Voice training isn’t hard. It’s not rocket science. The skills needed to improve your speaking voice are pretty straightforward and they’re not really hard to learn. But there’s a bit more to it than that. Developing your voice isn’t just about doing some exercises; it’s also about identifying and undoing habits that get in the way of your ideal voice.
This is why self-training does have limitations when it comes to voice. Without the help of a teacher, it’s difficult to recognize unconscious habits that are undermining your voice. They operate completely under your radar. No matter what exercises you practice, those habits are still there, sabotaging your hard work.
One of those habits is breath holding. It’s very common to inhale, in preparation for a task, then hold your breath momentarily, before executing the task. Let’s say your task is to flutter your lips. Here’s what I often see. [Demonstrate] Notice how I stopped and held my breath between inhaling and the lip flutter? [Demonstrate]
You find this happening especially when you’re doing something new or challenging. That pause can be very brief or quite long. My sense is that it’s a preparation instinct. You breathe in, make sure you’re ready, and then you go. But that momentary pause is actually undermining your performance.
The moment you hold your breath, you engage the exact opposite muscles you need for good voice. An optimal in-breath relaxes and opens the channel for sound. Breath holding closes the channel at the precise moment you need it to be open. It’s like slamming the door in your own face.
Breath-holding stops flow, and expert work requires flow. You intuitively know a brain surgeon isn’t holding her breath during surgery. If she held her breath, her muscles would tense, her hands would start shaking, and the results would be less than optimal. The same is true for speaking. You need to be in flow, and that starts with your breath.
I also believe that holding your breath takes you out of your body and gets you into your head. The moment you hold your breath, you’re already thinking too much. Optimal speech is based on feeling, not thinking. Speaking well happens naturally when it flows from an ideal physical state of being. Thinking about it makes you freeze.
Imagine your breath is like surf on the beach. It’s always moving. It’s either flowing in or flowing out. It’s never stopped, never blocked, never held, always in movement. Spend a day noticing how often you catch yourself holding your breath. Notice it does nothing to improve your performance. It’s not helping you be your best.
When you’re doing your voice exercises, or speaking to others, cultivate the ability to speak without stopping your breath. Breathe in and go. If you’re not ready to ride the wave, let go of that breath and wait for the next. Don’t try to stop the wave while you get on your surfboard.
Breath-holding is a small event with big consequences, and you might not even know you’re doing it. Cultivate uninterrupted breath flow and you’ll soon find yourself speaking with more openness, connection and ease.