Advice and strategies on how to relax before a performance or presentation
We all tend to be so preoccupied with our daily routines that we rarely take the time to step back and take a minute or two to recharge. Research shows that deep breathing periodically throughout the day lowers your stress levels and improves your focus. Increasing the oxygen flow to the brain through deep breathing will allow you to concentrate better, reduce your pulse, and give you greater clarity to focus on the task at hand.
Before you enter into a situation where you have to use your voice for an extended period, take one or two minutes to close your eyes and breathe deeply and slowly, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Do this a few times throughout the day, your voice and body will thank you for it.
1a. Yoga Breathing FTW
I don’t practice yoga as often as I should, but I recognize the benefits it has for vocalists, especially when it comes to breathing. At its core, speaking and singing is nothing more than expelling air to produce sound, so being able to control your breath is vital for a healthy voice and body.
There are quite a few yoga breathing techniques (also known as pranayama, which means “breath control” in Sanskrit) that can help you relax before a performance or presentation. My three favorite yoga breathing exercises are:
– Elongate your exhales. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, or sit on a pillow on the floor with your hips above your knees (a chair will work just fine). Slowly inhale through the nose for a count of four, then exhale through the mouth for a slow count of 6 or longer. Do this for one minute.
– Kapalabhati (Skull Shining Breath). Place both hands on your belly, one hand just below the chest and the other hand on the abdomen. Inhale deeply through the nose, then forcefully exhale through the nose in shorts bursts, about one exhale per second for 10 seconds while pulling your stomach inwards. Do this for about 5 or 6 rounds.
– Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing). Nadi Shodana is one of my favorite breathing exercises because it works. Start by bending your index and ring fingers toward your palm. Press your thumb onto your left nostril to close it off, then slowly inhale through your right nostril. Hold the breath for about two seconds, then close your right nostril with your ring finger and exhale through your left nostril. After you’ve exhaled, inhale slowly through the left nostril, hold it for two seconds, then exhale through the right nostril. Repeat this cycle for three or four rounds. At the end of four rounds, inhale through both nostrils and exhale through the mouth.
Doing these three breathing exercises will calm your nervous system, bring you mental clarity and balance your energy so that you can perform at your best. There are lots of great YouTube videos on the subject of yoga breathing, but this one is my favorite so far.
2. Don’t overdo your warm-up
When I was on The Voice of Germany, I was extremely nervous before my performances. To combat these nervous feelings, I would sing scales until I was blue in the face, pace the room, and other things I thought would calm me down before showtime. However, this wasn’t my usual routine. I usually sit quietly in my dressing room, stand with my eyes closed on the side of the stage, or slowly pace the room until it’s time to go on stage. Animals use the same strategy while hunting: they quietly stalk their prey before the pounce. Doing as little as possible has proven to be a far more effective way to prepare for a performance than excessive vocal warmups.
3. Keep your eyes on the prize
Most successful people achieve their goals by having a clear picture in their minds of the intended outcome. Focus brings clarity. Ask yourself, “why am I doing this?” Be honest with yourself. Picture your final result. Visualizing your end game can go a long way towards helping you relax before it’s time to step out on the stage.
If you think it, you can do it
In the fitness world, it’s said that a relaxed muscle is an efficient muscle. This philosophy also applies to your voice, without question. If you learn to focus your energy through breathing and visualization exercises, you will be well prepared for any vocal performance situation.