Circular breathing is a technique used by singers and wind instrumentalists to help create a continuous and uninterrupted tone. The technique, which requires inhaling through the nose, allows you to maintain sound for long periods of time.

Circular breathing can also be practiced during meditation for both mental and physical benefits.

Keep reading to learn more about this breathing technique and how to master it.

Circular breathing involves switching back and forth between breathing through the lungs and the cheeks.

The technique involves four distinct stages:

  1. Your cheeks are puffed as you begin to run out of air.
  2. Air in the cheeks is pushed out through your instrument using the cheek muscles to maintain sound while you inhale through your nose.
  3. As the air in your cheeks decreases and enough air is inhaled into the lungs through your nose, the roof of your mouth closes and air is used again from the lungs.
  4. Your cheeks come back to a normal playing position.

Mastering the technique for an instrument

To master circular breathing, practice the following exercises on a daily basis:

  1. Puff out your cheeks while still breathing normally to get a feel for breathing with your cheeks enlarged.
  2. Puff out your cheeks again, and this time, create a small opening in the lips. This lets air escape through the lips while you exhale normally out your nose. Practice trying to maintain the airstream for 5 seconds.
  3. Repeat step two using a straw in a glass of water. You should force enough air out to create bubbles in the water. This step should be practiced until it starts to feel almost natural.
  4. Inhale quickly and deeply through the nose while air is being forced from your cheeks. While your cheeks are still slightly puffed, start to exhale out of your mouth, emptying your lungs. Practice keeping the airstream and bubbles as consistent and steady as possible. Repeat this step many times until you feel comfortable.
  5. Repeat step four without emptying your lungs. When the lungs start to deflate again, puff your cheeks and inhale quickly and deeply through your nose. Once a small amount of air has been inhaled, switch back to using air from the lungs. Repeat this several times. This is the technique used for circular breathing.
  6. Place only the mouthpiece of your instrument into your mouth. Practice holding an even pitch by switching back and forth from your normal lips to your lips with your cheeks puffed. You should notice that the corners of your mouth are firm enough to support the upper lip area.
  7. Steps four and five should be repeated using only the mouthpiece of your instrument.

If you notice a bump in the sound as you change from the sound produced by the air in the cheeks to the sound of the air being produced by the lungs, don’t worry. This is natural, and as you practice these exercises, that bump will start to become smoother.

According to the Smithsonian, singers near Tuva, the Russian republic near Mongolia, use circular breathing to produce multiple notes at the same time.

More commonly known as Tuvan throat singing, the tradition uses ancient techniques to project a voice in their chest while controlling their throat, mouth, and lips at the same time. Singers are trained from a young age on how to control their throat muscles.

Other cultures who have throat singing in their heritage include the:

  • Xhosa people of South Africa
  • Chukchi people of northern Russia
  • Ainu people of northern Japan
  • Inuit people of North America

Mastering the technique for singing

Proper breathing patterns are important for singers. It can be easy to lose your breath during a long note. If you’re a singer, consider practicing circular breathing to train your lungs to hold notes longer.

Follow these steps to practice circular breathing for singing:

Posture

Good posture is important to the outcome of your voice. This allows both good breathing and good singing. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Your weight should feel evenly balanced.

Breathing skills

After your posture is even and comfortable, practice control over your breath while singing. Practicing this will help support your voice and keep it stable.

Breathing exercises to train your lungs while singing include:

  • inhaling large amounts of air
  • taking small breaths of air in-between sentences and lines of a song
  • control the exhalation of your breath — let your breath escape calmly

Although many musicians benefit from circular breathing, the technique is also used for meditation purposes.

According to Dr. James Lochtefeld, professor of religion at Carthage College, Buddhist monks have been using advanced breathing techniques (Anapanasati Sutta) during deep meditation for centuries.

Circular breathing for meditation is the process of breathing deeply and slowly from your abdomen through your nostrils. The breath in should be the same length as the breath out. There should be no pause between the breath in and out.

According to meditation practitioners, circular breathing for meditation can assist in releasing negative energy or tension that’s stored in your body.

It’s suggested that the technique also helps improve long-term health by bringing a fresh supply of oxygen to the blood and making it more difficult for bacteria and viruses to enter the body.

According to a 2016 study, meditative breathing practices can have a positive impact on:

There are many benefits associated with the technique of circular breathing, such as:

  • For many wind instrumentalists, the technique is good for holding long notes without feeling like you’re running out of breath.
  • Singers can benefit from circular breathing because they can produce multiple notes at once — expanding both their limits and the number of sounds produced.
  • For people who meditate, circular breathing can improve your health and mental well-being.

Circular breathing is a technique that keeps oxygen flowing in and out of your body without interruption.

Singers and wind instrumentalists use the technique to maintain continuous, uninterrupted tones for long periods of time. The practice is also used in meditation.