The Art of Breathing — Guest Post

Jes­si­ca Wolf, my col­league in New York City, is a vet­er­an Alexan­der tech­nique teacher who’s also gained con­sid­er­able expe­ri­ence in help­ing stu­dents improve their breath­ing.

The exer­cis­es and learn­ing expe­ri­ences she offers have obvi­ous appli­ca­tions for patients with asth­ma, bron­chi­tis, emphy­se­ma, chron­ic obstruc­tive pul­monary dis­ease (COPD), and the like.  Peo­ple with GERD (gas­tro-esophageal reflux dis­ease), hiatal her­nia, or sleep apnea could also ben­e­fit.

She also works exten­sive­ly with actors and singers. (She com­mutes up to New Haven where she’s on the fac­ul­ty of the Yale School of Dra­ma.)

And I’m per­son­al­ly con­vinced that the type of work she does could help a wider group of peo­ple: indi­vid­u­als with pos­tur­al prob­lems, excess ten­sion, depres­sion or anx­i­ety (i.e. — every­one!).

Here’s an arti­cle she was gra­cious enough to let me repub­lish:

Breathing Coordination

Breath­ing Coor­di­na­tion is breath­ing in that indi­vid­ual pat­tern which engages all the mus­cles of res­pi­ra­tion both vol­un­tary and invol­un­tary, and pro­vides the most effi­cient defla­tion and infla­tion of the lungs with the least amount of effort.”

- Carl Stough



Carl Stough

Carl Stough

At about the time F.M. Alexan­der died (he’s the Founder of the Alexan­der Tech­nique), anoth­er man was mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the sci­ence of breath­ing. Carl Stough (1926–2000), a mod­ern-day pio­neer in the sci­ence of res­pi­ra­tion, iden­ti­fied a par­tic­u­lar coor­di­na­tion that allows the res­pi­ra­to­ry sys­tem to func­tion at max­i­mum effi­cien­cy with min­i­mum effort. Effi­cien­cy of breath­ing can deter­mine the qual­i­ty of life. He called this “breath­ing coor­di­na­tion.”

Stough’s spe­cial­ized knowl­edge was the result of years of musi­cal train­ing and choral con­duct­ing and work with patients with emphy­se­ma, a debil­i­tat­ing and irre­versible res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­ease. Patients with res­pi­ra­to­ry ill­ness spend their lives try­ing to get an ade­quate breath. But it wasn’t just the hope­less­ly ill patient who had this prob­lem.

Breath­ing is a process which will occur of itself, but prop­er breath­ing requires con­sid­er­ably more atten­tion.”

- Carl Stough

Stough observed and worked with excep­tion­al ath­letes from the Unit­ed States Olympic Team as they pre­pared in high alti­tude for the Mex­i­co City Olympics in 1968. He also taught his method to the skilled singers at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera. Both groups had at var­i­ous times suf­fered from a loss of nat­ur­al breath­ing coor­di­na­tion.

The key to Stough’s successful method was the diaphragm.

The diaphragm is the pri­ma­ry mus­cle of res­pi­ra­tion. Stough dis­cov­ered a way to rede­vel­op the invol­un­tary move­ment of the diaphragm, facil­i­tat­ing reor­ga­ni­za­tion of the whole res­pi­ra­to­ry sys­tem. As a result, air that had been trapped in the lungs of severe­ly ill patients could be exhaled, leav­ing them with more room to breathe, some­thing pre­vi­ous­ly thought to be impos­si­ble. When oxy­gen intake is increased every sys­tem of the body is pos­i­tive­ly affect­ed and can improve the health of the indi­vid­ual. This knowl­edge was then applied to patients with asth­ma, arthri­tis, voice prob­lems and back pain.

Carl Stough’s res­pi­ra­to­ry sci­ence evolved from med­ical research which he began in 1958 and con­tin­ued through 1968. The major dis­cov­er­ies Carl Stough made dur­ing these years of research are:

  • The body is designed in a par­tic­u­lar way to move air out of and into the lungs (Breath­ing Coor­di­na­tion).
  • Every sys­tem in the body depends upon oxy­gen to func­tion and to be healthy.
  • Although the diaphragm is invol­un­tary, it can be rede­vel­oped and strength­ened.
  • Con­trary to gen­er­al belief, the more impor­tant phase of breath­ing is the exhale – the move­ment of air from the lungs.
  • When the diaphragm is devel­oped to its max­i­mum poten­tial, res­pi­ra­to­ry faults, man­i­fest­ed as abnor­mal­i­ties of the ribcage, can be cor­rect­ed.
  • When the diaphragm is rede­vel­oped, the ribs are more flex­i­ble and they can swing. The neck frees up and the excur­sion of the diaphragm mas­sages the inter­nal organs.
  • Prop­er air pres­sure from the lungs results in a nat­ur­al fre­quen­cy sound. The voice res­onates when the body learns to let go.
  • Envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns and stress­es of dai­ly life make breath­ing coor­di­na­tion essen­tial for main­tain­ing good health.


Deepen Your Body of Knowledge

More from Jes­si­ca Wolf

Deep breath­ing ben­e­fits — real­i­ty or myth?

Anoth­er reminder that pay­ing atten­tion to your body mat­ters



About Ronald Lavine, D.C.

Dr. Lavine has more than thirty five years' experience helping patients alleviate pain and restore health using diverse, scientifically-based manual therapy and therapeutic exercise and alignment methods. His website,, provides more information about his approach. Please contact him at or at 212-400-9663.
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4 Responses to The Art of Breathing — Guest Post

  1. Pingback: The Myth of Deep Breathing Benefits

  2. Pingback: Asthma Facts- How Manual Therapy Might Help Lung Function

  3. Susan says:

    Won­der­ful arti­cle.

    You can lis­ten to a cou­ple of pod­casts by Jes­si­ca at

  4. Pingback: Alexander Technique Exercises To Help Posture and Breathing | Respiratory System Information

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