Create a daily 5-minute breath practice
Breath is the single most powerful tool a classical musician possesses to work through stage fright or anxiety. You have immediate, uninhibited access to breath, it requires nothing but a few minutes, and it stimulates your vagus nerve which communicates that you are safe to the nervous system.
When your thoughts are spinning or your palms are sweating - JUST BREATHE.
Here are a few strategies to help you get the most out of your deep breathing and affect quicker change in your nervous system.
Take Deep Belly Breaths. When filling your body, I want you to put air deep down in your belly - allow it to fill your kidney space in the back, expand the abdomen forward, sideways, and backward as the air travels to your ribcage. As the air fills your lungs, feel the ribcage flex open and imagine twin balloons expanding in your chest. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Think of all the branches within your lungs, some of which haven’t received air in quite some time. Breathe to the ends of those branches, clearing out the cobwebs. Feel the airflow over your throat, coating it in cool, calming oxygen.
Breathe for 3-5 minutes. While our bodies are amazing, it still takes a few minutes to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Oftentimes, we’ll take a few deep breaths and then abandon the practice because our minds tell us that we need to run the excerpt again or keep warming up. DON’T QUIT. Set a timer on your phone, move through the discomfort of sitting still when your brain wants you to practice, and give your body a chance to chill the heck out with 3-5 minutes of breathing.
Practice breathing every day. Like, intentionally practice it. Just like you practice your scales or your etudes. You will be training your body to respond more quickly when you actually need it to calm down. You will be more accustomed to slowing down, centering, and allowing your amazing body to do what it is designed to do. Just like musicians create muscle memory through repetition, a regular breathing practice will create nervous system memory allowing you to access a state of calm more easily in high-stress situations.
Breathing Exercises take all shapes and forms. Here are a few to get you started. Try one each day this week before you practice your instrument and see which one(s) give you the biggest benefit. As a reminder, there isn’t a wrong way to do this. Any type of deep breathing will activate your vagus nerve, so don’t get bogged down in technique. These exercises are helpful to keep you focused and add structure to your breathing practice.
Box Breathing: Breathe in for 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold for 4. Repeat for 3-5 minutes.
Whistle Breathing: Breathe slow, hot air into your belly through your nose for 2 counts, breathe out through pursed lips for 4 counts. You’ll feel pressure in your core as you push the air through a small aperture in your mouth. Repeat for 3-5 minutes.
Lion’s Breath: Inhale deeply through your nose. When exhaling, open your mouth wide, stick out your tongue toward your chin, and exhale making an audible ha sound over your throat. Repeat for 3-5 minutes.
Alternate Nostril Breathing: As you inhale, close your right nostril and breathe through your left. As you exhale, close your left nostril and breathe out through your right. Inhale through your right nostril, exhale through your left. Inhale through your left nostril, exhale through your right. You switch nostrils after your inhale. Repeat for 3-5 minutes.
Humming Bee Breath: Gently place your fingers on the cartilage that covers your ear canal. Breathe in. As you exhale, press the cartilage to close your ear canal, close your mouth, and make a loud humming noise. Repeat for 3-5 minutes.
“Each moment, breath is nourishing millions and millions of cells in our body. Listen to its language, interpret its words and enter into the mystery of life.”― Amit Ray
As you continue with your breathing practice, you will learn to better trust your body to do the work it was made to do. You will find confidence because you have trained yourself to find a sense of calm amidst anxiety. And, you will be equipped to bring your best self to the stage.
Next Steps and Additional Resources
Here at The Musician's Mindset, we have some incredible resources for developing and implementing mindset practices that will transform how you perform on stage.
First, check out our Personalized Mindset Tools Quiz to discover the mindset strategies perfect for YOU!
Schedule your FREE 30 Minute Call with Katie. It’s free. It’s my pleasure. And it’s the first step to releasing stage fright once and for all.
Founder of The Musician's Mindset
Katie is a certified life coach dedicated to helping musicians overcome stage fright and believe in their own unique artistic voice. She believes live classical music is a powerful antidote for the division, pain, and loneliness pervasive in the culture and strives to support all artists to confidently share their work with the world. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, three kiddos, a dog, a snake, and a goldfish named Orca.