What does deep breathing do?

Your ability to deal with issues more efficiently – by being less reactive – improves dramatically as you learn to take actively take deep breaths when faced with stressful situations. There are so many positives to correct breathing that it’s almost impossible to list them all. However, here are a few of the ones I have found most useful when public speaking.

Breathing deeply can:

  • Release nervous energy, which allows your body to find a state of balance that others then feel.
  • Help develop a strong voice as it encourages your vocal muscles to relax.
  • Support focus and boost your ability to concentrate.
  • Help produce enthusiasm in others. Since our energy is unconsciously monitored and reflected by those around us, you can use deep breathing to raise your energy, which you can use to influence others positively.
  • Reduces panic attacks, anxiety, and nervousness.

What is chest breathing?

Most of us are ‘chest breathers,’ which means we take shallow breaths, where our stomachs go in, and our shoulders simultaneously rise. This method is an unhealthy way to breathe because it is an inefficient use of oxygen. Chest breathing is common in people who are having panic attacks. As they take shallow breaths, they are unable to get the oxygen they need to calm down. By giving the sufferer a paper bag to breathe into, they are encouraged to breathe deeply, which reduces panic attacks and anxiety.

How should I breathe?

Watch a sleeping baby breathe, and you’ll see that they don’t inhale into their chests. As you look, you will notice their tummy rise and fall in a natural rhythm. Babies are natural-born abdominal breathers, and abdominal breathing is correct breathing.

Next time you’re in bed, put one hand on your abdomen and the other hand on your chest and see which one rises first as you inhale. I bet it’s your abdomen!

I encourage speakers to try to expand their ribcage and keep it expanded. However, before you attempt to do this, sit quietly and notice how you’re breathing. Be mindful of your ribs and what they are doing, and try to take in every little movement they’re making. When you’re ready, inhale deeply. As you breathe in, try to expand your ribs at the same time. See if you can feel your ribs expanding and your abdomen becoming slightly bloated — this passes as you exhale. As you inhale, mentally chant the word relax, and when your lungs feel full, hold your breath for a count of five before exhaling. When you exhale, mentally chant the word release. When your lungs are empty, hold the position for three seconds before beginning the process again.

By mentally singing these two words, you’re helping yourself in two ways:

  1. You’re stopping your mind from wandering off to stressful topics.
  2. You’re actively telling your body to relax and then release all the stresses you’ve been carrying.

When I give a speech, I keep my ribcage slightly expanded at all times and never let all the air out of my lungs. The reason for this is it can be very distracting for listeners to hear a speaker take a big gulp of air because they’ve used it all up in one sentence. I call this the shocked breath, and it’s the same one we make when seeing something that we find shocking.

Focussing your breathing

When you feel you’ve learned how correctly to deep breathe and are confident that you can do it without distractions, you can use your breathing to enhance your energy to reflect what you would like your audience to feel. To do this, imagine that with every inhalation, your energy is more vibrant and exciting or calmer and sincere. Whatever you need your energy to do, focus your mind and breathing into it. You’ll be amazed by how wonderful you’ll feel afterwards.

Happy deep breathing!

Samantha Richards is a Public Speaking and Communications Consultant and founder of ‘Building Voices Communication’. She is an award-winning public speaker who is the top female public speaking coach in Australia (Yahoo Finance). She is currently studying for a Diploma in Counselling and is passionate about helping others communicate confidently.