Gravity and Breath

Letting breath “drop” is a common expression amongst a certain kind of voice teacher, including myself. It’s connected to the feeling of letting breath into the lower part of the abdomen, with a contraction of the diaphragm and a release of any tension in the abdominal musculature. With that release, gravity pulls your guts, your viscera, down and forward on the impulse to breathe. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s pleasurable. If done right, you get the sensation not of “taking a breath”, but of “the breath taking you”. Delightful.

Standing up, breath releasing down on the inhalation is accentuated by gravity, but that release is fairly limited in its sensation. By kneeling on all fours, you can let your guts drop with gravity in a more dramatic way, feeling the sensation of the drop toward the floor very clearly. As you exhale, and the diaphragm rises back up, you feel your guts come back toward your spine. Breath in you feel full down low; breath out you feel empty down there.

Lying down on your back, in a semi-supine (with your knees bent) position, gravity pushes against this movement in the belly on the inhalation. The musculature of the diaphragm has to push a wee bit harder as the viscera move forward and “up” toward the ceiling against gravity. There is a greater sense of engagement here. On the exhalation, whether on sound or merely on breath, gravity “helps”, as the viscera drop toward the floor, toward the spine.

Rolling over onto your belly (“prone,” as they say), the movement of breath into the belly is somewhat impeded by the floor. With breath movement moving the guts, the spine rises toward the ceiling, at least somewhat, and the lower back ribs spread wide as the lower back expands. On the exhalation, gravity presses the body down onto the guts as the diaphragm relaxes up toward the heart.

Pushing back into a “child’s pose,” with the knees spread so that the belly can again drop with gravity, the pelvic floor becomes available for movement—the sensation of breath “dropping” moves down into a stretch sensation in the perineum. The lower back also pushes up against gravity, especially if the knees are kept together to restrict movement of the belly downward with gravity.

Finally, one can return to all fours with yoga poses called “cat” and “cow”: as you exhale, round your back up into an arched cat-like pose; as you inhale, and your guts drop toward the floor with gravity, curve your tailbone up to the ceiling and look up (so-called “cow”). This movement exaggerates the movement of your belly by simultaneously moving your spine.

Gravity can be your friend in learning about breath basics. Explore this sensation and feel where you can go with it!

Eric Armstrong is the voiceguy. Eric is a dialect, voice, speech and text coach based in Toronto, Canada, where he normally teaches full-time at York University’s Dept. of Theatre. Eric has been teaching voice for the actor full-time since 1994, and has taught in Canada and the US, at the University of Windsor, Brandeis University, Roosevelt University, Canada's National Voice Intensive and York University. He has worked for nationally and internationally recognized companies such as Crow’s Theatre, Volcano, SoulPepper, & Canadian Stage in Toronto, and The Court Theatre and Steppenwolf in Chicago. Eric holds a BFA from Concordia University (Montreal) in Theatre Performance, and an MFA from York University (Toronto) in Acting. His mentors were David Smukler (York, Canada’s National Voice Intensive) and Andrew Wade (Royal Shakespeare Company). He has also studied at the Drama Studio, London, and Il Stage Internazzionale di Commedia dell’Arte in Reggio Emilia, Italy. He’s a long time member of the Voice and Speech Trainers Association, where he has served on the board, as a conference planner, photo editor for the Voice and Speech Review, Founding Director of Technology and Internet Services, and has written numerous peer-reviewed articles, essays and reviews for the VASTA Newsletter, the VASTA Voice, and The Voice and Speech Review.

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