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Love Your Voice

Chapter One - Diaphragmatic Breathing

by Roger Love

The Only Way to Go

In order for me to help you create an amazing voice, I first need to show you the best way to breathe. On a regular basis I’m quoted as saying, “Great speaking only happens when the right amount of air meets the right amount of vocal cord.” And although that sounds a bit complicated, it’s actually quite simple.

Air comes from your lungs and tries to get through your vocal cords and then out of your mouth. But the job of the cords is to temporarily hold the air back. When the pressure underneath becomes too much for them to handle, they separate and let a certain amount of air pass by, which is what creates the sounds you make.

To build your best possible voice, you need to have total control of that air. There’s only one way to do this, and it’s called diaphragmatic breathing. The problem is that most adults are just not used to breathing in that way . . . and please notice that I used the word adults. The reason I did so is to call attention to the fact that all babies—even you—were born doing perfect diaphragmatic breathing. That’s right . . . when the stork dropped you off at your mom and dad’s house, the hospital, or wherever you landed, you were breathing exactly as I want you to now. So all I have to do is refresh your memory and show you what you already knew.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

There are basically two types of breathing techniques: (1) diaphragmatic breathing, which I’ll teach you; and (2) accessory breathing, which is mostly useless and a waste of time. But before we go any further, let’s figure out which way you breathe. If at all possible, I’d like you to find a mirror that’s big enough for you to see yourself from the waist up. If that’s impossible right now, you can still do the following test.

Step 1

I want you to take a big deep breath in and try to be aware of what your chest and shoulders are doing. Okay, let’s do it now: 1, 2, 3 . . . breathe.

When you inhaled, did you raise your chest and shoulders? Did your shoulders come up and try to visit with your ears? If so, that’s called accessory breathing, and it’s not what we’re looking for. When you breathe like that, you’re actually only getting a small amount of air into your lungs and gaining no control of how that air goes back out again. For this reason, accessory breathing just isn’t the way to vocal nirvana.

Step 2

Raise your shoulders way up to your ears and hold them there. . . . Come on, keep them up. . . .

That doesn’t feel very comfortable, does it? Now go ahead and let your shoulders back down and relax. You should know that all day long when you raise your chest and shoulders every time you breathe, you’re just begging for tension in your neck. I don’t want you to create strain anywhere. Tension in your neck moves to your jaw, then to your voice, and pretty soon there’s just way too much tension everywhere.

Step 3

Now, let’s focus on the second type of breathing, the one that will really work for you—diaphragmatic breathing.

Place your hand on your belly button and take a deep breath in. Pretend that you have a balloon in your stomach, and as you inhale, fill that area up with air without raising your chest and shoulders. The only place that should be moving is your abdomen.

Try it again with me now. Take a deep breath in through your nose, don’t raise your chest, fill up the pretend balloon you have in your stomach, and then blow the air out of your mouth. Try that a few times and see if you can get used to it.

The Nose Knows

Did you notice that I asked you to breathe in through your nose? I did so because there are filters in your nasal passages that help moisten the air that moves through them. This is easier on the vocal cords and doesn’t dry them out as much, which is important. If your vocal cords get dehydrated, they don’t work as well and can get red and swollen. At that point, you might sound hoarse or even lose your voice.

Take a big breath in with your mouth wide open. Do you feel how all that air makes the back part of your throat dry? Now close your mouth, and take a big breath in through your nose. Do you notice the difference?

It’s important to start being aware of whether or not you’re a mouth breather. Do you usually wake up with a dry throat? Does it take you more than a few minutes to lose that “frog in the throat” morning sound? If so, you’re probably already suffering the effects of being a mouth breather. You need to get used to inhaling only through your nose; it’s a much better way for you to go.

The best place to start is simply to make sure that your mouth is closed when you inhale. The air has to get in somewhere—with your lips closed it will go in through your nose. Some people feel as if they can’t get in a big enough breath because one nostril or the other is partially blocked. Well, to those people I say, “Welcome to the real world.”

In all my years of teaching, I have perhaps seen three or four clients who could take in air through both nostrils at the same time without one being more blocked up. Most people are in the same boat that you and I are in. So don’t think that just because your nose is a bit stuffy, you can’t get enough air in that way. Great breathing is not about guzzling huge amounts of air; it’s about comfortably bringing in just enough, using it to sound great, and then taking another breath and doing the same thing all over again.

With the breathing exercises I’m going to give you in this chapter, you should be well on your way to understanding and using diaphragmatic breathing in no time.

To Breathe or Not to Breathe

Let me get back to my main purpose in teaching you diaphragmatic breathing. As I’ve previously mentioned, I want you to control how the air flows out of your mouth. If you can do that, you’ll be able to manipulate the sounds that come out with it. My goal is for you to create a solid, even stream of air that rides effortlessly out of your mouth. If I can get you to connect that bed of air with the words you speak, I can make you sound incredible.

You might ask, “Don’t I already do that? Aren’t the words already sailing out of my mouth on a proper bed of air?” Unfortunately, for many of you the answer is “No, they’re not.” Most of the time when you speak, the words and air come out in tiny bursts. That creates a small, shallow voice with a less-than-desirable tone quality.

My aim is to teach you how to take a diaphragmatic breath, letting your words ride out on that big, beautiful stream of air as you speak. It’s important that we understand each other here: I only want you to speak when there’s a solid flow of air out of your mouth and your stomach is coming back in.

You’re Not a Fat Cat

If you’ve ever taken a yoga class or spent a few minutes at the gym with a qualified exercise trainer, your instructor may have mentioned diaphragmatic breathing and might have even gotten you to try it. The problem is, a lot of the time even the experts miss the most important part. They’re so preoccupied with the inhalation (the way you breathe in) that they forget about the exhalation (the way you breathe out). To truly love your voice and have others feel the same way, you need to focus on the air coming out . . . that’s where the true magic lies.

Have you ever seen anyone play the accordion? If so, do you remember how the player moved his or her hands apart and the instrument stretched? When that happens, air gets sucked into the accordion. Your body and lungs work in a very similar way: Just like the accordion, you also need to expand.

I want you to pretend that you just swallowed a big balloon. (Please don’t actually do it! I have no desire to get calls from your lawyer, and no time to return them.) Every time you inhale, you need to let your stomach area come out as if air were filling up that balloon. You should also make sure that you aren’t raising your chest and shoulders and creating physical tension.

When you let your stomach come out, you’re suddenly in a wonderful position. By bringing your tummy back in, you can control how that air goes back out again, just like the accordion: When you want to get a lot of air out, you need to bring your stomach back in fast; when you only want a small amount, you should bring it in slowly. By breathing in this way, you’re in a better position to regulate the air. You’ve found the accelerator pedal for your voice, and now you can control the speed. Together, we can use that new tool to make beautiful music together—the kind that only happens when you speak correctly.

A lot of people worry that by breathing diaphragmatically and letting their stomachs out, they’ll end up looking fat. I fully realize that our culture has a preoccupation with washboard abs. And I do think that the exercise regimen and dietary guidelines that lead to that strong, flat stomach are fantastic. However, I believe that you can be in great shape, allow your tummy to come out far enough to get the right amount of air in, and still not look fat or unnatural. Most of the conversations you’ll ever have will be face-to-face. In that position, it’s almost impossible to see someone’s stomach projecting out too much. People will be right in front of you, not staring at your belly from the side while you speak. Besides, when you breathe my way, you’ll feel and sound better.

Let me give you a breathing exercise that will help you learn diaphragmatic breathing and make it a part of your everyday speaking life.

Breathing Exercise 1: The Accordion

Please try this with me. . . .

1. Put your hand over your belly button.

2. Take a breath in and let your stomach area come out as if you had a balloon inside.

3. Remember not to raise your chest and shoulders as you inhale.

4. Let your stomach come back in slowly as you recite the following words:

[Breathe in]

I want my stomach to slowly come in while I’m speaking.

[Breathe in]

The entire time I’m speaking my stomach needs to be coming in.

[Breathe in]

If my stomach is coming in when I speak, I’m going to sound a lot better.

[Breathe in]

I need to breathe in through my nose, fill up my abdominal area, and deflate my stomach when I speak.

Okay, good job! It’s vital that you get used to your stomach coming in while you’re speaking. It will get you so much closer to a better-sounding voice.

This excerpt is taken from the book Love Your Voice:

Use Your Speaking Voice to Create Success, Self-Confidence, and Star-like Charisma! By Roger Love. It is published by Hay House (July 2007) and available at all bookstores or online at: www.hayhouse.com

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