What if I told you that you may not be breathing effectively?

Sure, this may sound a bit odd; after all who really takes the time to think about breathing in general, let alone whether or not it’s effective?

It’s not exactly a course any of us took in college, right!

But then again…maybe that’s not a bad idea.

Well the good news is that by reading this blog you’ll find out what you need to know about breathing and can forego any class instruction.

Let’s start with 4 questions:

  1. When you take in a deep breath, do you lift your shoulders?
  2. Do you ever find yourself short of breath when speaking?
  3. Do you feel like it’s work to project your voice to be easily heard?
  4. Are you aware of sometimes holding your breath?

The fact is that if you answered yes to even one of these questions, you’re perfectly normal. But let’s focus on why breathing is so essential to good communication, or why I refer to the “beauty of the breath.”

It’s really all about getting back to basics because as infants and children, we were naturally very effective at breathing.  So what happened, you might ask? In a word: LIFE.  What I mean is that as we go through the phases of life and become adults, we often juggle multiple priorities and as a result we may end up feeling distracted or even stressed.  When this happens, one of the areas most often impacted is our breathing.  It becomes shallow vs. deep, and shallow breathing isn’t effective for communicating.

An example of breathing at its best is observing an infant; you’ll see a slow and steady rhythmic rise and fall of the infant’s abdomen.  Now let’s fast forward to adults and what we can do to improve.

First let’s understand 3 simple breathing mistakes that we make which are:

  1. We center our breathing in our chest vs. our abdomen
  2. We overcompensate by taking in too many breaths for fear of running out of air.
  3. We exhale air prior to speaking and therefore waste it.

With that understanding, let’s move on to some easy breathing techniques.

1. Practice this breathing pattern: inhaling through your nose, let your abdomen expand; then exhaling through your mouth, let your abdomen contract. (Sometimes a visual image helps–Imagine that you’re pumping air into a balloon and then releasing the air from the balloon.)

2. At first, practice this simple in and out breathing cycle without speaking.  Try 5-10 in/out cycles until you get a “feel” for it.  It helps to be lying down initially; therefore a good time to practice is when you first wake up and just before going to bed.

3. Your next step is combining this breathing pattern with rote speech, like counting or saying the days of the week.  You can then progress to reading sentences from a paragraph.

4. Your last step is to ultimately transfer this breathing pattern into your day-to-day speech.

While it sounds simple and most of us take our breathing for granted, I would encourage you to be patient with yourself and allow time to integrate this modified breathing style.  I can tell you this, once you’ve made the change, you’ll be glad you did.  By the way, an extra added bonus of improving your breathing is that you may find you sleep more restfully and that you’re more relaxed.  You may even find yourself appreciating the beauty of the breath; after all it’s what allows us to communicate.

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