This is an easy exercise from physical therapy that opens and lifts the ribcage and frees up the diaphragm. I am so excited about it that I am having all my students try it.
Singing is, in fact, delaying exhalation. Part of the way singers and actors gain more breath control is by training the body to remain in the position of inhalation longer than usual for everyday speech. When we inhale, the belly expands first, and then the base of the ribcage widens 360 degrees as we take more air in. For singing or extended speech one must learn to slow down the outflow of breath by slowing down the return of the ribcage to a closed position. We control the breath by controlling the natural actions of the body. By keeping the ribcage open a little longer, the lungs remain open and the air is held back in the lungs, extending the breath of the singer or speaker.
One of the complaints many new singers and actors have is that they don’t have much flexibility in the ribcage or control of the ribcage. Also, many yoga practitioners and athletes have tight abdominal muscles, which can lock the diaphragm in place, impeding deep breathing. Opera singers often open and lift their ribcages upward, causing the diaphragm to deeply flatten, opening the lungs widely, creating great breath control and vocal power. This is a sensation that is difficult for people to experience and to teach. This easy exercise that I just learned from a physical therapist opens and lifts the ribcage and frees up the diaphragm; it gives the singer the sensation used by pros to extend the breath.
Take an 8 or 10 foot yoga strap and first wrap it around your chest, then cross the strap in the back and lift up towards the ceiling on both ends of the strap. By lifting upward on the strap ends, the whole ribcage is opened and lifted up. This is amazing for freeing the diaphragm, that lines the lower six ribs of the ribcage. Try this and take a breath. Then try singing or chanting!