usually mostly relaxing.

I know that throughout my day I will tend to hold my breath without realizing it.

This will result in holding tension in my muscles, jaw, neck, shoulders, whatever. By bringing attention to my breath, a release will happen. What once felt small and tight will realize there is room around it to stretch and spread out. There’s space. The word “refresh” comes to mind.

So it makes sense to me that I would take this understanding of breathing to the wind instruments I play. Blowing through these pieces of wood and metal is an exaggerated act compared to every day life breathing, but there should be some consistency in the basic principles.

If the act of breathing and blowing to play this instrument only results in a small, tight, closed experience, the approach to my breath might be fundamentally flawed. Just like in life, by drawing attention to the breath itself and not just what I want out of it, a terrain of openness may reveal itself to me. My once athletic breaths may relax into full, active, tension-free breaths.

This was a critical discovery in addressing endurance issues for me. When things feel easier, they then can feel easier for longer.

In — — — — .

Out — — — — .

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