In a manner of speaking you have, naturally, been breathing all your life. But the chances are you haven't been breathing naturally for a long time. This acting exercise will have you breathing new life into your characters.
With good posture, stand in front of a mirror. Put one hand on your chest, and the other hand on the upper part of your abdomen.
Take a big, deep breath.
Did your chest swell up with that breath? Did you get small around the waist? If so, you need some reminders about correct, natural breathing.
We have in the lower part of the thorax, or chest cavity, a floor of muscle that is also the roof of the abdominal cavity, separating one from the other. This is the diaphragm.
Try another exercise by lying down on the floor. Just relax. Don't even think about your breathing. Place your hands flat against your floating ribs at the sides and notice how the entire region, all the way around to the back, contracts and expands as you breathe, while your chest remains immobile. Notice, too, how the floating ribs now seem to have a very direct contact with the diaphragm.
Get a piece of string and make a lasso. Slip the lasso around the diaphragm region and, keeping the end of the string taut, notice how it lengthens and shortens as you breathe, while your chest remains immobile.
Stand up again and attach your chest, fixed and high, to your imaginary hook. Breathe just as you did while you were lying on the floor, again checking the expansion and contraction of your diaphragm with your lasso.
This is a good acting exercise for breathing. It may seem strange for you to breathe this way if you've been told most of your life to “take deep breaths with your chest.” But don't be disturbed about it You are now following nature's way of breathing, and she'll help you acquire the habit of breathing in her own sensible manner. Nature is on your side.
All animals breathe in this fashion. You breathed in the same correct, natural way when you were an infant.
Here is an exercise in breathing and performing a specific action at the same time.
Start from a sitting position with hands on knees. As you inhale, move one hand up to your top shirt button. Start the movement and a breath at the same instant. End the movement (at the top shirt button) at the exact peak of your intake of breath.
As you exhale, return the hand to its original position (on the knee). Arrive at this original position at the same instant the final expiration of your breath takes place.
By coordinating a movement exactly with your breathing, you have experienced the use of a potential power tool of acting. So keep practicing until you have mastered it
Focus your mind on diaphragmatic breathing and let your mind tell your body what to do. You'll soon get back to breathing as well as you did when you were born!
Nature intended that you should breathe with the diaphragm. It's healthful for your general well-being in daily living. And it's necessary to you as an actor. With diaphragmatic breathing, you control the breath and get compressed air, necessary for keeping balanced energy under all the vibrations of the speech instrument.
As you may know, compressed air is one of the strongest sources of power known to science. It's used to stop trains, to drive pneumatic drills, and in many other mechanical processes requiring enormous power.
To acquire vocal vitality and control, make use of the same kind of power that science has found so useful … Nature has already given you the necessary equipment.
Breathe correctly and practice this acting exercise and you will improve the technique of your acting.