I was at the gym the other day, and I saw a mama, bent down and talking with her small child. Her daughter had tears streaming and was looking at mama in that sad, sad way. That mama was working so hard to stay patient and to give her child some love.
And also, she needed to get the show on the road so she could get in a half-hour of running or lifting or kettlebell swings before lunch and naptime. Or before her meeting with a client. Or whatever it was at that moment for her.
So her soothing voice was tight. And several steps higher than her usual speaking voice. And sing-song-y enough that if you heard it being directed toward an adult, you'd say she was being intensely condescending though that was not her intent AT ALL.
I am betting that this mama was trying so hard to be patient under pressure that she was forgetting to breathe. Without realizing it: absolutely holding her breath. A subconscious effort at stopping time and keeping it together.
Here's when I've noticed my own breathing tends to go from relatively normal to the tiniest drip-drip-drip of clenched air:
- About minute 15 of trying to ensure that my child is wearing vaguely weather-appropriate clothing so that we can get out the door.
- Somewhere around minute 50 of a one-hour meeting during which we've gone way off track.
- When I have something I really want to say, so I've essentially stopped listening and am mostly just waiting for the other person to stop talking.
And then, of course, my voice does all the things that voices do when they have no breath to support them: It gets pinched. And comes straight out through my nose or head. And sometimes gets that fried sound to it. Or gets squeaky and falsely high-pitched.
Wanna experiment to see if this is happening to you?
Tomorrow morning, when you're rushing to get out the door, and you're talking to your partner, your child, or even yourself, check to see if you're breathing.
Or later today, when someone is asking you to add something new to your to-do list, check to see if you're breathing.
Or tonight, when you're at rehearsal and working a difficult scene, check to see if you're breathing.
Really breathing. Not inhaling and exhaling just enough to keep biological functions going. Actually taking some adult-sized breaths.
If you're not, your voice is probably a smaller, higher, tighter version of the one you'd like to use.
If you can manage it in the moment, take three real breaths.
Maybe you're thinking, "Is that it? You just wrote all this only to suggest that I breathe?"
Kind of. But specifically, I'd love to suggest that you (and I) take three breaths. Exactly three.
And that those three breaths could be just enough to allow your body to stop working so hard to make it all fit.
Three breaths probably won't get you out the door faster, or keep someone from asking you to do one more thing, or make the scene any less challenging. But three breaths could change the way you engage with all that.
Three breaths. You can give yourself the space for that, mama.
See what happens to your voice. Let me know.