Building Your Physical Foundation: Breath

“One of the best pieces of advice Siobhan gives when she teaches is ‘think about your breathing’.” There is a big difference between “Breathe! Breathe! Don’t forget to breathe!” and a gentle reminder of “think about your breath”. The former is perhaps not as useful a note as the reminder to make choices about your breath during your fight scene.

As human animals, we use our breath to support our actions:
– a gasp as we are suprised
– a prolonged controlled exhale as we complete a task that requiring concentration and physical exertion (pushing a car)
– breathing deeply as we attempt to consciously calm ourselves
– light, shallow breathing while we stand stock-still, attempting to discern which way to move next in the face of danger.
When we are acting, particularly when we are acting with intense movement like we do in a fight scene, making choices about our breathing helps draw the audience on a sub-conscious level into the character’s experience.

Anyone who has done stage combat can tell you how difficult it can be to keep oneself oxygenated while moving with emotion AND with physical control. By doing cardiovascular exercise while being mindful of our breathing, we are helping our body and “reptile brain” to understand that we can control our breath — not just mindlessly pant or unconsciously hold our breath — while we do physically and mentally demanding tasks. As performers, we can choose a breath-scape (new word, variation on soundscape) to craft our story on another level. The ability to make these choices begins with training exercises like the two that follow.

Breath Control While Running or Walking
You can do these while walking or running. I don’t enjoy running and because I live in a city, I’m often walking as part of my day, so doing these while walking is my personal preference.

Establish your pace. If running, start with a light jog, and speed up as you get comfortable with the training exercise. Think of each footfall as a beat. Empty your lungs and then breathe on the following pattern:
Pattern One
in for 1 beat, out for 1 beat
in for 2 beats, out for 2 beats
in for 3, out for 3
in for 4, out for 4
in for 5, out for 5
in for 6, out for 6
in for 7, out for 7
in for 8, out for 8
in for 9, out for 9
in for 10, out for 10
in for 9, out for 9
in for 8, out for 8
in for 7, out for 7…
you get the picture: back down to 1.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

When that gets easy for you, see how many beats you can do. Up to 15? up to 20?

Pattern Two
Empty your lungs and then breathe on the following pattern:
in for 1 beat, hold your breath (lungs full) or 1 beat,
out for 1 beat, hold your breath (lungs empty) for 1 beat
in for 2, hold for 2, out for 2, hold for 2
in for 3, hold for 3, out for 3, hold for 3
You see where we’re going with this. For this exercise, keep increasing the number of beats. Remain at the number of beats that is challenging for you, until it’s no longer challenging. For many people, holding your breath with empty lungs while moving is the toughest part. Your body will beg for air. I usually get that warm flush throughout my body. The trick is to know that breath is coming soon. No need to panic.

Do these exercises, especially the last one, at every opportunity to increase your breath control and get your human brain and reptile brain to start “talking” to each other.

With thanks to Kyle Rowling and Guy Windsor who first introduced me to these exercises.

Before beginning any new exercise/conditioning program, you should consult your physician, physical therapist, athletic trainer or strength and conditioning coach.

The exercise area must be safe and free of hazards.

Do not attempt any motion that causes you pain, and never force your body into positions.

Use of any information provided in this website is solely at your own risk.

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