Let’s start by looking at a diagram of your lungs. Now this is a cross-section of your torso, so if we cut off your shoulders and head and set them aside, and we were peering down into your body from above, notice that your heart takes up space in the front of your chest, so you really don’t have a lot of lung space in the front.
Notice that the real space you have in your lungs is much more in your back. Now most people aren’t thinking about their back at all, unless it’s hurting, and we’re certainly not thinking about our back as it relates to speaking, but when you go looking for more breath to strengthen your voice or slow the rate of your speech or make yourself feel more confident you do not find that by breathing like this You find it by breathing like that.
Place your hands on your knees, fingers in, elbows out. Relax the back of your neck and let your head hang down toward the ground, so you’re not lifting the weight of your head at all. Arch your back up slightly, as though it wanted to touch the sky, and imagine you’ve got a giant balloon in your back, so that as you inhale, the balloon inflates and your back expands, and as you exhale, you’re left with more space in your back.
Inhale. Imagine your back expanding. Exhale. Enjoy that extra space. Now just keep breathing into your back for a few moments while I talk.
All the breathing you do in your voice practice will be through your mouth, in through your mouth and out through your mouth. Imagine every in-breath making your back wider and deeper. Feel your back expanding every time you breathe in.
Notice what part of your back you can actually feel moving when you inhale. It might be your upper back, your lower back, maybe your middle back or some combination of those three. What part can you feel? Enjoy that feeling. By paying attention to it, by appreciating it, invite that feeling to spread outward into some of the neighboring areas.
Now, when you can imagine that you’ve created more space in your back, just like you saw on that diagram, breathe into that space and gently sigh out, “Haaaaay.” How would your voice feel if you had a lot of open space in your back? Fill your back with breath and sigh out, “Hoooooe.” Breathe into your back and sigh out, “Hooooow.”
Relax your arms and roll back to an upright position. Stand for a moment and notice the difference in your back.
Voice Training: Back Breathing
Voice training obviously involves a lot of breathing exercises, since the human voice is powered by breath. Most of the practice will center around deep breathing, but this breath exercise focuses on accessing lung space in your back. If there’s no time to teach someone how to breathe deeply, this might be the next best thing. It’s one of my favorite voice training exercises.