Breathing 101

Often it is the simple things that make the most difference…and breathing is one of those things.

Breathing is something we do not need to learn – from the moment we are born to the moment we leave this life, it is for most of us, an unconscious part of our lives.

Breathing and communication

In addition to the fundamental purpose of taking air into our lungs and exhaling carbon dioxide from our lungs thereby allowing for oxygenation of our blood to keep us alive and removing the ‘waste’ gases from respiration from our body, breathing is also fundamental to communication.

Breathing allows us to communicate through speech, and allows us to enhance our communication skills and to influence others enormously.

So… there are definitely things about breathing that we can learn, practice and deliberately use to improve our communication skills.

Breathing reduces anxiety: in speaker and listener

To communicate issues that may be difficult for others to hear, that may cause a strong emotional response is a challenge for both the speaker and the listener.

As the communicator, it is normal as you go to deliver your message for your level of anxiety to increase – heart rate increases, you may perspire, tightness in the chest and other muscles, and your breathing becomes more shallow.

The consequence is that it becomes more difficult to think clearly as less oxygen is reaching your brain. Obviously in times of stress, clear thinking will significantly assist your communication.

A solution is to become more conscious and deliberate about breathing in these situations.  Consciously taking a few deep breaths before you begin and continuing to breathe deeply (low in your diaphram) will help you manage the potentially debilitating side effects of anxiety.

Anxiety disorders and panic attacks are now much more widely acknowledged in society and one of the most effective treatments is the teaching and use of slow and deep breathing.

Not only does slowing your breathing and deepening it help you to manage your own feelings and anxiety it also has a positive influence on those who  listen to you.  Your voice tone mediates your breathing –you naturally have a lower tone and smoother (rather than jerkier, ums and errs) delivery when you are breating low and regularly. This has a ‘calming’ influence on listeners.

We also know that people unconsciouly ‘mirror’ the non-verbal aspects of others.  This extends to breathing as well.  If the speaker is ‘low breathing’ the listeners more naturally breath low.

Breathing enhances impact and influence in communication

As humans we find is difficult to speak and breathe at the same time, unlike birds! Hence we need to pause to breathe.

Pay attention to the breathing and speed and rhythm of the 2 examples below.

In the first example Fields Wicker-Muirin at a TED Salon in London in 2009 speaks slowly and breathes ‘low’ and pauses, adding impact. Her message is compelling.

In the second example from a TED talk (also in 2009), Bonnie Bassler’s , speed and tone with few pauses makes what she has to say much more difficult to listen to and  pay attention to.

As we know good communication is not what you say or mean but in how those listening react.

Some tips to improve your communication though breathing:

  • Consciously manage your breathing – low in your diaphragm
  • Keep your mouth moist
  • Use pauses before key words or parts of a sentence to emphasize important points
  • Just don’t slow down your speech as you risk monotony, but use variety is speed and tone
  • Pause at end of sentences to allow audiences to process what you have said in the silence – at the same time allow you to take a deep breath.

Jill Tideman

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