Breathing for Confidence
It’s really important to stay on relaxed breathing when nerves set in at the audition or performance. 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. If you’re ‘fighting lions’ as you work, your hands will go numb and your brain dead before you’re through – if you don’t pass out! 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.
Remember your stomach goes OUT when the breath comes in to let the diaphragm descend fully, and IN when you breathe out or speak, to help the breath-stream out.
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’!
It’s not a good idea to relax yourself by letting the breath out in a sigh before you speak. Your voice will sound flat, dull and sad – 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, and breathe into your hand. Then go in smiling, respond naturally, and your breath and voice will work as one.
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!) – STAR QUALITY: sit or stand straight, think & breathe!
Warm Up (5 mins)
1. Shrug shoulders & let them drop. Gently turn neck from side to side. Check posture – shoulders free, neck lengthening out of back.
2. Lie on side, sit, or stand comfortably. Feel movement of breath – abdomen releasing outwaeds on in-breath, moving inwards on out-breath. Fill for a count of three as abdomen releases. Now consciously pull abdomen back towards your spine on out-breath, trying to use up all breath (keep neck relaxed) – ‘sh sh sh’. Relax stomach and breath will automatically drop in. Repeat again. Do a few rounds. Alternate voiced and unvoiced fricatives.
3. Release jaw by putting palms at sides of face under cheekbones, slowly bring the down face letting jaw drop. Massage face.
4. Put hands over ears and breathe through open mouth. Hear breath. Now make breath silent. Feel throat is open.
5. Hum gently up and down on NG going as high & low as possible.
6. Count 1-10 like a ventriloquist. Now count normally – feel freedom.
7. Clasp your hands and hold in front of you. Shake out a released sound.
Cool Down (2 mins)
1. Sip luke-warm water.
2. Yawn gently & sigh.
3. Go up and down your range gently on NG. Or hum.
Auditions: Before you leave home:
Stand still for a moment, shut your eyes. Imagine a string pulling from the crown of your head to the sky. Go up onto your toes. Now lower yourself back slowly until you really make contact with the ground (don’t lock your knees). But still feel the string taking you upwards.
Rub your hands together until they are warm. Place your hand over your upper chest and let it soften. Rub your hands together, place them over your belly. Take in the warmth and breathe into your hands. Rub your hands together. Place one hand on your belly and the other at the small of your back. Take in the strength from the warmth of your hands.
Open your eyes. ‘See’ yourself (with your back to you) standing in front of you in a ‘magic circle’. See yourself at your best, most confident. See yourself as you want to be – your successful, confident self!
Take a big step and stand ‘into’ yourself. Look around. You are unique. You can do anything. You are strong. You are brave.
Go out the door…
When you get there: Don’t lean forwards, breathe, think and never know what’s coming next!
© Mel Churcher: ‘Acting for Film: Truth 24 Times a Second (Virgin Books/Kindle) & ‘A Screen Acting Workshop + DVD’ (Nick Hern Books).