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Natural Awakenings NYC & Long Island

‘Dr. Breath’

Prior to his death, Carl left a “shortlist” of people to carry on his work. I am honored to be one of them.

Carl Stough was the world’s best-kept secret. Now, thanks to bestselling author James Nestor, Stough’s work and genius have reached a wider audience.

The sign—“Dr. Breath Is Here Today!”—greeted breathing expert Carl Stough as he walked into the field house at Yale University in the spring of 1968. Stough had come to Yale to work with its track team, to determine whether improved breathing could lead to enhanced performance. It did, and that success led to his work with the US athletes of the 1968 Olympics.  

The moniker “Dr. Breath” was bestowed on him by an inventive Yale undergraduate, but Stough was not a physician. He was a choral conductor with a great ear and an intuitive understanding of the body, the diaphragm, breathing, and voice. His discoveries in the treatment of severely ill emphysema patients in the early 1960s revolutionized medicine’s understanding of the diaphragm, and the Stough Method of Breathing Coordination became a medically approved practice for the treatment of severe respiratory disorders.

Stough was the world’s best-kept secret. He cared little for marketing. Instead, he was singularly focused on his research on breathing and respiratory mechanics. Those of us who sought him out did so because we had heard about his work through our colleagues. Now, thanks to James Nestor’s book Breath, Stough’s work and genius have reached a wider audience.

Regaining What We Lost

Breathing Coordination integrates the movement of all the muscles of respiration, both involuntary and voluntary. It is the way we breathed when we were born but lost by the time we were two. Other breathing “techniques” focus on the voluntary muscles of breathing, but the true muscles of respiration—the diaphragm and the psoas—are involuntary muscles. Before Stough, it was a medical assumption that once the involuntary muscles of breathing were weakened they could not be redeveloped. Stough proved otherwise, and in 1962, the New York Times acknowledged his work with sufferers of severe emphysema in its article “Musician Devises Aid in Lung Cases.”

Breathing Coordination demands the power of touch—our own and that of a teacher. In my class at The Open Center, we work to reestablish coordination of the respiratory muscles, but you can go a long way in helping yourself with this simple tool. Place a light, non-imposing hand on your breastbone (sternum). Can you feel the movement of breath under your hand and how the sternum moves out a bit in inhalation and moves in on exhalation? If nothing is happening, do a little massage of your pectoral muscles and some gentle tapping on your sternum to awaken your diaphragm (this is very beneficial to do when you are lying down). Relaxing your chest in this way is a start reestablishing your breathing coordination.

Carl Stough died in 2000, but his work survives. Prior to his death, he left a “shortlist” of people to carry on his work. I am honored to be one of fewer than a dozen people worldwide Carl allowed to teach his work. 

For more information on Jean McClelland and her class at The Open Center, visit See ad, page XX

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