Transcript

 
 

The Importance of Breath

Here in our first episode I’ll be talking about the importance of breath and how breath is involved in the way we communicate.

Breathing may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think “communication.” But along the way you will see that breath is the foundational piece of a much larger puzzle.

We’ll explore how our breath supports the voice, the mind, and the body and how breathing patterns lie beneath any technique or skill set to provide the true foundation of an interaction.

Proper breath support is essential for effective communication and presentation.

Let me introduce a few ideas.

Breathing techniques are employed in many activities and disciplines.

How fast you breathe, how deeply you breathe, how often you breathe, and to which area of your lungs you direct your breath all play a role in affecting the ability of your mind, voice and body to perform the tasks you set them to.

You may breathe differently when running than when scuba diving,

you may breathe to expand your chest cavity when performing physical activity, and breathe to expand your abdomen in a meditative practice.

Quick and shallow when you’re nervous, slow and steady when you’re calm-there is no right or wrong way to use your breath

But you can use your breath as a tool to support yourself if you understand how and why to change it.

To support a communicative goal or intention, deliberate diaphragmatic breaths are the right tool for the job.


There is a muscle called the diaphragm that sits in an arc just below your lungs that separates them from the other organs in your abdomen.

When this muscle contracts that arc flattens out, the lungs expand to fill the space, and air is pulled in to fill them.

Thats what’s happening when you inhale.

When the muscle is released it springs back into it’s natural arc, compresses the lungs, and pushed the air back out of them.

That’s what’s going on when you exhale.


To feel where your diaphragm is place one hand just below your rib cage, and right above your belly button.

Now cough, or laugh,

As you do that the hand above your belly button will feel the diaphragm in action.

You are using this muscle over 20,000 times a day, but in the beginning, engaging the diaphragm on purpose to do what you want it to can feel a little counter intuitive.

For example, when the diaphragm CONTRACTS, we inhale, but it FEELS like the muscle RELEASING.

And when the diaphragm releases we exhale, but it FEELS like the muscle is tightening to push the air out.

There are a lot of mechanics at play here, and which muscle does what when can get tricky.

So we are going to talk about the breathing process with words that describe what it FEELS like, and with instructions that are easy to get the hang of.

Here’s an exercise to help you become aquatinted with drawing more air deeper into our lungs by consciously engaging our diaphragm. You may have heard this called a supported breath, or a belly breath. We’ll be referring back to it as a diaphragmatic breath.

Let’s place our hand back on our diaphragm just above the belly button, and put our other hand on our chest.

Under your lower hand, let your belly area release. You may think of how it feels when you’ve had too much to eat and you try to make more room. You don’t want to push, simply release.

That’s the first step.

Now inhale through the mouth, and draw the air into the deepest part of your lungs, so that you feel the hand on your diaphragm move out, while the hand on your chest should feel relatively still.

That’s step two.

The third step is to exhale in a slow, steady stream through the mouth, making a fricative “F” sound.

Like this (demonstration)

We want to make that “F” sound for a couple different reasons. You won’t make the sound in public of course, but for our purposes we use it to teach our body to engage our articulators, the lips the teeth and the tongue, when we breathe diaphragmatically.

And when using this consistent “F” sound we can hear and feel whether or not we are getting a full consistent flow of air.

Like this (demonstration)

Now, let’s run those three steps together.

First: Release the belly

Then: Inhale through the mouth to the deepest part of the lungs

Now: Exhale on a fricative “F”

One more time

Release, Inhale, Exhale.

This simple process can be practiced over and over to familiarize the body with diaphragmatic breathing technique.

This method when practiced consistently maximizes breath support, fuels the voice, increases oxygen intake, and provides a foundation for clear communication.

When speaking out loud to an audience, a common concern is  that we may run out of breath, our voice may become strained, we may loose our train of thought, and it’s easy to become preoccupied with what our audience thinks of us in place of what we are trying to communicate.

So what can we do about that?

We are going to focus on using our breath deliberately to communicate our ideas and our thoughts.

Like so many other activities, we can begin with a breathing discipline.

Let’s start with an exercise to help us become acquainted with drawing more air deeper into our lungs by consciously engaging our diaphragm. We’re going to call this diaphragmatic breath. You may have heard it called a supported breath, or a belly breath.

Let’s place our hand back on our diaphragm, and put our other hand on our chest.

Under your lower hand, let your belly area release. You may think of how it feels when you’ve had too much to eat and you try to make more room. You don’t want to push, simply release.

That’s the first step.

Now we want to inhale through the mouth, and draw the air into the deepest part of your lungs, so that you feel the hand on your diaphragm move out, while the hand on your chest should feel relatively still.

That’s step two.

The third step is to exhale in a slow, steady stream through the mouth, making a fricative “F” sound.

Like this (demonstration)

We want to make that “F” sound for a couple different reasons. For our purposes, we are teaching our bodies to engage our articulators, the lips the teeth and the tongue, when we breath diagphramatically.

And when using this consistent “F” sound we can hear and feel whether or not we are getting a full consistent flow of air.

Like this (demonstration)

Now, let’s run those three steps together.

First: Release the belly

Then: Inhale through the mouth to the deepest part of the lungs

Now: Exhale on a fricative “F”

One more time, together.

Release, Inhale, Exhale.

This simple process can be practiced over and over to familiarize the body with diaphragmatic breathing technique.

This method when practiced consistently maximizes breath support, fuels the voice, increases oxygen intake, and provides a foundation for clear communication.

Full diaphragmatic breaths will keep your mind in a calm and focused.

Quick, shallow, nervous breathing produces a quick, scattered, racing thought process.

when you have something that needs to be said, especially when addressing an audience, diaphragmatic breathing will show a poised and confident body.

When you breath in a shallow manner, or you hold your breath in your chest as you speak, a common side effect is a shaky, strained, or soft voice.

This is also corrected by diaphragmatic breathing. When you draw air into the deepest part of your lungs you are able to expel air with the full force of that strong muscle over and through your voice box and over your vocal chords, creating a strong voice that you can project to the back of the room.

And lastly, full diaphragmatic breaths provide your body with a greater oxygen intake, improving both brain and muscle function.

We tend to fall into diaphragmatic breathing patterns naturally in a number of different common scenarios.

When we speak about something we know fully and without question, say, what we had for lunch yesterday, or when retelling an event in our lives, or we begin to teach about our expertise or give advice, our bodies prep the response with a belly breath and the words come out with ease.

You will also find your body reacting with a diaphragmatic breath in situations of passion or urgency. If you were to shout as a child crossed the road, or loudly defend yourself against a false accusation both would begin with a full inhale deep into the base of the lungs.

And interestingly, our breath behaves differently when our thoughts are not well connected before we begin to speak. If you were asked to recall a chapter from a book you read a long time ago, or you are asked to explain a concept you do not fully grasp, or you start to talk before you know what you want to say, your breath would catch in your chest as your mind searched for something to grab onto.

You can learn very specific strategies to reconnect to the more supported breathing patterns in the diaphragm even in situations where you are uncertain of a response.

You can pause to collect thoughts that are directive or purposeful BEFORE you take a diaphragmatic breath and then verbally answer. You will easily fall into a clear frame of mind from which to choose your response.

You can give your normal speaking voice that accent of passion, understanding or urgency if you prep your thoughts and expressions with strong breath support.

We already breathe with our thoughts naturally, sometimes supporting positive thinking patterns, and sometimes not. We can deliberately link one breath to one full thought strategically when we speak. This is called the Breath Thought connection. We’ll be covering that on our next episode of WTF do I do with my hands?!



To recap

There’s no way around it, conveying an idea out loud, with your voice to another human being can be a complex process.

By consciously practicing diaphragmatic breathing as a baseline to express our thoughts we build a platform from which make our communications strategic.

Play around with breathing deep into the diaphragm until you have a handle on how it changes your voice, your body, and your thought process.

Monitor your conversational habits to see where you can use diaphragmatic breath effectively, and find moments where you are doing so already.

The more you are able to cultivate awareness of how you are breathing the stronger the foundation you will be able to lay in preparation for the coming episodes.