Breathing for Actors – 4 Ways Breathing Can Help Your Acting

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  2. January 29, 2012 10:17 pm

By Alex Swenson

Breathing is so natural we hardly ever think about it. Yet how we breathe has a huge impact on our body and mind at any given time. By learning breathing techniques and becoming aware of breathing patterns, you can really improve your acting skills. Below are four ways you can use the breath in your acting career.

1) Vocal Production

Proper breathing techniques are a very important part of projecting your voice and being heard in a theater, along with using resonance. Sound is produced when the breath travels through the vocal folds, so how much air we use is directly connected to volume.

In order to work on your breathing, you need to locate your diaphragm, which is an important muscle that pushes air out of the lungs. Lie down on your back and start noticing the up and down movement of this muscle as the air goes in and out of your body.

2) Releasing Emotions

Most vocal production classes teach actors “belly breathing” and how to use the breath to support the voice and project it. But the part that’s often missing is how to become aware of how we breathe.

For example, take a monologue where you feel you are “forcing” or “indicating” and notice your breathing. Then take a monologue you feel connected to. Chances are you are holding your breath in the first monologue.

We hold our breath to control emotion. When strong emotions arise in a scene we’re working on, our initial reaction is often to hold our breath to keep the emotion from overwhelming us. It’s just a habitual reaction most of us learn as children.

Notice throughout the day when you hold your breath and ask yourself why, then try to relax your breathing and see what happens. Do the same when you’re working on a scene or monologue.

Also notice if your breath is disconnected from your voice. If we don’t release our lines “on the breath”, we can still be disconnected from the emotions even if we are breathing in between lines. Try to say each line as if it were a “sigh”, relieving the emotions on the breath.

3) Releasing Stage Fright

Have you ever been so nervous that you had to be reminded to breathe?

Nothing connects the body and mind like the breath does, so working on your breathing is one of the most efficient things you can do to relieve stage fright. The first step is to notice your breathing, of course. Is it shallow, fast, constricted? Next, slow your breathing down, focusing all your attention on the air coming in and out of your nostrils, and your belly going in and out. If you want, you can add a calming yoga exercise like alternate nostril breathing exercise, where you breathe in and out of one nostril at a time, blocking the other with your thumb or fingers.

4) Getting Into Character

While working on a character, stop to notice their breathing pattern. Is it theirs? Is it yours as an actor?

Everyone has their own unique breathing pattern, and that pattern changes depending on the situation or conflict. Your character may be “out of breath” or “breathless” with surprise. Many actors find it hard to play being suddenly surprised or scared, but if you think of the physicality of it in terms of the wind being knocked out of you all of a sudden, that’s something you can play, even if it’s take number 12.

Even without being so obvious, asking yourself how your character breathes can help you start to connect with him or her. How we breathe is how we experience life, so slightly changing your breathing pattern to be slower, faster, deeper, more erratic, etc… can make for some interesting acting choices and really breathe life into your roles!

Alex Swenson has worked as an actor, writer and film editor for the past 15 years in New York and Los Angeles. She has created the website Acting School Stop to help young actors start an acting career. For more tips on character development, see You can also read more on stage fright at

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