Everyone knows that we need breath in order to live. But did you know that there is a right and wrong way to breathe? Breathing coordination is key to health.
Today, thanks to the clinical research of Carl Stough, we know how the mechanics of the respiratory system are actually meant to work. In the late 1950’s, Carl, then a gifted choral director, accepted a request to help emphysema sufferers from post World War II.
Upon meeting them and seeing them locked into an eternal state of gasping, Carl found his hands going instinctively to their rigid chests. By the simple act of touching the chest, he was able to release some of their tension. However, the tension returned. Carl thought that if he could teach just one of these patients to make one clear vowel sound (they all had raspy, hoarse and breathy voices) without the chest locking, perhaps he could help make a permanent change in their condition.
Carl devoted the next ten years of his life to helping chronically ill patients improve the health of their respiratory system- improve their breathing coordination. Despite resistance and skepticism, he patiently moved forward, creating a series of isometric exercises that focused on the relaxation of the muscles evenly and equally on all surfaces of the the lungs in order to create synergy, or what he termed Breathing Coordination, as the patient developed the capacity to express a group of sounds during exhalation. All of Carl’s patients improved. Carl’s background in voice gave him the idea that he might be making a change in the diaphragm.
Looking back on those early days, Carl comments:
“The main and largest muscle/organ in the body was totally overlooked because the medical establishment thought nothing could be done about it. The entire internal pressure of the body, circulation – all depend on how much carbon dioxide you can get out of your body so that you can inhale. Everything about breathing coordination is based on exhaling, not inhaling.
This carries forward into every major medical problem that exists today. Everything has to do with oxygen level or a build-up of carbon dioxide in the body… All respiratory infection starts in residual volume (the amount of air left in the lung after exhaling) and if the diaphragm isn’t strong enough to rise high enough to push out the stale air, you just get one infection after another.” (Carl Stough).
Encouraged by cinefluorographic films that were taken before and after his work showing the stark differences between emphysema and normal health, Carl forged ahead in the development of his exercises. They were simple, requiring only that his patient relax and count out loud and silently, as he gently palpated the muscles of the neck, throat, root of the tongue, jaw, shoulders, chest, back and abdomen reducing the residual volume and thereby repositioning the chest, lowering the ribcage and bringing the patient back to normal breathing coordination.
Carl’s incredible ability to visualize, his keen ear for sound, heightened sense of touch and highly developed instincts were what enabled him to make the discovery he called, Breathing Coordination, which helped hundreds of patients with a wide range of chronic illnesses.
In 1968 The American Olympic Team called on Carl to train athletes in preparation for the high altitude Mexico Olympic Games. In a letter to Carl after the 1968 Olympic victories, Payton Jordan, head coach of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team writes
“I want to express in writing my eternal gratitude for…. your expert breathing coordination instruction for the athletes. You…were instrumental in creating the finest spirit ever and more world and Olympic records than in all past games history!”
These records would stand for over 25 years and the US track and field team would be the only team to