Review by Emily Faulkner for AmSAT.
Richard Brennan’s new book, How to Breathe, Improve Your Breathing for Health, Happiness and Well-Being is a solid guide on breathing and the Alexander Technique. It is well organized, clearly written, and comprehensive. The wealth of information is balanced by philosophical considerations and gentle reminders that the purpose is to find balance and ease. The book covers the following (and more):
- Anatomical explanations of the breathing mechanism
- Basic principles of the Alexander Technique
- Common misconceptions related to our breathing
- How the Alexander Technique can help us improve our breathing mechanism
- How the Alexander Technique helps us better use our voices
- And all this is accompanied by a panoply of exercises.
The anatomy of the respiratory and vocal systems will certainly come in handy for me. Brennan includes enough anatomical information to make it accurate, but not so much as to get lost in the details. I was happy to be reminded of some basics, like the fact that the air we breathe in enters the nasal cavity horizontally as opposed to upwards vertically. The sections on anatomy included some experiential exercises like thinking of the diaphragm as a parachute, billowing in the wind.
As someone who has suffered in the past from both hoarseness and asthma, I quite appreciated many of the exercises. In particular, I found it useful to observe the movement of my abdomen, ribs, and upper chest while lying down, sitting, and standing.
These experiences gathered from three positions yielded more observations than had I assumed just one of those positions because I had so much more to compare.
The book is filled with these sorts of wonderful, basic observational exercises, many designed to help us see how our thinking affects our breathing. For instance, what happens when we hold our breath? What happens when we think of our breathing mechanism in a more or less anatomically accurate way? When do we unconsciously hold our breath and what happens when we bring consciousness to that situation?
Brennan also includes the whispered “ah,” some vocal exercises, and some simple standing and sitting movements.
Throughout, Brennan emphasizes the non-doing of breathing. Every section is couched in reminders that healthy breathing is effortless, and this sort of effortless breathing brings calm to every aspect of our lives, emotionally and physically.
If you are well versed in the Alexander Technique, as a teacher or an advanced student, this book is a useful resource, both as a factual reference and as a source of good exercises. If you are less steeped in the Alexander Technique, it’s a well-written and practical guide to the basic principles of breathing and the Alexander Technique, but some of the exercises towards the second half of the book may be a bit dif cult to follow. However, if you’ve got an Alexander Technique teacher to consult, you’ll probably find them quite instructive.
How to Breathe
Breath is essential for life, but did you know that the way you breathe can be detrimental to your well-being? Poor posture, stress, muscular tension … all can make the ‘effortless’ act of breathing hard work without us realizing. And breathing isn’t just a physical activity; it influences our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being, too.
HOW TO BREATHE shows you how to relearn your natural rhythm of breathing to beneficially alter the way you think, feel and act. Packed with breathing techniques to use at home, and featuring groundbreaking methods developed
by the founder of the Alexander Technique, it will help you rediscover how to breathe naturally to improve every aspect of your life. By applying consciousness to the action of breathing, you can become aware of harmful habits – and alleviate common breathing problems in the process.
We breathe more than 20,000 times a day – so why not make sure you do it as efficiently and effectively as possible? This is a book you can’t afford to be without.
Price: £12.99 RRP
Richard Brennan is the director of the Alexander Teacher Training College in Galway, Ireland. He lectures extensively throughout Europe and the USA, and has been teaching the Alexander Technique for over 25 years. His previous titles include, among others, The Alexander Technique Manual (listen to the podcast!), Change Your Posture – Change Your Life, and Stress: The Alternative Solution.