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What do opera singers and yoga instructors have in common?

Updated: Aug 19



(Practical techniques to reduce public speaking anxiety 1/3)


Take a big breath. Inhale slowly...and exhale. Inhale again...and exhale.


Where do you feel that breath? If you feel it in your chest and shoulders, you’re probably doing it wrong.


What? There’s a right way to breathe and I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time?


“All of us are born with the knowledge of how to fully engage the diaphragm to take deep, refreshing breaths. As we get older, however, we get out of the habit.” - Harvard Health Publishing


There are two approaches to breathing—chest breathing and belly breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing).


The first of these, chest breathing, involves the physical movement of the rib cage, chest and shoulders. As a result, the oxygen intake (per breath) is limited.


When we’re nervous, our body tends to revert to chest breathing. If it occurs rapidly, it can lead to hyperventilation. Chest breathing should be avoided as it is less efficient and effective.


Belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, on the other hand, utilises the diaphragm, a dome-shaped muscle situated underneath the lungs. When you inhale correctly, your diaphragm contracts and moves downward. This enables a larger intake of oxygen. When you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes and moves upwards.


Diaphragmatic breathing is what enables opera singers to project their voices to the back of auditoriums. It’s also the breathing yoga enthusiasts use to meditate.

To identify whether you’re breathing correctly, place your hand on your belly. With diaphragmatic breathing, your belly should extend outwards filling your hand while your chest and shoulders remain stationary. As you exhale, your stomach will relax back into place.

Diaphragmatic breathing is what enables opera singers to project their voices to the back of auditoriums. It’s also the breathing yoga enthusiasts use to meditate.


As a speaker, it has several benefits. It supports the strength and length of vocal phrases and slows the heart rate, which helps reduce public speaking anxiety.


At least five minutes before you’re about to speak, I challenge you to intentionally start belly breathing. This will help calm your nerves and relax any tension in your body.


Until the breathing becomes natural, here’s an exercise you can try:


Sit up in your chair and ensure your back is straight. Place your hand on your belly. Imagine you’re sucking in a thick milkshake through a straw. Inhale through the straw, keeping your shoulders stationary. Focus on filling your lungs from the bottom up. Your hand should rise under your belly while your chest and shoulders remain stationary. Exhale slowly, allowing your stomach to concave. Repeat, breathing in for a count of four, and out for four.


- M

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