By Melanie Murphy
Gently breathe in 2-3-4 and… and let it out 2-3-4.
I hear a tranquil voice guide a breathing exercise that’s peppered with soothing comments designed to issue in calm and serenity.
~ Envision all stress leaving your body ~
~ Clear your mind to focus only on inhaling and exhaling ~
~ Allow the oxygen to make its way to your brain and prosper your body ~
Okay. All of that is in my head and not on a recording, but it is part of a voice over warm up I use daily. Except for the last part about “oxygen-prosper talk”. I made that up.
As a voice actor I routinely prepare to record projects by warming up my voice and practicing breathing exercises that help me perform at my best. A side effect of the regimen – it calms me down, relaxes tense muscles, and allows me to feel at ease before I jump into the sound booth. The breathing effects hold the same benefits for anyone, and in almost any situation.
I don’t know about you, but the opposite of calm, relaxation and ease occurs when someone tells me to “calm down.”
Calm down!?! I was calm until you told me to calm down!
As if those simple words are all that’s needed to restore me to my right mind when things are tense or heated. I haven’t found that magic phrase to work for anyone. What about you? However, several deep breaths, actually do seem to help. Perhaps it’s because it gives us an opportunity to take control over something very specific – inhaling and exhaling.
When we take the time to focus on our breathing we set off a chain reaction that benefits us beyond maintaining our cool. Findings by Harvard Medical School Cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson show that even just a few deep breaths can do wonders in relaxing the body, thanks to the increased supply of oxygen to the brain. Proper oxygen to the brain stimulates the part of our nervous system that promotes a state of calm. Being relaxed allows us to collect our thoughts and focus.
Our normal inhale/exhale patterns tend to be short, shallow chest breathing. That can’t be too bad, right? It seems to work, or does it?
Do you experience any of the following?
- Neck and shoulder tension
- Digestive discomfort
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
These are all indications of “normal breathing.” Our body’s response to everyday life and stress is to stay in “fight or flight” mode. If you live in a jungle and fear being chased by a wild animal, that’s a good state to be in. However, that feeling of “fight or flight” throughout the day is what wears on our body and mind, causing stress and resulting in chest breathing.
Relax and Breathe
Thankfully, we can learn to breathe deeply and enjoy the benefits that come with leaving the above side effects behind.
Some of the best exercises I’ve ever found were directed toward attorneys. Turns out lawyers have a pretty stressful job and can sometimes get very nervous before arguing a case in court. Some smarty-pants developed a plan to help legal professionals calm down through breathing so they could focus on their case in court.
I’ve modified and combined exercises over the years to create a routine I use daily as part of my warm up before recording a voice over project.
Melanie’s Deep Breathing Tips
If at any point during the breathing exercises you start to feel light-headed or dizzy, stop immediately and take a break.
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
- Inhale for a three-count, hold for three, exhale for a three-count and hold for three.
Do this until it’s comfortable, and then start to increase your count, four-count, five-count, etc. See if you can comfortably work up to 5, 6, 7 or even 8, 9, 10. Breathe through your nose at the beginning and then shift to breathing through your mouth as you do the rest of the exercises.
And now, what I call Breathing Through Your Butt.
- Again stand with your feel shoulder width apart.
- Drop your head forward so that your chin rests on your chest.
- Put your hands behind your head with your fingers laced together, palms resting against your hair.
- Gently pull your head forward for a smooth stretch through your neck and back.
- Continue to lean forward until your head is toward the floor and you’re upside down.
- Drop your hands and let your arms dangle.
- In this position your body should form a relaxed inverted ―V
- Your feet are flat on the ground, your knees are bent, your rear end is the highest point, and the upper part of your body is dangling.
- Take several full inhalations and exhalations in this position.
You should be able to feel your breath going all the way into the small of your back, filling up your ribs. If you want to check this, place your hands on your back between your rib cage and your tailbone. You should feel this part of your back expand as you inhale and contract again as you exhale.
- Take a full breath in and silently sigh it out. Repeat the first breathing pattern of inhaling for several counts and holding and exhaling for several counts, as we did before. Remember, stop if you get dizzy.
- When ready – in slow motion – gently roll build back up, one vertebra at a time until you’re standing upright again.
- Take a final deep breath
Remember why we’re breathing through our butt? Deep breathing helps the flow of oxygen to the brain, restores a sense of calm and helps with overall focus. Calm. Focus. Oxygen to the brain… sounds good, right? But wait, there’s more!
Adopt deep breathing daily for other advantages, too.
- Increased metabolism
- Relaxed muscles
- Decreased blood pressure
Of course there are many additional benefits but since I’m a voice actor, and not a doctor – I focus on the elements that I have experienced and have proven helpful. Deep breathing aids me in being able to voice a project with control and stamina. Which in turn allows me to deliver a professional product that advances a company’s image and brand.
Melanie Murphy is a Dallas based voice actor who specializes in commercials, videos for media, corporate projects, eLearning, phone messaging and more. Reach out to her through her website at http://www.melaniemurphyvo.com.