Most of us realize that breathing is an integral part of doing great work as a performer. Proper breathing helps our voices to work efficiently, keeps our heart rate even, and brings a sense of calm and connection to our bodies. Before an audition, we may become aware of symptoms of nervousness and try to counteract them by “taking a big breath.” I’m going to suggest that you start your breathing work with the opposite movement—by exhaling completely.
First, let me give you a little background information about the diaphragm, which is the main muscle of breathing. The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle that separates the heart and lungs from the abdominal cavity. If you hook your fingers underneath your rib cage, and trace around the bottom of your lowest complete rib (your 10th rib) from the front to the back, you will have a rough idea of the muscle’s location.
The important thing to know about the diaphragm is that it works on inhalation. In other words, all day long as breath is entering your body, your diaphragm is engaging. When you exhale (or when you speak or sing), the diaphragm is actually relaxing and stretching. This stretching movement can provide many benefits to your audition. Here are the steps to stretch your diaphragm and help you book the role!
1. If possible, lie down on your back, with the knees up, feet on the floor, and pelvis tucked (lower back should be on the floor). If you can’t lie down, doing this seated or standing is also fine.
2. Blow all the air out of your body—and I mean all the air. You should feel like you have none left in your lungs. The throat and the mouth should stay open as you do this. You will hear the sound of air rushing out of your body, and eventually it will turn into a soft sound, like a wheeze.
3. Once you have no air left, release your abdominal muscles and allow the air to flow into your body. You will notice a fuller, deeper inhalation of air with a greater range of motion in your torso.
Do 3 reps of the above. To progress this exercise, do the same thing with your hands over your head. If you are lying down, rest your hands on the floor above your head. When you get up from the floor, take your time; you can get a head rush from the increase of oxygen you just found.
If you do this regularly, you will drastically improve your posture and breathing habits, and you will find yourself standing up straighter in your performances and your life. Try this before your next audition, and see how your energy transforms in the room!