Here’s a simple breathing exercise that will restore your breathing back to a normal and help put you at ease next time you speak in public.
This exercise will improve your breathing habit because you have most likely picked up a bad one. Your bad breathing habit could be negatively impacting your confidence and ability to influence.
The bad breathing habit I am talking about is; shallow breathing or chest breathing.
Meaning, you breathe from your chest area instead of your abdominal area. You have picked up this breathing pattern subconsciously as a result of years of being around adults who utilize their chest, neck and shoulder muscles to breathe instead of their diaphragm.
Breathing this way causes you to intake less oxygen and will affect the quality of your voice and your overall comfort level.
You are supposed to breathe like a baby
Infants and children breathe from their abdominal area using their Diaphragm.
Diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing, natural breathing, belly breathing or deep breathing is breathing done through the diaphragm, an organ located under the lungs. As air enters, your stomach expands and moves outwards instead of the chest moving outward which results in a shallow breath.
According to a study by the University of Minnesota, adults get in the habit of using their chest muscles. That’s a problem because chest breathing is an evolutionary adaptation to emergency situations. However, because of a bad habit, we learn to rely on chest breathing most of the time. This comes back to haunt us when we are speaking in public because that’s a time where we need more oxygen.
Look at this video to see a demo of the different types of breathing.
Public Speaking Problems Caused by Bad Breathing Habits
1. Heavy breathing when you talk
Breathing from your chest area does not give you enough oxygen, so you will need to take quick breaths resulting in the shortness of breath. Heavy breathing creates the impression that you are nervous.
2. Tension in your chest
Chest breathing causes your chest muscles to do the breathing for you. This creates the sensation of tightness in the chest. Which causes discomfort and distraction when you want to present. Because instead of paying attention to your audience and message, you start wondering about this feeling you have in your chest.
3. Vocal fry and up-talk
Bad breathing causes you not to push enough air through your vocal cords and will be reflected in the quality of your voice. Since you have very little air in your lungs, the first words you say will be loud and clear, but the tail end of your sentences will not get enough air to support them, and they end up sounding low and scratchy or high pitched:
The weak and scratchy voice is usually called Vocal Fry, and the higher pitch is often called Uptalk (or upspeak).
4. Lower overall voice
Since you have the little air in your lungs and because you consciously or unconsciously try to avoid vocal fry, you might end up with low volume. With some clients, their voice is barely audible. People usually associate low volume with nervousness and shyness, which counter your ability to influence audiences.
5. Vicious cycle of increased anxiety
All these symptoms affect your confidence and also how credible you look. Because shallow breathing is a habit that is triggered by speaking anxiety, and the discomfort of shallow breathing adds to the anxiety we feel – this turns into a vicious cycle that feeds on itself:
You feel nervous, you’re breathless, you feel discomfort, and then you feel more nervous, etc.
The simplest way to break this cycle is to pick up a better speaking habit.
Diaphragmatic breathing instructions
1. While laying down, sitting, or standing up: Place one hand on your belly, and the other one on your chest. Your hands will be your biofeedback sensors, to let you know where you are breathing from.
2. Use your mouth to gently exhale air out of your lungs. Relax your shoulders, chest, and abdominal area as you exhale. Your whole upper body must be completely relaxed at the end of the exhale
3. When you are finished exhaling, close your mouth and pause until you feel that your body is ready to inhale naturally. The body knows when it needs to inhale and exhale, we just need to re-educate it to do so.
4. Now inhale naturally through your nose. I say naturally because I don’t want you to push it, speed it up, or manipulate it in any way. When you feel that your body is ready to inhale from the previous step, just let go and let the inhalation begin.
5. Now repeat.
If you do this correctly, the hand on your stomach should be moving up and down, and the hand on your chest should not be moving at all. If that’s not the case for you, no worries and no rush: Just relax and do it again until you get your abdominal area to do the breathing for you (that’s called diaphragmic breathing).
If the hand on your chest alone moves, it means you are still doing chest breathing. If both hands move, it means that you are doing both abdominal breathing and chest breathing. To develop a good habit of breathing, and break the old bad habit, you need to practice just abdominal breathing. Your hands will tell you if you are doing it correctly or not.
Here are some questions I have been asked every time I talk about breathing and my response. If I don’t cover your question please write it in the comments section below.
How long should you pause between breaths?
Every person is different, use your body as a gauge to breathe naturally. These specific diaphragm breathing exercises not like Yoga breathing exercises where you count for inhaling and exhaling; This breathing exercise will help you break your old breathing habit and start breathing in a healthy way when you speak.
Would Practicing Yoga Breathing Help with this exercise?
One of the master trainers here at Magnetic Speaking Julia Beauchamp has an extensive background in teaching Yoga. When people have a hard time breaking their shallow breathing habits, she teaches them how to use internal presence generated by a Yoga practice to keep their bodies calm, centered, and at ease while speaking. This yields extraordinary results and sometimes all forms of speaking anxiety disappear.
Once you practice Yoga Breathing, doing this exercise becomes easier.
How long does it take to correct the bad habit of chest breathing?
I’ve read many research articles that say it takes 30 days to correct a habit, and this might apply here too. My experience and the experience of my clients correlates to this number. It takes about a month of practice on-and-off during the day. I found that the diaphragmatic breathing exercises work well when done in front of groups. We usually practice this in the weekly public speaking class at Magnetic Speaking.
That was a simple breathing exercise that will restore your breathing to its natural, comfortable state next time you speak in public. I don’t believe in magic bullets, but this breathing exercise comes very close to a magic bullet for improving your comfort level, voice quality, and thus your overall ability to influence.
The diaphragmatic breathing exercise will improve your breathing habit because you most likely picked up a bad one and now you have an understanding of how to fix it.