Why Breathing is So Important When We Dance

"He lives most life whoever breathes most air."
                                                  - Elizabeth Barrett Browning

                                                Oxygen in…..
                                                            Carbon dioxide out…..
Breathing….it’s a functions of the autonomic nervous system that simply happens – until we focus on it -  then it becomes difficult for us to return to our normal breathing patterns….

What happens when we breathe?

            The major muscle involved in breathing, or respiration, is the diaphragm.  The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle found right under the lungs that separates the chest cavity from the abdomen.  When the diaphragm flattens, it allows room for the lungs to expand downward.  At the same time, the muscles of the rib cage contract to pull the ribs away from the lungs and allow even more space for them to expand.

            The lungs fill with oxygen, which is then transported throughout the body by the blood.  When oxygen arrives at the muscles, it is either stored in the muscles for future use or combines with glucose to create energy. 

            Glucose is what our bodies use for fuel.  When the body digests food, it breaks it down into glucose.  When glucose combines with oxygen,  it forms something called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP.   ATP is energy and is needed for any type of muscle contraction to occur.  This process of combining glucose with oxygen to create ATP is called aerobic cellular respiration.  In addition to ATP, aerobic cellular respiration also releases heat, water, and carbon dioxide.  The body is able to deal with the additional water and heat, but must rid itself of the carbon dioxide, which it does when we exhale.

            Although the body can create ATP molecules without using oxygen, it is through a process that is very inefficient.  Creating energy without using oxygen is called anaerobic respiration.  Anaerobic respiration only produces 2 molecules of energy at a time as compared to aerobic respiration which can create 36-38 molecules of energy!  

            During exercise it is important to be certain that we are always breathing efficiently so that our bodies can get enough oxygen and efficiently create the energy we need.

            Next week’s post will address why breathing is often a problem for dancers and how they can learn to breathe efficiently and effectively in class, in rehearsals, and in performances.