In the previous post, we talked about proper posture when standing or sitting to communicate. To recap: stand with your feet hip-width apart (draw an imaginary line from your second toes, through the center of your ankles, the center of your knees and then up to the hip points [the parts that just out to the front]). Stack your spine so that it maintains its natural curvature back to front but is stacked straight up and down from side to side.
To breathe and stand properly, imagine that your belly is a submarine. Now imagine the hollow tube of the periscope going up the spine and through the lungs and up into the mouth. Your mouth then becomes the viewfinder. If a periscope isn’t straight and curved where it is supposed to be straight and curved, it won’t work. In the same vein, if your spine isn’t straight, then the breath won’t work, or at least it won’t work efficiently.
Now, practice inhaling. Let the breath come into your belly. In other words, allow the belly to expand as you inhale. Imagine a balloon where your organs would be. If you filled that balloon with air (like taking a breath), it would expand. And your trunk needs to do the same thing when you inhale. So, when you inhale, let the lungs expand, and then your diaphragm (the muscle below your lungs) will flatten out and down and will by necessity move the organs below it out of the way to make room. That’s why your belly expands on a proper inhale.
The other part of this? Your shoulders have to stay relaxed. If they rise up on the inhalation, you are doing bang-up job of breathing into the top third of your lungs, but you are not getting any air into the lower two-thirds. And in order to breathe fully, the lungs have to be fully or nearly filled. Try another inhale. Did your shoulders rise up? Yes? Well, in that case, we need to bring out the big guns, as they say.
For this next part, you will want to be somewhere you can comfortably lie down, and you will need a book. If you need to wait until you are at home, go for it. I’ll be right here when you come back …
Okay, now that you are some place where you can lie down, grab the book, and lie down. Lie flat and comfortably. Place the book on your belly and take in a deep breath. Now exhale. Do it again. What happens to the book on your belly when you inhale?
With any luck, you said, “The book rises when I inhale.” That is exactly what should happen. The book should rise on an inhalation and it should fall on the exhalation. Take another few breaths and get accustomed to the feeling of the book rising and falling on the inhalations and exhalations. Next, take note of your shoulders. What’s happening to them as you breathe while lying down?
What I’m hoping you realize is that they don’t move. When you lie down to breathe, your shoulders have no choice but to remain still because they are resting against the floor or the bed, etc. That frees you up to allow the trunk to expand outward properly since the shoulders can’t rise. Please remember that when the shoulders rise on inhalation, we are only filling up the top parts of our lungs, and since what we are after is a full breath, we need to remove the shoulders from the equation. The, “Lie down and put a book on your belly,” technique is a perfect way to practice that.
Take a few more deep breaths lying down and try to remember what that feels like. Then stand up and try it that way. See if you can maintain that same feeling of keeping the shoulders down and relaxed while the belly expands.*
Once you have that in your body and are comfortable with it, you will be one giant step closer to breathing fully and deeply. And you will be far more able to breathe properly. The next technique we will discuss will be the exhalation and the supported breath. Now that you know how to inhale properly, next week, we will learn how to exhale and use your supported breath to speak and communicate more effectively.
*Bear in mind, this sort of deep breathing might make you a little light-headed so be careful as you deepen your breath. If you do get lightheaded, sit down and put your head between your knees until the feeling passes.