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Breathing properly when reciting

An excerpt from our ebook “The Overnight Qari.”

(This blog post is an excerpt from our ebook “The Overnight Qari.” To learn more tips and techniques on reciting beautifully, download the ebook.)

I’m sure you’ve watched videos of Qurra like Shaykh Abdul Basit, Shaykh al-Minshawi, and so on, where their breath never seems to run out, and thought to yourself, “Wow! I wish I could do that.” In fact, breath control is one the things that I’m most frequently asked about. In this section, I’ll give you a secret to breathing properly for those super long ayahs.

Let’s kick things off with this video, which I’ve called Iceberg Lungs:

It’s amazing how much further you can go when you learn to implement this technique and breathe with your “stomach” rather than with your “chest”.

To help you get a better feel for implementing this correctly, here are two exercises you can try:

  1. Lie down on your back on a flat surface like the floor. Don’t lie on something soft like a bed or sofa. Now take a deep breath. Notice that naturally, without any effort, your stomach and abdominal area moves upward, while your shoulders stay in place. Now, take a deep breath once again but this time, fill up with a lot of air, pushing your stomach outwards – if you’re doing this correctly, you’ll also feel your back and side muscles expand in all directions.
  2. Sit upright in a chair, so that your lower back is properly rested against the back of the chair. Take in a nice, deep breath, without letting your shoulders rise upwards. If you’re doing this correctly, your abdominal area will push outwards and you’ll feel your lower back pressing into the chair.

With both of these exercises, you should start to get a feel for what it really means to fill up your entire abdominal cavity with air. Instead of taking shallow breaths with your upper chest area, you really want to focus on filling your entire lower abdomen with air. Of course, these exercises are a tad bit extreme – while reciting obviously you shouldn’t need to fill yourself up with air to the point where you’re almost bursting.

If you can focus on learning this and get to know how it feels to breathe in a full breath, you’ll notice that your capacity for breathing will be greatly improved. This is way more important than trying to “hold” in your breath while reciting, or trying carefully to control the release of air. For the most part, doing these things can just result in tension in your body, and this tension will show up in your voice.

Once you’ve mastered this, there are other exercises we can cover later on to help you have even greater control over your diaphragm and the air you release. For now, focus on breathing a full breath, and this will inshaAllah help you on your way to smoothly reciting those super-long ayahs.

Remember though that holding your breath for long isn’t a goal of recitation in and of itself. Holding your breath should not take precedence over stopping at the correct places. The rules of waqf should always be kept in mind.