This 1 min animation from Alexander Technique teacher Jessica Wolf shows natural human breathing.
Watch it for a couple of minutes and see if your breathing changes.
It helps me understand why Alexander Technique legend Elisabeth Walker used to get me started with, “Allow your ribs to contract” and why Alexander gave what he described as an “order” for the back to widen.
We can interfere with this physiology in so many ways and most of the time we’re probably compromising ourselves so that our breathing doesn’t look like this.
In the water, if we allow our body to breathe, this is what happens…
Starting with the outbreath, something about the resistance of the water against our body encourages air to come out naturally.
Don’t force it, let it happen. More air comes out when we start moving.
If you let your back remain open (wide) as you float, you can wait for the bubbles to come. A pause from breathing when you’re just floating underwater is fine, so long as you’re not holding your breath by tightening everything up.
As you let everything go in a glide, air tumbling out of your rib cage is part of what naturally happens, something to observe rather than something you have to remember to do.
As you come out of the water for an inbreath, let air out through the surface so that the inbreath occurs as a response to breathing out into the atmosphere.
But, most importantly, give yourself time for your back to widen for the inbreath, just like in the animation.
The most conducive way to allow a natural inbreath is probably to roll on to your back. But in breaststroke I like to give myself plenty of time, swimming with my face out for a couple of moments, looking around, until the inbreath happens. Naturally and ideally, air comes in through the nose.
If we don’t react to being in water in a fearful, panicky way but focus on letting it help us breathe, breathing can happen like in the animation.
If we’re not careful, the opposite happens: we force air out by overdoing the bubble blowing and we suck air in with a stiff neck through a contorted mouth.
Next time you’re in the water, try making it your priority to let your body breathe as nature intended. You may need to slow down.
Animation courtesy of Jessica Wolf