The Art of Speech

You Need To Know How to Breath

Raquel Arrais General Conference Associate Women’s Ministries Director

"Students should be taught how to breathe, how to read and speak so that the strain will not come on the throat and lungs, but on the abdominal muscles. Teachers need to educate themselves in this direction" (Fundamentals of Christian Education, pp.147, 148).

We all know how to breathe. As we came out of the womb, we were instinctively taught how to make use of our respiratory system. But do we know how to use our breathing when speaking? Life consists of a series of breaths. It is possible to live a long time without eating, a few days without drinking, but only a few minutes without breathing.

Breathing is absorbing oxygen into the lungs, breathing is expelling carbon dioxide from the body, breathing is living. Breathing is an involuntary yet control lable action, and its importance is unquestionable. Since creation, special importance has been given to it, especially when we consider that our own Creator was the One who breathed into human beings the "breath of life."

Our vocal health depends on knowing how to breathe correctly. "The training of the voice has an important place in physical culture, since it tends to expand and strengthen the lungs, and thus to ward off disease. To ensure correct delivery in reading and speaking, see that the abdominal muscles have full play in breathing and that the respiratory organs are unrestricted. Let the strain come on the muscles of the abdomen rather than on those of the throat. Great weariness and serious disease of the throat and lungs may thus be prevented" (Education, p. 199).

When we inhale, air enters through the nostrils, passes through the larynx (where the vocal cords are located), and goes to the lungs. When we exhale, the air returns through the larynx; when we speak, the vocal cords come together, vibrating and producing sound. This sound is amplified and modified by the resonance chambers that are the oral, nasal, and chest cavities.

Breathing can be done through the nose, mouth, or a combination of both; however, nasal breathing is the best because air goes through the nose and is warmed, purified, and humidified.

When we speak, our breathing is natural, which means air goes in and out according to the emotion and the length of the phrases. When we pause, breathing occurs slowly through the nose; when we 

speak, we breathe through our mouths. In singing, great air volume is needed, almost emptying the lungs; in speech, medium volume is used.

It is common to see some people using what is called "superior" or "short" breathing. This, however, is not the most adequate because it uses only the superior part of the thorax and lungs. It is also not recommended because little air goes in, and the speaker tends to produce a vocal effort that causes tension in the larynx, resulting in a strident voice.

Correct breathing, though, is easy and does not take effort because the amount of air that goes into the lungs is much greater. To start using what is called "inferior" or "diaphragmatic" breathing, stand in front of a mirror and place one hand on your chest and the other above your navel. When you inhale, the hand above your chest should not move; the other, above your abdomen, moves out, according to the air going in. When you are in the pulpit, breathe deeply, not raising your chest but expanding your abdomen.

Slow and correct breathing will even help to release tension. A very important thing is to avoid using all of your air. This "air reserve" should never be used in speech. If you notice you are running out of air, take a breath, inhale. This pause will help to make your voice more audible.

Study your sermon carefully. When you are familiar with the text, you will also know when you will need more or less air. For instance, if you are making a call or emphasizing a phrase, you will probably need a lot of air; therefore, you should pause, take a breath, and then make the important statement. However long pauses may distract your audience. When you pray, ask God to help you to breathe correctly. Ellen White explains how to speak and breathe correctly:

"Speaking from the throat, letting the words come out from the upper extremity of the vocal organs, all the time fretting and irritating them, is not the best way to preserve health or to increase the efficiency of those organs. You should take a full inspiration and let the action come from the abdominal muscles. . . . You can speak to thousands with just as much ease as you can speak to ten" (Testimonies for the Church, vol 2, page 616). 

Alexandra Sampaio, speech therapist, resides in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.