There’s No “Right” Place to Breathe!

April 15th, 2012

“Breathe in the right place.”
“Breathe where it makes sense.”
“Breathe only at the punctuation.”

These precious gems of grade school wisdom are huge hidden traps for anyone learning to breathe well, as a speaker.

Your voice is a wind instrument. It requires generous amounts of breath to work optimally. If there’s inadequate breath in the system, everything suffers, and I mean everything. If there’s no breath to flow the sound out of your body, your only choice is to start squeezing sound from your body. You don’t feel good, you don’t sound good and you have no impact on your listeners.

The only “right” time to breathe is when you need to breathe. I don’t care whether you’re at the end of a sentence, the end of a phrase, or even in the middle of a phrase. The instant you feel that “I need a breath” feeling, you pause, allow a new breath into your body, and then resume speaking. Your need to breathe always takes precedence over the demands of the text.

That’s the difficult part for a beginner: letting go of those ingrained rules long enough to explore and master the universal principles governing voice and speech. When you’re too busy obeying the rules and “doing it right,” you can’t give yourself room to experiment and learn something truly new.

If you give yourself time and space to master the technique (connecting deep breath to sound), the application (speaking and phrasing) will emerge naturally, effortlessly and authentically.

So, long before you worry about whether you’re breathing in the right place, you should learn to

  • breathe deeply
  • release breath easily
  • experience sound  as vibrating breath
  • release sound easily and generously
  • feel words and phrases as sound vibration
  • honor the rhythm of breathing and speaking

When those skills feel natural, you can begin to explore the connection between breathing, speaking and the demands of the text. But you’ll come at it with radically different priorities, and you’ll find there’s a lot more flexibility in that relationship than most people realize.

A rule says, “You must do it this way.” A principle says, “This works… and has through all remembered time.” The difference is crucial… Anxious, inexperienced writers obey rules. Rebellious, unschooled writers break rules. Artists master the form. —Robert McKee, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting

That’s not just true for writing, it’s true for breathing and speaking, too.

Back away from the need to produce the “right” result. Practice is not performing. Learning is not about getting it right. Spend time experimenting and cultivating crucial skills. When you command your own breath, you control your own process. You perform the task of speaking and presenting with a sense of confidence and ease. You’re in charge.