Bathtub Breathing

Claw-foot bathtubHere’s something for you to try out next time you take a bath. I am generally a shower kind of guy, but the other day I opted for a bath. Our family tub is, compared to others we’ve had in earlier houses, quite small. When I got in, the water level was right up to the level of the overflow drain.

Of course, we all remember the story of Archimedes, and his Eureka moment when he was in the bath—about the displacement of water. Bigger things displace more water, smaller things displace less. Less dense materials displace more, more dense things, like the gold that Archimedes was concerned with.

Here’s the experiment that I came up with that I’m suggesting that you try:

  • get as much of yourself into the water as possible
  • inhale
  • see if you can raise the water level in the tub because you are displacing more water! Watch the level right by the overflow drain and see if you can move it up a millimeter or so
  • try different places of breathing (abdominals, ribs, collarbones, back, and various combinations of those) to see which breath displaces the most air
  • exhale
  • see if you can lower the water level in the tub because you are displacing much less water!
  • you can try pulsing out little breaths to “wring out” the last little bits
  • compare slow, long breaths with fast, quick breaths
  • compare nose breaths to mouth breaths

You can have a lovely, long, luxurious soak while doing this, enjoy the warmth, and observe what you can about the volume of air (which is what is displacing the water in the first place) that you can move.

For me, the best part of it is the sensation of the water on my skin. This really helps to raise your awareness of the breathing process. Being able to be present to the breath moving within you, to feel your volume rising and dropping

Note that if your tub is very big, you won’t see much movement at all. I suppose you could get another person in there with you, but then you probably would be a bit distracted from watching your breath…

Eric Armstrong is the voiceguy. Eric is a dialect, voice, speech and text coach based in Toronto, Canada, where he normally teaches full-time at York University’s Dept. of Theatre. Eric has been teaching voice for the actor full-time since 1994, and has taught in Canada and the US, at the University of Windsor, Brandeis University, Roosevelt University, Canada's National Voice Intensive and York University. He has worked for nationally and internationally recognized companies such as Crow’s Theatre, Volcano, SoulPepper, & Canadian Stage in Toronto, and The Court Theatre and Steppenwolf in Chicago. Eric holds a BFA from Concordia University (Montreal) in Theatre Performance, and an MFA from York University (Toronto) in Acting. His mentors were David Smukler (York, Canada’s National Voice Intensive) and Andrew Wade (Royal Shakespeare Company). He has also studied at the Drama Studio, London, and Il Stage Internazzionale di Commedia dell’Arte in Reggio Emilia, Italy. He’s a long time member of the Voice and Speech Trainers Association, where he has served on the board, as a conference planner, photo editor for the Voice and Speech Review, Founding Director of Technology and Internet Services, and has written numerous peer-reviewed articles, essays and reviews for the VASTA Newsletter, the VASTA Voice, and The Voice and Speech Review.

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