by Julie A. Daymut, M.A., CCC-SLP
Breath support and control are important for everyday functions such as
speaking, eating, exercising, and relaxing. Breath support refers to how
we stabilize our bodies for air flow. Breath control is how we regulate
and coordinate airflow for different activities. We need good breath support and
control for various purposes, including playing instruments, singing songs, swimming
underwater, and doing yoga. In school, students need good breath support and control
when reciting lines for a play, reading aloud in class, talking louder in a noisy
cafeteria, and running in physical education class.
Breath flow powers our voice for conversation. We inhale (take air in) to fill our
lungs then exhale (let air out) when we speak. The longer the word, phrase, or sentence,
the more air we need. Different speech sounds use different amounts of air. For
example, /k/ is a quick sound that requires a short burst of air, while /s/ is a
long sound that requires a continuous flow of air. In conversation, we pause at
times in order to refill our lungs. We then continue to speak on the new air supply.
Inhalation/exhalation is an automatic process: however, some individuals have difficulty
maintaining breath support and/or control and need specific practice to improve
their breathing for different activities.
Improving Breath Support and Control
There are different ways to help an individual improve breath support and control.
Intervention will be specific to each individual. Some target skills include: increasing
the lung capacity or available breath supply; practicing breathing patterns for
speaking, exercising, relaxing, etc.; taking in more air or using bigger breaths;
and breathing from the diaphragm or “belly” instead of shallow “chest” breathing
where the shoulders raise up. Sometimes, individuals will lie down to practice different
breathing exercises. This helps them see and feel the belly rise when breathing
in and lower when breathing out. Placing and holding the hands on the rib cage is
another technique to increase awareness of breathing.
Professionals who may provide respiratory-related services include an otolaryngologist
or ear-nose-throat doctor (ENT), respiratory therapist (RT), physical therapist
(PT), occupational therapist (OT), and speech-language pathologist (SLP). An OT
or PT may work on strengthening and coordinating muscles for posture or positioning
of the head and/or body. They may use special chairs, with seat belts, which help
an individual sit up straight in order to get the best possible air flow.
SLPs can help individuals improve breath support and control through a variety of
activities. Different breathing skills include: increasing one’s awareness of breath;
taking bigger breaths; keeping a steady breath when speaking; and using a louder
volume. Some activities to practice breathing are: blowing exercises—blowing
a feather across a table; blowing a pinwheel; blowing bubbles;
speech exercises—holding out vowel sounds (e.g., “eeee…”); singing songs
(e.g., Happy Birthday); and functional exercises—relaxing
and breathing deeper (“belly” breathing); blowing a whistle; blowing up a balloon.