Good breathing patterns are vital communication skills, and few people realise how powerful they can be. Learn to control your breathing and you’ll find it easier to manage difficult situations.
When you feel nervous, angry or frightened, your body takes over. We’ve all experienced the rapid heartbeat, sweating and fast breathing of our body’s fight or flight mechanism. It’s possible to control those feelings, using simple techniques that leave you fired up and ready to do your best in the situation, while remaining calm enough to control what you do.
One of the simplest ways to get on top of your body’s responses is through your breathing. With a little practice, you can improve your breathing patterns, reducing your stress levels and gaining control over potentially scary situations like giving presentations, calming angry clients, helping your child overcome tantrums and making your point more forcefully in meetings.
Breathing is an automatic function that continues, controlled by your brain, even when you’re asleep. The rate of breathing changes, getting faster when your body sends chemical bursts around your body, for example when you begin to feel anxious, and slower when you relax. Many people breathe shallowly, using the top of their lungs. Learn how to breathe more deeply and slowly.
Try sitting or lying quietly and comfortably, and breathe out, counting slowly to four, before breathing in, again to a count of four. You may be surprised at how slowly and deeply it’s possible to breathe. Notice how slower breathing helps you feel relaxed. Try different depths of breath, noticing how your stomach moves in and out when you take good, deep, effective breaths.
If you lie down to practice, take care when you finish your practice to get up slowly, to avoid dizziness.
Calm your anxiety
Next time you feel anxious, take a second to breathe out fully. Your incoming breath will be deeper and fuller. Focus on the outgoing breath. You can leave it to your brain to make sure your incoming breath is deep enough to replace the air you breathe out: that’s how it keeps you alive.
Pass it on
When a child or friend feels stressed, their breathing will be rapid. Your calming words may be ineffective for them, as they focus in on their feelings to the exclusion of anything else. Instead of relying on speech alone, try matching your breathing to theirs.
Breathe in when they breathe in, and breathe out when they do. Once you are synchronised, start to slow your outgoing breath slightly. You’ll find they’ll follow you and calm down a little.
Speaking and breathing
When you match your breathing pattern to that of another person, you also match your speech patterns. We speak on an outgoing breath, so as you breathe in, there will be a silence. That silence slows your speech rate, and calms the atmosphere. It also helps the other person understand what you say more easily. A slower speech rate, with pauses, improves communication.
The added excitement, perhaps even the fear, of speaking in front of others, can play havoc with breathing and speech patterns. You may talk much faster than you realise. Trying to talk slowly can be difficult because the intensity of the situation may distort your sense of time. Instead, concentrate on your breathing patterns. Count slowly in your head, before you begin speaking, and establish a slower pattern that helps you feel in control.
Making an impact
When you have control of your breath, you can manage the way you speak. In general, good speakers speak more slowly, pause more often and use fewer words, with clearer emphasis, than poor speakers use. To control a meeting, ensure others listen to your arguments and make your points better, use your breathing patterns to underpin your speech rate.
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