What do singing, running, playing an instrument, calling to a friend across the street, weight lifting, yoga, and talking on the phone all have in common? You absolutely, 100% must breathe while doing any of them.
Your breath is the foundation of speech
In order to speak, you must breathe. Every speech task requires coordinated breath. You need air to make sound (phonation), to change your vocal quality (resonance), and to enunciate phonemes and speech (articulation).
All speech happens on the exhale. Your body will naturally bring more air in, so in focusing on breath work, you are working on bringing in the air you need and controlling how it is released.
If you are about to yell to a friend across the street, you will need to take more air in and release it with more force, than if you were asking someone to pass the salt.
Start to pay attention to your breath. Notice when you take deep breaths vs shallow breaths. When do you run out of breath? When does your breathing make you feel relaxed? Anxious? Increasing your awareness will make it easier to gain control of your breath.
Anyone that is looking to increase their speech clarity, whether that is to clearly articulate sounds, increase fluency, add inflection, increase volume, slow their rate of speech, or change their vocal quality, should begin by working on their breath.
Working on increasing awareness and control of your breath is also necessary for anyone wanting to sing or perform, engage in public speaking, or decrease anxiousness related to speaking.
Breath exercises you can try on your own
Breath Contrast- First raise your shoulders and tighten your neck, then take 5 short and quick breaths in. Next, drop your shoulders, open your chest, stretch your neck up, and take 5 slow breaths, with long exhales. Notice the changes in your body and mind. Next to it again while adding speech. Say, “My name is ____” with the same length exhale. You should feel more relaxed, and your speech should be clearer and more easily articulated with more natural intonation.
Phonation Contrast- Take a deep breath and hold the ‘ssss’ sound for as long as you comfortably can. Take a second breath and hold the ‘zzzz’ sound for as long as you comfortably can. Notice that the added phonation of the /z/ phoneme requires additional effort. You likely can comfortably hold the /s/ sound for a bit longer. Keep this in mind when considering the type of breath you need when speaking for a longer period of time or when required to project your voice over a crowd.
Practice Deep Breathing- Sit up straight. Keep your shoulders back and put one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest. Breathe in through your nose and feel your abdomen expand as you inhale for 3-5 seconds. Slowly exhale through your mouth for 4-6 seconds, and you feel your abdomen retract. You should feel the majority of the movement in your abdomen and not your chest while you are breathing. Repeat five times. Use this type of breath to help calm your body down and to effectively coordinate the release of air when speaking.