top of page

How Breathing Really Works

Updated: Jul 8, 2023

Can you get rid of all your air? Are we supposed to run ourselves out of air when we sing? Are we supposed to save our air? Do you have pride in how long a phrase you sing in choir? To answer some of these questions, let's take a look at how breathing really works.

x-ray of lungs

First, let's try getting rid of all our breath. Physiologists say the lungs can hold between four to seven liters of oxygen, called Total Lung Capacity. Now, don’t try getting rid of so much air that you feel queasy or feel like you stripped your lungs, but get rid of enough air to feel like you’d really like to allow air back in.

What is this feeling of “I got rid of all my air”?

To me, it really feels like I’ve gotten rid of everything and that is called Vital Capacity. Depending on the size of the person vital capacity, it could be anywhere from three to five liters.

Even though I feel like I got rid of all my air, what is left over in the lungs after vital capacity has left the body is called Residual Capacity. Thank goodness we can’t get rid of residual capacity! This is what enables our lungs not to collapse!

Let’s think how many breaths we take daily and how beautifully we are built for everyday breathing. How many breaths did you take today?

It’s easy to find out:

Let’s assume that you’re an average healthy person –

15 breaths per minute x 60 minutes (one hour) = 900 (per hour)

How many hours have you been up? (I’m going to say 6 hours)

6 X 900 = 5400 breaths since you woke up.

How many of those breaths did you pay attention to? Probably the small number that I paid attention to! In everyday breathing, or normal respiration, the breathing mechanism, mostly the diaphragm, keeps us in gentle equilibrium taking in only half a liter, called Tidal Volume, so we are not aware of inhaling any more than when the diaphragm relaxes and the air exhales – it just happens continually without our notice.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page