“Take a deep breath,” has always been good advice, but now there is evidence that deep breathing can alleviate performance anxiety. Although I didn’t need the study to tell me what I found out years ago.
Over 25 years ago, flutist Joan Sparks and I founded our flute and harp duo Sparx. We have traveled and concertized together extensively, and over time, we developed a backstage pre-concert ritual. One of the components of this routine was a series of exercises designed to warm up Joan’s breathing. Being a harpist, I was more interested in keeping my fingers loose, but being a good duo partner, I participated. Joan showed me how to breathe deeply, how to count breaths, and although I could never match Joan’s lung capacity, I learned to value the centered, focused feeling I had after our warm-ups.
And now along comes this study from Australia that confirms my own experience. Musicians were requested to sightread a difficult piece of twentieth century music with a tape piano accompaniment. They were told to keep up with the accompaniment and that the expressive quality of their interpretation was important. Some musicians relaxed and read before their “audition,” but others were given 30 minutes of deep breathing exercises. The deep breathers reported feeling significantly less tense and anxious. Researchers believe that if the deep breathing were to be a regular part of their preparation, the musicians would experience even more dramatic results. For a nice summation of the study, read this on Salon.com.
Deep breathing comes from your belly; shallow breathing uses your upper chest. Feel the difference. Sit up straight or lie down and place your hand over your abdomen. Breathe in through your nose and make your hand rise when your belly expands as you take in air. That’s deep breathing.
Deep breathing is reported to have many other health benefits as well. It can lower your blood pressure. It can release endorphins, nature’s pain killers. Better oxygen levels in your body can help your mind focus and your muscles relax. There are more than enough reasons to give this a try.
The simplest deep breathing exercise is to count your deep breaths. Making sure you are breathing correctly (from the belly), breath in through your nose for a count of four. Then exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of eight. You can vary the numbers or the pace to suit your own level of comfort and fitness, but the longer exhale is important. Try this for just a few breaths and you should feel the difference right away.
There are many more breathing exercises you can try. Here are couple of resources:
From Andrew Weil, M.D. – Three Deep Breathing Exercises
From Dartmouth College – Deep Breathing Exercises
So take a deep breath and relax. Now go out on the stage and have fun!
What are some of your pre-concert routines?