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Breathing Correctly to Speak Better in Public

An inside look to proper breathing techniques and its benefits in public speaking.

Phil, 31 years old, was always a little apprehensive about public speaking, but when his job in marketing required him to frequently make presentations and lead meetings, his anxiety about public speaking rose to the point where he was getting too nervous and sweating in front of large groups. He tried doing some breathing exercises but couldn’t calm his nerves.

Phil's girlfriend, Lisa, suggested that he talk to her yoga instructor, Melissa Gutierrez, about relaxation techniques. When Melissa, co-founder of SMARTer Bodies in New York, began working with Phil on his breathing, he discovered that his notion of breathing had been wrong. He thought that breathing started with the belly, but Melissa taught him to focus instead on the lungs. She told him to visualize filling his lungs to full capacity as he was breathing. Melissa told him that he takes in less air when he focuses on the belly.

To better understand proper breathing techniques, Melissa had him do yoga poses, such as standing on one foot while stretching the other foot, while still focusing on his breathing. "It's so easy to practice breathing when you're sitting alone in your apartment with no distractions. She taught me how to focus on breathing when I was not so comfortable, helping me put my body in different scenarios." Phil began to notice a change when Melissa had him look at the difference in his ohm, a yoga mantra often used to help calm the mind. When thinking about the belly, his ohm was short and shallow. As his breathing sessions continued and he was better focusing on his lungs, his ohm became much fuller. After about a month of hour-long, weekly breathing sessions with Melissa, Phil started to feel more comfortable when he had to speak in front of large groups. He said he felt like he was in more control of the situation and was able to calm himself. Although, change didn’t happen overnight, it did ultimately come and he became more confident as a result of it.

“It’s definitely a work in progress,” he said, “but it’s much better than it used to be.” He said now when he has to speak in front of a group of people he is conscious of taking full breaths and focusing on where the air is going in his lungs. Before his sessions with Melissa, he had no reference point for his breathing, stating,"I think about the way the muscles in my back move when I breathe in and how the air spreads out into my lungs. The breathing exercises taught me to better appreciate the anatomy, how it all works together in harmony and how breathing supports all of it."

– By Jessica Braun
Jessica Braun is a writer and an editor at WholesomeOne. She can be reached at jessica.braun[at]wholesomeone[dot]com.