Exhale Your Way to a Better Audition

Most actors have heard somewhere along the way about the power of breath awareness, and how essential it is to our ability to be grounded and connected. There are a number of breathing techniques that focus on how breath enters our bodies (inhalation). Often though, less attention is paid to the quality of our exhalation. Proper exhalation and sufficient carbon dioxide (CO2) levels can have many benefits for our work as actors and our lives in general.

Carbon dioxide is the gas that is produced when carbon combines with oxygen as part of the body’s energy-making process. We may think of CO2 as a waste product, but it is actually quite essential to our system. When CO2 levels are too low, the body will start to hyperventilate, taking in more oxygen than is necessary. A chronic hyperventilator (as about 90 percent of the population is) takes about an extra 10,000 breaths a day. Anyone who suffers from allergies should absolutely investigate hyperventilation as a contributing factor; think of all the extra pollutants and allergens you are ingesting if you are over-inhaling!

Here are a few other cool things that mindful exhalation does for us:

CO2 transports oxygen to our muscles through hemoglobin. In other words, we get stronger and have more stamina if we maintain proper CO2 levels.

CO2 is a vasodilator; i.e., it opens our blood vessels. Without proper CO2 levels, the brain’s oxygen supply is cut in half, and nobody needs that when they’re trying to remember the words to a Sondheim song.

Low CO2 levels are associated with tight fascia (the connective tissue that binds our body together). If kicking your face seems out of the question, check out how you are exhaling.

CO2 levels control the sympathetic nervous system. The SNS is stored in your thoracic spine (mid-back), and when it is excited, you will feel nervous and anxious. If you have enough CO2 in your system, the SNS will calm itself down, and you will be much better able to handle whatever random things happen in your next performance.

If you’re interested in assessing your breathing, I’ve created a six-part video series called “Breathe Better” to help you do this. This video series will let you assess the movement of your diaphragm, your ability to correctly inhale and exhale, and teach you how to boost your CO2 levels so that you can rock your next audition.

Check out “Breathe Better” here:

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!

Andrew Byrne
Andrew Byrne is a voice teacher, performer, and composer-lyricist. His songs have been featured in movies, Seth Rudetsky’s “Obsessed!” series, and in many international concert venues. He has served on the University of Michigan musical theater faculty, and has taught internationally at the Shanghai Theatre Academy, The Banff Centre, and the Danish Academy of Musical Theatre.
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