My students needed to learn how to calm themselves with slow diaphragmatic breath, using the stomach muscles to drive the breaths. I tried many different methods and finally, I devised a way that allowed the students to calm down. I asked my over-anxious students to keep their chests still and breathe by moving their bellies in and out. This is called “belly breathing,” or diaphragmatic breathing.
The first time I tried this system, it took only ten minutes to get the entire class doing it correctly. The results were miraculous! I had 100% belly breathing and every participant felt calmer and more relaxed. Of course, there were the usual comments: “This is like breathing backward. I never breathe like this. I am not getting air,” proving that it is not easy to correct a bad habit.
Nevertheless, soon everyone was breathing correctly, and not one person was confused about what to do. With a few students, I had to actually push my fist into their stomachs, asking them to push back so that they could feel how their abdominal muscles move. (Some had not moved for years!) Eventually even they were doing correct belly breathing in the class. Everyone was amazed at how easy it was, and how totally relaxed they felt. At last they were clear about how to breathe correctly. Most importantly, they would never again go through the torture of severe anticipatory anxiety while waiting their turn to speak.
Deep Breathing vs Shallow Breathing
A common misconception is that deep breathing is good and shallow breathing is bad. Students always ask: “You mean when they tell you to take a deep breath, it’s all wrong?” The fact is you can breathe incorrectly when you do deep breathing, when you do shallow breathing, when you take in big gasps of air, or when you are barely breathing. The only criterion for correct breathing is whether or not your belly is moving in and out (diaphragmatic breathing).
However, there is a time when chest breathing is correct. And this is when you are doing any kind of cardiovascular activity, such as jogging or dancing because in these instances the accelerated activities neutralize the adrenaline. Although, adrenaline is very necessary when doing high energy activities, adrenaline production that is not accompanied by vigorous physical activity will certainly trigger anxiety. For our purposes, learning a simple procedure (like belly breathing) can mean the difference between a panic attack and remaining in control, before during your talk.
How to Move Your Belly
The purpose of the following warm-up is to help you feel how your abdominal muscles move in preparation for correct belly breathing.
1. Sit in a chair in a quiet room. Place both feet on the floor.
2. Put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
3. To the count of five, slowly and gently pull your belly in. (Do not pull in tightly.) As you do this, your chest should be as still as possible.
4. Hold this for three counts. (Think: “1-2-3.”)
5. Slowly release the belly to the count of five (do not move your chest).
6. Do this three times. Place your hand on your stomach, and feel the abdominal muscles (belly muscles) tighten and relax.
Note: Since you probably breathe incorrectly, using your chest to do the pumping instead of your belly, the only way that you will be able to learn how to do slow belly breathing properly is to try to keep your chest as still as possible. Some people must continue to practice very carefully for several weeks before they feel comfortable breathing correctly.
For more tips and instructions, please purchase "Talkpower: The mind-body way to speak without fear" or attend one of our upcoming Talkpower Workshops (if not satisfied, money back guaranteed).
© 2000-2013 by Natalie H. Rogers