seated woman doing breathing exercise“2-to-1 breathing helps reduce, coordinate, and stabilize the activity of the brain and the nervous system.”
–John Clarke, M.D., former Chairman of the Himalayan Institute

If we feel unsettled prior to playing or singing, 2-to-1 breathing is a powerful technique that helps us restore inner balance, quell nervousness, and kindle creativity.

Repeated for a number of cycles, this exercise triggers an innate calming response that tempers the fight-or-flight activation brought on by performance nerves.

Here’s how it’s done.

How to do 2-to-1 Breathing

Sit comfortably; release your shoulders, neck, and jaw.

Close your eyes, allow your spine to lengthen, and exhale fully.

1. To a moderate mental count, inhale silently through your nose and deeply into your abdomen.
2. Exhale through gently pursed lips for double the count (twice the duration) of your inhalation.
3. Repeat.

Continue for 5-10 cycles or several minutes, but reinstate normal breathing if you become lightheaded.

If any thoughts intrude as you breathe, let them go without judgment, and serenely refocus on your breathing and counting.

Many yoga practitioners of 2-to-1 breathing recommend exhaling via the nose rather than pursed lips – I encourage you to experiment with doing so, especially if you’re adept at breath control.The Musician's Way book cover

I advise newcomers to this exercise to exhale through pursed lips because I’ve found that, at first, they may become tense when they attempt to regulate their exhalation through the nose.

When to Use 2-to-1 Breathing

You might do this exercise whenever you want to dispel agitation and instill calmness.

For instance, you might use it to counter nervousness before concerts and auditions, to center yourself in preparation for practicing or composing, or even to help you recover following an exhilarating show.

Additional pre-performance techniques are described on pages 157-170 of The Musician’s Way.

Related posts
The Centered Performer
Getting Started
The Total Warm-Up

© 2010 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © C. Plumridge, licensed from Shutterstock