How to Emotionally Regulate Your Character Using Breath

Are you breathing in a way that will activate your prefrontal cortex so that you can release the character's emotions in a more believable way?

To make your character's emotions truly believable, you need to learn how to "emotionally regulate" so that your brain can tap into the character's emotions rather than your own.


What is required to emotionally regulate? Proper breathing and oxygen are required to stimulate the emotional response center in the prefrontal cortex of your brain. The problem for you as an actor is that you might be using "shallow breathing" which increases your heart rate, and blood pressure, and can block you from emotionally regulating. As a result, shallow breathing will cause your brain to feel nervous in the audition. This nervous reaction is a primal defense that your brain uses to try to keep you safe in that environment. However, if your brain is in survival mode during an audition, it can't physiologically immerse you into the scene through emotional regulation in the brain. This means that your brain will not believe what your character is feeling is real. And, if you as the actor don't believe it, it will be hard for you to convince anyone else of it.


What most actors don't know is that from a chemical standpoint, your brain doesn't know the difference between fantasy and reality. It's why you tense up and "spook" during a scary movie. Because even though you logically know the movie isn't real, your brain doesn't know the difference, so it ACTS LIKE it is real, producing the physiological reactions to the fear even though the scary film you are watching is fake. The bottom line is that the film doesn't have to be real, for your brain to treat the emotion as if it were.


The CMFA method teaches you many ways to utilize this scientific phenomenon in practical ways in your auditions. But for right now, let's look at your breathing and how it can help or hinder this natural brain response. What happens when your brain doesn't have the correct exchange of oxygen to carbon dioxide? What happens when you can't trigger the fantasy phenomenon reaction in your pre-frontal cortex? What happens when you can't create the physiological reaction to the emotion your character is experiencing?


The solution is diaphragmatic breathing. I am sure you already think you know how to breathe and that this is an activity best left to the yogis amongst us, but in actuality, most actors are taking shallow breathes during their auditions instead of using their diaphragms to breathe. In addition, you are likely not breathing in a way that can properly stimulate your pre-frontal cortex. The benefits of diaphragmatic breathing is that it will slow your heart rate and potentially lower your blood pressure, which will, in turn, help you to "switch off" your natural defense reactions which cause nervousness in an audition. Once you have the correct exchange of oxygen to carbon dioxide, you will stimulate the prefrontal cortex, allowing you to emotionally regulate, and to trigger the "fantasy phenomenon." It's then that an actor, using CMFA acting science principles, can stop acting, and start being the character. You can then begin to psychologically, live the lie for your audition. Your body will naturally sustain that lie visibly, and literally from head to toe. Now THAT is character immersion!


How can you accomplish diaphragmatic breathing?


Your diaphragm is just like any other muscle in your body. It has to be exercised and strengthened. You can train your diaphragm by using the 'low and slow' method of breathing. Start by pretending that you have an empty balloon in your stomach. Now, breathe in through your nose as if you are trying to inflate it. Your belly should move outwards, not in. Don't rush this. Breathe in slowly. It is important that you inhale through your nostrils because your nose also filters, warms, and humidifies the air in a way that the mouth cannot. Once your diaphragm is full of breath, hold it for just one second. Put your hands on your belly so you can feel what you have created. Then, slowly exhale until every last bit of air is released from the balloon. Focus only on your breath to create awareness so that your brain can start to learn how you want the breathing to be done. This will help you to automate the practice.


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