It’s really important to stay on relaxed breathing when nerves set in at the audition, presentation or interview. if you go into upper chest breathing, you get an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide which makes you feel dizzy, nervous, sound unconfident and stops you thinking clearly.
That’s why it’s called a ‘fight and flight’ breath – it’s to be used only in extreme moments when you need to take immediate physical action. You’re not meant to stay there.
Many people are surprised to realize that their stomach goes OUT when the breath comes in to let the diaphragm descend fully and IN when they breath out or speak to help the breathstream out. When people think about breathing in, they often suck in their stomachs which means they go up to ‘flight & fight’ (a gasp) & we’re only meant to do that for a second, to get the adrenalin buzz to fight the lion! We’re not meant to stay there – if we do, we get more nervous & everything goes wrong. And if you are ‘fighting lions’ through a performance or interview, your hands will have gone numb and your brain dead before you’re through – if you don’t pass out!
Maybe it’s because the only time you think about breathing (unless you’re trained) is when someone asks you to breathe or when you’re nervous. The rest of the time nature does it naturally. Extreme top breathing leads to a panic attack. Then you faint – like Victorians in corsets – or have hysterics! It’s the body’s way of getting back to relaxed breathing.
Shut your eyes and rest your hand on your stomach. Relax until you feel the up and down movement of your abdomen under your hand: the rise and fall of relaxed breathing – outwards as you breath in and inwards as you breathe out. Now breathe into your hand feeling this outward movement and then let the breathe out on a long SH feeling the stomach moving inwards. At the end of the sound, make sure your stomach relaxes back out again as the breath comes in. If you feel your upper chest rise significantly – you’re back in ‘fight and flight’! (I know this sounds silly – but some people don’t understand that speaking is done on the OUT breath – i.e. stomach moves inwards. I’ve only heard Norwegians, when they do a bored ‘Ja’, and disturbed children speak on an incoming breath!)
You don’t want to try to relax yourself by letting the breath out in a sigh before you speak, either. Your voice will sound flat and dull and you will seem sad…And, if you’re an actor – you’re buying time and you’ll ‘miss the moment’.
So don’t take a locking ‘preparation’ breath or sigh out. Before you go into the situation, simply rest your hand on your stomach for a moment, breathe into your hand. Then go in smiling, respond naturally and your breath and voice will work as one.
P.S. Don’t forget posture. The larynx is suspended by ligaments and muscles – you can’t breathe properly if you slump. (And you won’t look confident!)
This is a very short overview. In my book ‘Acting for Film: Truth 24 Times a Second’ (Random House) there is a chapter on breathing with exercises, ‘The Breath of Life’, and in my new book, ‘A Screen Acting Workshop + DVD’ (Nick Hern Books) there is a chapter called, ‘Seven Reasons to Breathe’ (+ that’s not including staying alive!). Also on my website http://www.melchurcher.com – there is a short breathing tutorial done for the government on the ‘Tuition for Presenters and Business Executives’ page.