Thank Heavens for Technique!

….So yes, it seems like I’ve really been suffering  forever with….

  • The eternal asthma purgatory that is the bottom end of the Yellow Zone.
  • The constant feeling of air starvation with suffocation thrown in.
  • The sleepless nights.
  • The inability to get comfortable with anything.
  • The incessant tiredness that ensues when the air trapping saps every atom of your strength.
  • The boredom of it all, especially not being up to having my swim and some gentle form of exercise.

And then I remember my technique.

I used to be a brilliant oboe player. I say that with complete hand on heart because it’s true. A few months back, my student teacher whacked on a CD and played some of it to me. She half tricked me and asked what I thought. I remember saying the pianist was dire, the composition was mediocre but the oboe player was gorgeous. She then told me the piece was one of her GCSE Music compositions, the pianist was an ex colleague and the oboist….was me! I was so chuffed. Then it all made me cry. I used to be able to play like that now I can’t even blow the thing. Geez, I even cried at my parents when I told them about it.

I wrote this post last February about my oboe playing.

So where is the technique? Answer: in my diaphragm of course. Although I’m sort of half feeling like I’ve just come out of the ring with Mike Tyson, I’ve got a rock solid diaphragm and that’s what I have to thank for getting me out of so many scrapes, breathing wise.

As an ex-oboist, I still practise the technique surrounding the breathing pattern necessary to play the thing well.

Not much air leaves your lungs therefore a whole lot stays in your lungs. This leads to a build up of CO2 which, in poor technique can cause hyperventilation, giddyness and fainting. I can safely say I never once fainted, think I almost did once in a Mahler symphony but I remember it being so very hot in the auditorium! (Seems I was destined for a life of air trapping from the outset of my oboe lessons, doesn’t it!)

This back up of retained air is easily sorted out by learning how to breathe properly. Whereas most wind players get away with breathing IN at the end of a phrase, the oboist has to breath the CO2 OUT then take fresh new air IN. It takes a bit of getting used to but eventually becomes second nature. I was one of those lucky oboists who also learned to Circular Breathe.

Oboe playing is not “dangerous” provided you are well taught and you learn to breathe properly. The oboe is recognised as an excellent instrument for those with asthma (if well taught) because of the breath control technique it requires.

As a player, I could keep going for ages and ages on a single ‘OUT’ breath. I could play the whole of the 1st phrase of the Strauss concerto on the longest single out breath ever-it used to amaze people. And, yes, I had quite severe asthma in my college days. One of the reasons I wanted to learn with my Professor was because I knew he’d understand being a fellow severe asthmatic.

It’s this sole ability to really exhale for a long time that helps me when I am so backed up with air like now, and really suffering for it like I said at the top of this post. When I practise my P.E.P. therapy, I inhale for 4 counts and exhale for as many as 12 counts if I can make it-all the time trying to empty, stretch and splint those clamped off airways open. If I were to really try, and in safe conditions, I would probably only completely exhale my lungs about 4 or 5 times in the space of a minute if I could relax enough. Trouble is, I gasp the air in so much it can be self panicking. Therefore I’ve always got too much CO2 hanging around.

I also practise the Pursed lipped Breathing technique. (I’ll write another post on PLB another time)

So really, ahead of dragging myself, almost in the dark now, to school, I think I’ll close by saying, yes the humungous doses of Steroids help, the Bipap helps, the ABGs help by telling us what is transpiring, the IVs load the drugs in, the intensive monitoring helps, but what really counts for everything in any post recovery phase is

….a good breathing technique…..


9 Responses to Thank Heavens for Technique!

  1. kirsten says:

    Boy can i relate to the loss of the ability to play a beloved instrument , i started the clarinet as my Mum was told that woodwind were the best instruments for us and a friend happened to be selling her clarinet so that was it. Every now and again when i’m cupboard tidying it appears and so do the tears-it can be soooo frustrating. Never seen the PEP before but it wouldnt help me i dont think as i’m not a gunky asthmatic unless i have pneumonia but air trapping is becoming more of an issue but i havent had any feedback as to how i can reduce it!!! Hope things pick up soon xxxx

  2. Melissa says:

    Hi! I’ve seen you posting on Steve’s blog for a long time, but didn’t know you played the oboe! I’m actually a professional cellist myself, but stopped playing for several years due to back pain. Recently I went for several months of PT, and it actually worked (or at least I can self correct my problem!). So now I’m practicing again. Kind of strange, but wonderful. So sorry about your oboe. That is very sad. But I’m sure you’re a beautiful person whether you can play oboe right this minute or not, and that it will always be a part of you.


    • Thank you for visiting, Melissa. How wonderful to have a pro cellist stop by. And another fellow asthmatic musician at that, I’m so glad the PT helped your back. Must be wonderful to be playing again!

  3. Elisheva says:

    My ex-boyfriend used to play the clarinet and was asthmatic too. He told me a couple times he wanted to teach me how to do the breathing excercises. But we ended up breaking up before he got around to it.

  4. Amy says:

    This is really interesting, Susannah! I used to play the clarinet, and I’ve never heard of the woodwind/asthma connection. I still have my clarinet, and it’s a really excellent quality one, too. Perhaps I should start teaching the kid? Her elementary school offers band and orchestra for 5th and 6th graders, but she’s not in it b/c she’s a chorus person. (In middle school, you have to pick band OR chorus.)

    Anyway, one of my friends in high school played oboe and clarinet, and I remember the breathing for oboe was much harder for her to nail down b/c it’s so complex.

    Sorry you can’t play anymore. 😦 You should put some audio files on your blog–I’d love to hear them!

  5. Hi Amy, wow another Clarinet player. AG’s singing is excellent for her, but if she wanted to learn your clarinet, even better still. I know she is a sporty young thing too so with her level of fitness, some diaphragmatic breathing practice and good medicine control, there’s no reason why she can’t crack this wretched disease. I so wish her well, she’s such a happy bright young thing in spite of those lung challenges! Hugs!

  6. wheezytux says:

    Hey, Really sorry you been stuggling so much recently. I would have loved to be able to play an instrument. My family are all bagpipers and would loved to ahve kept the family tradition but unfortunatly the bag pipes is jsut a little bit too much puff!!! I am glad the technique from oboe playing has helped you with your chest. Take care Ol x

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