Rainbow Abstract3

5. Breathing for Presence

words written by other authors appear in PURPLE
practical exercises appear in ORANGE

*breathe vb 5: ‘to impart, to instill’, as in “to breathe confidence into the actors;” and “to breathe words of love” and “she was a real breath of fresh air at the meeting.”

“When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.” 
~Author Unknown

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: 
I am, I am, I am.” 

~Sylvia Plath

“Only connect.”
~E. M. Forster

Many people write about presence, that state of feeling and sounding and appearing and being fully ourselves and in tune with the world around us. I first learned about presence from the writings of National Theatre voice coach, Patsy Rodenburg. Here are some ideas from her latest book, Presence: how to use positive energy for success.

All human energy is breath. The body houses you and breath powers you. It is the first act you perform and it is the last. Breath powers your body, your voice, your mind, your heart and your spirit. In fact, if you examine words like inspiration and respiration you notice the presence of spirit embedded into the word.

As you breathe in ideas, you touch inspiration and on your last breath you expire. It is the key to all your energy and it is completely fundamental to being present. We are all born with a natural presence and connection to the world and other people, but this is flattened out of us by the knocks, challenges and upsets of life…

Presence is about energy and connection. It is an energy that fully connects us to the world and to other people. It is thus a two-way process of giving and receiving. We give energy and we receive it back…

People with presence appear fully alive, exquisitely aware of being in the moment, with a sense of connection, spontaneity and freedom…

We need to be present to fully listen. Equally it is characterised by clear, intuitive and quick thinking, a generosity of spirit and sheer bravery…

Correct breathing is at the heart of presence. It is a skill that we have all been ceaselessly practicing since birth, but few of us have fully mastered. Indeed, when we are under pressure it is poor breathing that most usually undermines us…

The three circles model is a simple, powerful and intuitive model that gives clear and practical guidance about what to do to become fully present, and how to recognise when we are not.

The First Circle is the energy of self and withdrawal, the Third Circle is the energy of bluff and force, and the Second Circle is the one in which we can connect and be fully present with others. You know you are in Second Circle when you feel centred and alert, you feel your body belongs to you and you can fully feel your connection with the world you inhabit.


Patsy Rodenburg’s work to develop presence in the Second Circle, where our sense of ourselves is balanced equally with our receptivity to the world and people around us, connects vitally with true meaning of communication. The word itself comes from the Latin communicare meaning ‘to share’, and, just as for presence, this means that we are balanced between an immense receptivity to the people around us and, at the same time, clear and focused and energised behind what we want to give.

Breathing Exercises for Confidence and Presence

Nothing in voice work should ever feel forced; it is more helpful to think about releasing and freeing, opening out and drawing in, rather than actively pushing,. And to achieve this, especially in large spaces or challenging situations, we really do need to become masters of our breathing.

Here are some of Parsy Rodenburg’s exercises for achieving Second Circle presence…


Second Circle Breathing - Exhaling and Support

Breathing deeply and freely into your body enables you to identify the moment when your breath is suspended. This suspension isn’t a lock or hold that would take you into Third Circle and it isn’t rushed, which would be First Circle. It is you breathing as and when you need to and honouring the present moment before you act. This creates a moment of readiness in your breath and in you. This readiness is one of the greatest physical sensations of power you will ever feel. When you use this sensation, it will give you your rights, presence and Second Circle connection to yourself. You begin to present yourself.

* The whole process of inhaling and suspending the breath, ready for the power to exhale, works very well with swinging motions. Swinging is not only good for the breath but is a good way of describing the action of breath.
* Imagine throwing a ball underarm. Inhale as you swing your arm back. Your arm will suspend with the natural suspension of your breath and as you throw the imaginary ball your arm moves forward with exhalation and the breath throws the ball.
* The breath supports the projection of the ball, your voice or a movement. The support projects you and everything in you out to the world. It effectively connects you to the world and in this way is Second Circle.
* Try a First Circle throw. Let us stay with the image of throwing the ball. Breathe in with your arm swinging back to throw the ball but throw it before you feel ready. You are throwing without any power leaving you so you are unable to connect to the world.
* Now try a Third Circle throw. Breathe in, drawing your arm back. Feel the suspension but lock it so that there is no fluidity or readiness – the resulting throw is one of force and overcontrol.
* Now return to the Second Circle throw. Swing back with the breath in, feel the suspension and readiness of the breath and release on a supported ‘ssssss’ sound. Do this until you feel the breath is synchronised with the sound.
* Try using this method to throw a ball against a wall. After a few minutes the breath and sound will come together. The breath underneath supports your energy.
* The next stage is to feel the moment you run out of breath and support, and when you need to inhale. With the natural breath you will feel this moment as a clear desire to breathe in and gather new support and you will take the next breath calmly. This will not be a snatched First Circle breath or the overdrawn, forced inhalation of the Third Circle breathing.
* On exhalation you should not feel that the outward breath support fades and gives up. This, of course, is First Circle exhalation. Third Circle exhalation is too determined to push through the release. First Circle has little or no support and Third Circle has too much support.
A free and flexible breath places you in the moment and can then serve your physical, emotional and intellectual needs.
The more you breathe naturally, the more present you will be.


Second Circle Breath - Reaching Out
If you want to command and hold a space and have the right to be there in any space, you must breathe the complete space in Second Circle. Breathing to half the space leaves you in First Circle. Breathing beyond the space places your energy in Third Circle.

Intimacy with another human being is an equal exchange of air with and to each other through the placing of Second Circle breath… First Circle is not reaching out enough to a person. Third Circle is overreaching through and even flattening a person.

Here are the basic exercises for placing your breath and being in Second Circle:
* Place your hand in front of your face, about a foot away. Concentrate fully on your hand and breathe to it. You will feel the moment the breath touches and connects to your hand. You are now touching your hand in Second Circle.
* Now breathe half the distance to your hand and you will feel immediately closed down into First Circle.
* Now breathe past your hand and you will feel the extra distance and your energy shift into Third Circle.
* Now take further and longer connections. Travel longer distances with your breath. Find a point across the room. Breathe to it. Feel that connection. You will naturally be taking more breath for what you need to breathe to the greater distances, and you will stay connected to yourself and to that point of the focus of your energy.
* First Circle will have the breath dropping off before it reaches your chosen point.
* Third Circle will have your breathing beyond the room, maybe even drilling through the wall.
* Now breathe the whole room with the connected Second Circle. When you feel this you are now in command of the whole room. All great performers and speakers breathe the whole space they are in. They don’t breathe half the room or over-breathe it as this disengages them and they would lose their charisma.
* If you breathe in all the rooms you have to work in and all the new rooms you enter your easy power will be palpable.
* As you enter a party you will feel in control and less afraid.
* If you breathe the space as you enter a room for an interview or presentation you will be immediately more impressive and less daunted by or daunting to your audience.
The next time a work colleague ignores or irritates you, breathe to them (not through them) and notice their shift in energy. Shake hands and breathe to any person you are meeting and they will register you sooner and even remember your name better.
You will begin to notice that you can draw a First or Third Circle person’s energy into Second Circle with you if you breathe to them.

You can email me for a fuller extract with more breathing exercises for confidence and presence from Patsy Rodenburg’s latest book, Presence – how to use positive energy for success
…Back to Six Ways of Breathing

next >>>>>