One of my favorite voice exercises is called “The Three-Stage Breath.” Everyone knows breathing is important to speaking, but when people focus on breathing, it tends to become very effortful. They start taking big, high, noisy in-breaths that require a lot of work, generate more tension, and make it more difficult to speak well. Breathing should support and enhance your voice and speech, not get in the way. Voice exercises should teach you how it feels to breathe in a way that’s effortless, open, and very pleasurable. The three-stage breath helps you explore the feeling of breathing with your whole body. To begin this voice exercise, make a circle of your arms in front of you and as you inhale through your mouth, bring your arms up to the horizontal position and as you exhale, let them come back down.Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. Now, as you breathe in, I want you to imagine that you’re breathing into your back, and you might actually feel your back expanding as you breathe in. Breathe into your back, exhale. Inflate your back, exhale. Open the space in your back, exhale. Now start with your arms in the horizontal position, and as you inhale through your mouth, open your arms to the sides and exhale. Inhale, exhale, inhale. Now as you inhale I want you imagine that you’re breathing into the front of your body as though you were opening up big double doors to let the breath in. Breathe into the front, exhale. Open the front, exhale. Allow breath into the front, and rest your arms for a moment. Continue this voice exercise with your arms extended to the sides. As you inhale through your mouth, bring your arms up into a circle over your head then exhale as your arms come back down. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. Now as you breathe in I want you to imagine the breath going into your sides as though your sides come out as your arms go up.Breathe into your sides, exhale. Expand your sides, exhale. Open your sides, and let your arms relax. Of those three, your back, your front, and your sides, on which of the three was it easiest for you to feel the breath flowing into that area? Which of those three took more imagination? As with all voice exercises, this will be different for everyone. Next, you’re going to combine all three stages into one breath, so as you inhale, the first third of the breath goes into your back, still breathing in, the next third goes into your front, still inhaling, the last third goes into your sides, and then you exhale as your arms come back down, so you’re inhaling all the way up and exhaling on the way down.Obviously you’ll need to keep moving; otherwise you’ll be tanked up long before you get to the top. But try to be attentive and specific about where the breath is going in each of the three stages. I’ll talk you through the first few. Breathe into your back. Breathe into your front. Breathe into your sides, and exhale. Open your back, open your front, open your sides, exhale, back, front, sides, exhale. Let’s do three more without me talking. Okay, voice exercises are about speaking, so allow sound to come out with the out-breath starting with “Hey!” Heeeeeyyyyyyyyyyyy. “Hoe.” Hooooohhhhh. And “Hi!” Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii. How does sound feel after a three stage breath? Can you feel sound flowing out with your breath? Can you imagine sound coming from your whole body, not just your mouth and your throat? Try simple words and phrases such as “Hello.” Helllloooooooooooooo. And “Oh, wow!” Ohhhhhhhhh wowwwwwwwwwww! I love this voice exercise. It’s so easy and gentle, and it makes me feel really open and clear. It’s definitely one of my top three voice exercises along with the spinal roll and lip flutters. It’s a great way to open your body, your breath, and your voice.For more speaking voice exercises, click the link below and download the free booklet and video series, The Sound of Success. .