How do you breathe? Or rather, how do you breathe when you are under pressure? How do you breathe when you arrive at the point in the room where you have to stand, have to face the audience, have to speak?
If at any point in your past you have been involved in amateur singing, amateur dramatics, even as far back as school, a few strands of memory may now be bubbling to the surface. Remember your conductor, your musical director, your teacher encouraging you to breathe properly, breathe deeply as you performed?
Breathing is fundamental to life. It provides your body with the oxygen you need to create energy. Breathing is vital to your very being; it is your life force. Without breath, you cease to exist.
Focus on your breathing for a moment. Listen to your breathing. Feel the air as you inhale, as you exhale. Watch your chest rise and fall.
OK, so I’ve made you think about your breathing again. No apologies; let’s make use of this moment whilst you are in the breathing zone.
Look at what happens when you physically exert yourself, in sports, in the gym, or for some of us simply making it up the stairs… Yes, you breathe more quickly, but you automatically breathe more deeply, deeper into your lungs, deeper into your chest space.
Take this a step further, into the world of professional singers, professional athletes, professional speakers who have learned to make fuller use of their lung capacity. When their musical director, coach or teacher urges them to “breathe deeply, breathe into your lower stomach, breathe in against your ribcage, breathe into your back,” it isn’t a random instruction. It is simply an encouragement to make fuller use of their lung capacity.
Take this a step further; think of your automatic response when you stop breathing, when you’re at risk of choking, of drowning. Imagine being in the water, in the underwater world of divers, in the deep-water world of freediving. Imagine descending over 200 metres without equipment, without oxygen, underwater for over nine minutes fighting the urge to suck in great gulps of air… (Warning! Don’t try this in the bath at home…)
How’s your breathing now?
Practise this for yourself. Not freediving; I told you the bath isn’t deep enough. Just breathing. When no one is looking(!), stand, and breathe normally. That’s normal, relaxed, shallow breathing into the top of your lungs.
Now place the palm of your hand on your lower stomach, about hip height, or where—if you wear one—your belt buckle would be. As you breathe in, take the breath lower down into your lungs, down towards your hands, using that breath to push out against your hand.
Remember to breathe out again….
Now place your hands on your sides, palms against your lower ribcage, fingertips again about hip or belt high. As you breathe in, still breathing low down into your lungs, still pushing out against where your palm was a few moments ago on your lower stomach, now also push out sideways against your palms where they are now, at your sides on your lower ribcage.
Yes, remember to breathe out again!
Last exercise. Place your palms behind you, against your lower back, now at waist level, fingertips meeting at your spine.
As you breathe in deeply, still pushing against where your palm was on your lower stomach, still pushing against the sides of your ribcage, now also push against your hands where they are on your lower back.
Now you are breathing deeply.
Now when you walk to the front of the room, you are better equipped to use your breathing to build your confidence in speaking, also your audience’s confidence in you.
In the next article, we will look at the effect this has on you, and your audience.
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