Do we need to have another talk about breathing and speaking? I’m afraid so, because the pesky problem is always right there in my face, week in and week out, like a stubborn cold.
Here’s the context. I usually introduce breathing technique in lesson number two, not in great depth—that particular torture is saved for lesson five or six—but in lesson two, the basic technique of deep breathing is introduced and incorporated into the practice routine.
All too often, in the midst of that lesson, I hear this objection. “But I can’t do this when I’m actually speaking, can I? Won’t it be too noticeable and interfere with the flow of my speech?” And that’s where I want to sit down and weep for the waste of my life’s work.
It’s a recurring reminder of our insistence on immediate results. We want to skip over the beginner stage and go right to the expert stage. We worry about the performance before we’ve mastered the basic skill. It’s like trying to execute a slam-dunk before you’ve learned to dribble the basketball, or play the Tchaikovsky piano concerto before you’ve learned to play scales.
The same is true for breathing and speaking. Because your voice is essentially like a wind instrument, there’s a rhythm to breathing and speaking. It’s like a wave on the beach. [Demonstrate] Breath flows in, sound flows out. Breath flows in, words flow out. Breath flows in, thoughts flow out. You have to learn how to respect that rhythm. There have to be moments in your speech when no sound is coming out because breath is flowing in.
Most people have no clue about that rhythm. For them, speaking is all about what’s coming out. Then they wonder why they’re breathless, nervous, speaking too fast and unable to project.
In the early stages of training you exaggerate that rhythm. You make it big and take it slow because it’s new and awkward. Once your body gets that feeling, you can do it fast, you can do it slow and everything in between, and no one will even notice you’re doing it.
Of course that’s not possible on lesson number two, but that doesn’t mean the technique won’t work in real life, and if, as a beginner, you resist it for that reason, you’re sabotaging yourself.
How do you learn to feel the rhythm of breathing in and speaking out? Here’s one exercise I created to introduce this concept, using an excerpt from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “Change.” I’ll include a written version of the exercise in the description.
To begin, the text is broken down as a list of short phrases. Start with a medium in-breath. Use one breath to speak each phrase. [Breathe in] In nature [breathe in] every moment is new [breathe in] the past is always swallowed [breathe in]. Feel the words flowing out on the breath. Continue that pattern, using one breath per phrase, and do the list regularly until it begins to feel familiar.
Next step. Here are the same phrases arranged as a paragraph. Notice, there’s no punctuation. That’s because you’re focused on breathing when you need to breathe, not when the punctuation allows you to breathe. Break it up into short phrases (six words or less), one breath per phrase, long pauses for each in-breath. Don’t worry about the meaning or the flow! It’s a distraction! Be totally focused on feeling the rhythm of breathing in and speaking out.
Finally, here’s the text with the punctuation restored. Read it as before, with short phrases, long pauses for relaxed in-breaths, feeling the back-and-forth of breathing in and speaking out. If your breath happens to coincide with the punctuation, fine. But—no phrase should be longer than six words, and a few breaths in strange places would be good; otherwise you’re probably distracted, focusing on the words and meaning, instead of the rhythm of breathing in and speaking out.
I hope you find that helpful. Remember, it’s an exercise. You won’t end up talking that way, any more than a violinist would play scales at a concert. So, I don’t want to hear any freak-outs on that point. Just do your practice, give it time, and I’ll see you in the next video.