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4 Breathing Techniques to Clear Your Head Before a Show or Class

4 Breathing Techniques to Clear Your Head Before a Show or Class

Even if you’ve memorized your lines, explored the inner-depths of your character, and trained with a stage combat coach to nail your sword fight with Tybalt, getting anxious before a show opening, acting class or audition is natural.

That’s why finding a way to clear your mind and get centered before stepping onstage or into an audition is crucial. To be a really effective actor, we need to be able to clear our minds so we can be truly present to our emotions and to what is happening in the moment. Next time your brain becomes full of chatter, try these breathing techniques to clear your head.

  1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
    Breath support is a highly important skill to develop for every performer, affecting the range, volume, and speed of your singing and speaking. Diaphragmatic breathing is an important part of developing your breath support, and it can also alleviate stage fright!

    To calm your nerves before a class or show, breathe through your diaphragm:
  • Stand with your feet flat on the floor and your shoulders back and relaxed. Alternately, lie with your back flat on the floor, knees bent, and feet firmly on the floor.
  • Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
  • Inhale through your nose for a count of four and try to breathe through your diaphragm. The hand on your belly should move as your diaphragm expands, while the hand on your chest shouldn’t move at all.
  • Hold your breath for a count of four.
  • Exhale through your nose for another count of four.
  • Repeat several times for longer counts (eight, 10, 15, etc).

2. Intercostal Breathing
The intercostal muscles form a protective layer around your chest wall on the sides of your ribs. Intercostal breathing is also known as “side breathing.” Practice intercostal breathing to center yourself and calm your nerves.

  • Lie with your back flat on the floor or sit up straight with your back completely against a flat wall.
  • Wrap your hands around your ribs, with your fingers in front and your thumbs touching your back.
  • Inhale through your nose for a count of four. While inhaling gently push your ribs into your hands and into the floor or into the wall so you can feel the lateral and posterior expansion of your ribs.
  • Hold for a count of four.
  • Exhale through your nose for a count of four, and while you exhale engage your lower abdominal muscles to draw your navel to your spine as your ribs fall back into your chest.
  • Repeat several times for longer counts.

Try both diaphragmatic and intercostal breathing to see which exercise creates a more calming effect for you.

3. Even-to-Double-Exhale Breathing
If you don’t have the luxury of a green room where you can lie down or lean against a wall, you can this simple breathing exercise to clear your head whether waiting to go in for an audition or in a hallway before class.

Stand with your feet flat on the floor. Relax your shoulders while keeping them back. Imagine a string coming out of the top of your head to remain standing straight and tall.

Inhale through your nose for a count of four, and then exhale through your nose for another count of four.

Repeat three to four times.

Now inhale through your nose for a count of four and exhale for a count of eight.

Repeat this three to four times. When exhaling try to push from your diaphragm.

4. Alternate Nostril Breathing
Another way to calm your nervous system is to use Nadi Shodhan pranayama, also known as the alternate nostril breathing technique. The basic exercise is simple: inhale and exhale through one nostril, and then switch to the other. For a full breakdown of this calming exercise check out this YouTube video.

  • Sit cross-legged on the floor with your back as straight and tall as possible.
  • First, breathe in and out of your nostrils several times very quickly to clear them.
  • Fold your index and middle fingers of your dominant hand into your palm. Use your thumb to close one nostril and your ring finger to close the other.
  • First, inhale deeply through both nostrils.
  • Breathe out through one nostril while blocking the other. Switch nostrils and breathe in through the other one.
  • After three full breaths, inhale and exhale through the same side so you can “switch” which side you’re inhaling from.
  • Complete three more breaths breathing in and out from the opposite nostrils.
  • Finally, breathe deeply through both nostrils for at least five breaths, relaxing your hand.
  • Repeat this entire cycle two more times.

With these breathing techniques under your belt you can be calm, centered, and ready to conquer any class, performance or audition. Break a leg, and don’t forget to breathe!