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Singing group breathes easier thanks to imaginative art project

20 April 2015

Members of Royal Brompton Hospital’s Singing for Breathing group have captured what their breath looks like, thanks to an innovative art project that hopes to help patients better understand their conditions.

The project, titled ‘Breathe’, was completed by artist Jayne Wilton. Last year she asked members of the group, who are all patients affected by respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, to record an image of their breath by breathing onto photographic film. The images illustrated how respiratory disorders affected the way patients breathe. For example, splutters of struggled breath appeared as short, sharp patterns in the artwork.

The uniqueness of the project captured the imagination of The Lancet. The journal referred to the therapeutic benefits for patients, stating that seeing their breath helped patients to understand how respiratory conditions affected their breathing. It also reminded the patients why exercising good breathing control is important.

Singing for Breathing workshops, which are held weekly at Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals, are open to the Trust’s respiratory patients and have been running since 2008. Around 650 patients take part in them annually. Singing is thought to improve respiratory patients’ breathing by strengthening their lungs, encouraging them to focus on breathing techniques and use their lung capacity as best they can. 

Karen Taylor, arts manager at rb&hArts, a charitable organisation which runs the Singing for Breathing groups, said: “Patients found taking part in the Breathe project invaluable and enjoyed being part of such an innovative project. Over the year there has been a significant increase in the number of regular attendees to the Singing for Breathing workshops, which is in part due to the provision of new ways of working with artists.

“Our participants are our greatest advocates and regularly speak about the benefits of taking part in regular singing workshops to other patients and their clinicians. They often say they feel more relaxed after just one session and that their breathing is stronger.” 

A survey of 500 Trust patients found that 70 per cent felt significantly physically better after taking part in Singing for Breathing workshops. The sessions also boosted their wellbeing, making them less anxious, depressed and isolated.

Royal Brompton’s Singing for Breathing group will perform at the Medi-Cinema at Guy’s Hospital, London, at 12.30pm-1.30pm on 30 April, to mark the end of the exhibition of Jayne Wilton’s work, which can currently be seen in the Ground Floor of the Tower Wing at Guy’s. The group’s leaders will also discuss the optimum breathing techniques for respiratory patients at the event.


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