Don't waste your breath!
How improved breathing habits can optimise our verbal communication skills and quality of life.
Inspiration is the primary gift we each receive when entering this world, as the first thing we do when born is to breathe.
This initial action enables us to inhale vital nutrients such as oxygen and nitrogen from the air, which are fundamental to our existence and that we continue to utilise throughout our lives.
Our final action on this earth is to expire. Emitting cellular waste in the form of carbon dioxide one last time as we let go of life in a closing outward breath.
Breathing is not only fundamental to life but also essential for voice production and, therefore, verbal communication.
It's likewise fundamental for the quality of life we lead and again mirrored in the quality of communication we utilise.
Our most significant action is breathing.
In 2019 (pre covid), the global human lifespan was recorded as being, on average, around 80 years.
*Considering each of us takes approximately 16 breaths per minute, this amounts to roughly 960 breaths an hour, adding up to 23,000 breaths a day, 8,500,000 a year, and presuming we do make it to the grand old age of 80, we'll have circulated almost 700,000,000 breaths throughout our lifetime.
Imagine performing an action very well, compared with quite poorly, seven billion times. Not only will the habits that become automated from this amount of repetition become incredibly difficult to change, but they may also have irreversible negative consequences.
A source of vitality.
A human can live up to three weeks without food, three days without water, but if starved of oxygen, will survive for only three minutes.
This means the act of breathing, being such a vital part of our lives and which massively controls our ability to thrive or to perish, as well as perform, should not be taken lightly.
But who would guess how severe the detrimental costs of an inferior breathing system can be.
Several components contribute to the functionality of breath, including abdominal release and contraction, spinal mobility, flexiblility of the intercostal (rib muscles) and the space made possible by our ribs & diaphragm. Of course, this is a simplified description; however, each must play its own part in the successful inhalation and exhalation of air.
If we develop lousy breathing habits through misalignment, damage, or neglect of these functions, we tend not to receive air as well as we could and should. This same air powers our voice, so the verbal communication we vocalise will either flow effortlessly and with ease or become restricted and shallow depending on our breathing quality.
The adverse effects of poor breathing can affect our sleep, mood, digestion, heart, nervous system, muscle function, brain and many other physical characteristics that a healthy human needs for optimum performance. Not to mention the detrimental psychological attributes accompanying such a poorly functioning body and the hindrance to our performance, be it vocally or otherwise.
When executed correctly, our breathing can increase energy, improve our health, lower stress levels, and provide us with a higher overall quality of life. It will also make us more clear, confident, relaxed, resonant and present with our spoken word.
Our bodies are designed to know how and when to breathe correctly from birth.
Over time, the build-up of everyday stresses, tension and postural issues can contribute to the insidious development of inferior breathing habits.
Likewise, healthy breathing encourages the body toward better posture, relieving tension and combating stress.
Since the brain, nervous system and unconscious mind take care of all our autonomous behaviour and necessary bodily functions, we are genuinely lucky to have this be an automated action. Especially when you consider the enormous amount of breaths circulated throughout our lives.
If we had to consciously breathe to survive, then we would never have a moment rest from the task, as we would always need to create the action of inhale-exhale all day long. Plus, we wouldn't be able to sleep as the second we would doze off, we'd forget to breathe and so then die.
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Optimising our breath.
The insidious advance of traits linked to bad posture and unhealthy breathing habits stack up slowly over time until eventually, you have a problem and cannot distinguish it having any connection with your breathing.
But don't worry, we can become more mindful, learn to change our breathing habits and, by doing so, regain more awareness over our bodies, receive better health benefits and optimise our voice all at the same time.
How long this takes is entirely up to you. The more time we spend becoming mindful of our breath, working on our mobility and optimising our posture and alignment, the quicker it will become automated and the sooner our lives can once again flourish as intended.
There are many mindfulness classes, courses and even apps on the market, which can be a great way to start the process of re-connecting and to advance our breath awareness.
But for maximum benefit and to ensure change remains permanent, mindfulness exercises should go hand in hand with new physical habits brought about by activities that contribute to overall body alignment and relaxation.
Areas of focussed attention might be adopted:
Creating the time and space for change.
It can be tricky to develop awareness over one's body, voice and breathing habits, so initially, finding the space and time to do so is paramount.
Suppose you can begin to notice how your daily ergonomics, habits and rituals affect your breathing, stress levels and posture. In that case, you will have made a great start to acknowledging and improving perhaps inferior unconscious actions into more mindful and considered ones, which can then be worked on and bettered.
Keep a journal and track how your emotions, physicality, and overall performance improve as you pay more attention to and improve your breathing habits.
If you live somewhere overcrowded, have a stressful workplace or a hectic lifestyle, take some time to escape the hubbub and discover a new quiet place for yourself. If you happen to live in a particularly polluted area, travel and get out into nature.
There is much to be gained from disciplines such as tai chi, yoga and pilates, so consider taking a class. They each have ways to help you become mindful of and improve your body, breath and overall balance.
Then, of course, many of these exercises & principles are woven into actor training and fundamental to any voice practice. This may be another way to improve and engage with more optimal breathing habits.
Whatever your needs are for work, as a communicator or simply in life.
Whichever way you decide to go with your own self-improvement.
And no matter, however, you have discovered these words.
Listen to what your body needs, then get moving and take action.
And most importantly, learn to breathe well, for it is the very essence of life and the key to our self-expression, harmony and vitality.
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Links & Photo Credits
*A figure estimated by many scientific pieces of research (12 - 20 at a regular resting rate, to be precise). And which you can see explained on 'The Lung Association' website here - https://www.lung.ca/lung-health/lung-info/breathing
Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels
Photo by Alexandr Podvalny from Pexels