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Harmonicas for Health

Mary Jane Gormley and Lee Anna Rasar     

 Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica – Bloomington, MN  – August 20, 2010

EXERCISES FOR BREATHING BETTER – Mary Jane Gormley - The exercise program below emphasizes deep breathing, belly breathing (often done together, but they’re not the same thing), breathing awareness and control, relaxed shoulders, and steady movement of the entire thoracic and abdominal area.  It incorporates aspects of respiratory therapy and some ancient breathing techniques extensively used in programs for meditation, relaxation, stress reduction, and pain management.  It provides focus, and it’s plain fun. We use the ten-hole diatonic harmonica.

1a)  Draw in slowly and steadily through the first three or four holes on the left (dominant chord), at a constant volume, to fill the lungs fully; hold that for a count of two.
1b)  Blow out slowly and steadily through the same holes (tonic chord), keeping the volume constant.  Empty the lungs completely and hold that for a count of two.  Repeat 1a-b at a steady pace that you can maintain.  Do the pair for a total of four complete in-out breaths.
2a-b)  Draw in fully and then blow out fully, this time changing the volume, soft-loud-soft, loud-soft-loud, or any variation you’d like, again counting to two at each pause.  Four breaths.
3a-b)  Continue breathing in the same rhythm through the harmonica while saying:  you-we, drawing the tongue toward the back of the mouth (as for whistling a lower note) and then moving it forward. Do you-we once each direction, draw and blow, with the pauses, then twice (you-we-you-we), then three times; on the fourth breath, do it over and over as fast as you can.
4a-b)  Divide the draw note into four separate little draws on the same breath as fast as you can; do the same for blow.  No pauses with this one.  We do this fast exercise four breaths on holes 1-2-3, four on 2-3-4, four on 3-4-5, then back down to 2-3-4 and 1-2-3 - twenty breaths in all.
5)  The train, mostly just two holes at a time.  First, for a train whistle, draw in hard on holes 5-6.  Very slowly, because the train is starting, draw holes 1-2 twice on the same breath, draw-pause-draw-pause, very evenly, then blow the same way.  Do that draw-blow pair three more times, getting a little faster each time; move up to 2-3, continuing to increase the speed.  After four of those, move up to 3-4.  Do four there as fast as you can, then start moving back down to 2-3 and then 1-2 slowing down.  After chugging to a stop, you can do another whistle.
6), 7)  Two single-note exercises are changing back and forth between notes in adjacent holes, both drawing and blowing, and slides over several notes.  Both of those use pauses.
8)  The last and most important exercise mimics respiratory therapy’s chest percussion, because it vibrates the air throughout the lungs and shakes loose a lot of congestion.  The air pressure, in or out, is maintained by the diaphragm, but the start and stop of the air flow is controlled by saying t-t-t-t or k-k-k-k or covering the holes with the tongue (tongue blocking).  Maintain the pressure (in or out) while blocking many times to interrupt the flow of air.

Harmonicas for Health: A Guide to Breathing Better, by Mary Jane Gormley and Larry Vesely RRT (Bloomington,  IN: Bloomington Hospital, 2009; iv, 41 pp.)

The four-year-old Harmonicas for Health program at Bloomington Hospital was developed by a COPD patient (MJG) and a serious harmonica-playing respiratory therapist (LV). Its new book was welcomed at the health seminar of the international conference of SPAH (Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica) in Sacramento in August 2009; an overview was presented at a regional music therapy conference in Indianapolis in March 2010 and at a Bloomington stroke rehabilitation program in April 2010.  The book was enthusiastically announced in the Nov./Dec. 2009 issue of the Pulmonary Paper (p. 6).

For copies, please send a check or money order made out to HEARTEAM for $6 (US) per copy (postage included within USA) to Harmonicas, Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, Bloomington Hospital, P.O. Box 1149, Bloomington IN 47402.

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Order form for Harmonicas for Health: A Guide to Breathing Better by Gormley and Vesely
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Please make check or money order out to HEARTEAM and send with order form to Harmonicas, Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation, Bloomington Hospital, P.O. Box 1149, Bloomington IN 47402.