by Lisa B. Marshall
Yesterday, my heart was racing, my voice was quivering, and I was actually struggling to breathe. Obviously, I was nervous, and I had to remind myself, "Lisa, breathe!" No, I wasn't skydiving, I was about to deliver a presentation to 300 doctors. Of course, I was breathing; the problem was that I wasn't breathing properly.
So today's lesson is a seemingly simple lesson. Breathing.
Why Focus on Breathing?
Why focus on breathing? Because healthy, deep breathing improves your ability to be effective whenever you are facing a particular stressful situation ... it’s different for everyone. You might need this before delivering presentations (like me), or when you are about to deliver bad news, or perhaps when you need to ask for something important, like asking for a raise or asking your honey to turn off the game.
What Does Deep Breathing Do?
Deep breathing helps relieve nervous energy, it helps develop a strong voice and I think it helps to strengthen personal intensity. It is important for our energy, our focus, and our concentration. And, as leaders, our energy is subtly monitored and mirrored by those around us. Healthy deep breathing helps you to generate excitement in yourself and others!
Deep breathing helps relieve nervous energy, it helps develop a strong voice and I think it helps to strengthen personal intensity. Healthy deep breathing helps you to generate excitement in yourself and others!
Think about it, the word "inspire" literally means to draw in air--or breathe. So, for me, deep breathing is a critical speaking skill that should be included in everyone's tool belt!
What's Wrong With Chest Breathing?
Unfortunately, most of us breathe with our shoulders. We're shallow "chest breathers"--stomach goes in and shoulders go up, and that's not the healthy kind of breathing I'm talking about.
Kids Breathe Deeply for Fun
But everyone is capable of healthy, deep breathing. You've done it. You breathed correctly whenever you've wanted a lot of air. Remember when you were a kid--just before you swam the length of the pool underwater and you took that huge gulp of air (you did it then), or maybe it was when you played the "who can hold their breath longest” game (you did it then).
Adults Breathe Deeply too Sometimes
As adults, typically we breathe properly when we are laying down or when we go outside on a warm spring day and breathe in all the fresh air. It also happens when we get scared ... you know, when you take that sudden deep breath of air ... huh, like when you get a letter from the IRS.
How to Breathe Deeply
Some people say proper deep breathing "fills the tummy with air." Of course, really it's your lungs that are filling and it’s your diaphragm pushing all your body parts down and out! That's the proper way to breathe and your body knows it instinctively! (That's a good thing, huh?)
Give It a Try
OK--so let's try it together. Stand up (come on, really: stand up), shoulders back, hands on your stomach, and breathe--remember, check your shoulders, they should not be going up, and your stomach should be going out (this is the part of deep breathing that I don't like--trust me when I tell you I don't really need my stomach sticking out any further than it already is!) OK, so here we go ... breathe deeply ... try filling your lungs as much as possible. Look down, watch, and feel your stomach going out, hold your breathe for a second or two, then slowly exhale. One more time ...
You'll Get More Air
Why do we need to breathe like this? Well, If you want to fill your lungs it's the only way to breath. When you breathe with your shoulders you only fill the upper third of your lungs with oxygen. However, when you are properly breathing you open up the bottom of your lungs and make them available for air. It increases oxygen capacity and metabolic rate and all of the systems of the body begin to benefit from the additional oxygen.
Practice Makes Perfect
Although we instinctively know how to breathe properly, the hard part is to remember to breath like this all the time. It takes practice ... a lot of practice.
I try to practice at certain times of the day to reinforce my habit of healthy deep breathing. I do it every time I brush my teeth, I do it every time my phone rings, and I do it every time I am waiting for my computer to boot up. Try to think about times or events in your day when you could remind yourself to practice proper breathing. The more you do it the easier it becomes, really.
So, the next time you need an energy boost or you feel yourself lacking in concentration, or maybe you need to calm the butterflies in your belly, remind yourself … breathe--a deep inhale followed by a slow exhale. It can relax and refresh you (and perhaps even inspire those around you).
This is Lisa B. Marshall with another quick and dirty tip for better workplace communication. If you have a question about how to communicate better at work, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, post a comment below, or follow me on Twitter
For information about keynote speeches or workshops visit lisabmarshall.com.
Passionate about communication … your success is my business.
Breathing exercises that I have found helpful.