Natural Breath

Lesson 5 – Natural Breath


Objective: Students will demonstrate their ability and understanding of breathing naturally by performing natural breaths and reflecting on Second Circle breathing exercises.


Essential Questions

  • What does a natural breath look like?
  • How is breath connected to presence?
  • How can breath be used to enhance your life?
  • How can breath be a tool for actors?


National Standards

  • TH:Pr5.1.II.a. Refine a range of acting skills to build a believable and sustainable drama/theatre performance. 

State Standards

  • Standard L2.T.CR.5: Explore physical, vocal, and emotional choices to develop a performance that is believable, authentic, and relevant in a drama/ theatre work.



  • Speaker (Mindfulness)
  • Chairs
  • Open space for students to stand and do exercises
  • Projector, computer, video –
  • “The Second Circle” by Patsy Rodenburg




  • Use the mindfulness exercise from last lesson or find an exercise on the Headspace app or YouTube
  • Encourage students to sit and be in Second Circle



While sitting in their chairs, invite students to sit in First Circle, Third Circle, and finally Second Circle. Ask students:

  • Are there any circles you do not remember how to be in physically?
  • Were you aware of being in any circles of energy between last class and today?



Anatomy of Breathing 

  • Inform students that you will be focusing on breathing today, trying to practice natural breathing, and analyzing how this can help you be in Second Circle. Tell students that we will first watch a video explaining the anatomy of breathing.


Breathing Video – the video ask students the question and have them practice breathing with their anatomy in mind)

  • What are the main muscles used for breathing?
    • Diaphragm 
    • Intercostal Muscles
  • Breathe in and imagine your diaphragm contracting to pull air in
    • Demonstrate what this looks like with your hand so the students can visualize it. Cup the hand slightly (hand faces down) and when you breathe in, move your hand down and flatten the hand
  • As you breathe out, imagine the diaphragm relaxing and moving up to push air out
    • Hand moves up and returns to the slightly cupped look.
  • While breathing, be aware of how your ribs are expanding. The shoulders and chest should stay fairly still, but the stomach may expand to allow more air to fill into the lungs.
    • Again, use your hands to emphasize how the ribs are expanding and contracting.



  • What are you observing as you focus on your anatomy?
  • How is this awareness different from thinking about your breathing during mindfulness?



Notify students that you will be leading them through various breathing exercises to help them breathe naturally.



During these activities, students should be focused, non-verbal, and self-aware. Ask students to refrain from making comments, talking to each other, or joking around with the activities. Remind them that a great actor is focused and committed.

  • For Instructor: Most of these exercises are read to the students as they practice improving their breathing. Do not rush these activities. Give students a good amount of time to practice each step. At the same time, be aware of time so you do not spend too much time on one activity.


Physical Movement as you Breathe (Rodenburg pg. 57-59)

  • Instruct students to sit with good posture but also comfortably. Eyes open. Breathe.
  • Read “Here is a physical description of how your breath should work naturally. As you inhale, there is no lift in the upper chest or shoulders, but you can feel an opening through the sides and back of the rib cage. Half a second to a second after the rib cage opens, there is a release and movement through the stomach and abdominal muscles”
    • Ask students to be aware of this happening
  • “The natural inhalation takes enough air to live… and is appropriate at that present moment in time… You take enough: not too little and not too much. Every part of you is satisfied with this natural breath.”
    • Give students time to breathe and be aware of their inhalation
  • “Natural exhalation is when the muscles that have opened out (ribs) and down (abdominal) move in to create a column of air that releases your energy into the world – be it thoughts, feelings, movements, or words. On exhalation, the spine, chest, and shoulders shouldn’t collapse or tighten. You shouldn’t feel any constriction by breathing or squeezing out too far.”
    • Give students time to be aware of their exhalation
  • “When the outward breath focuses on a specific point, you are immediately in Second Circle and connect to that point through your breath in a very tangible and powerful way. Your energy touches that place, person, or object. If you breathe in this natural way, you are already very present and powerful. You are aware of the world around you and see it clearly.”
    • Give students time to try and breathe in Second
  • Ask students to shake out their bodies so they return their habitual body position and breath.
  • Tell students that they each have a habitual way of breathing. Ask them to breathe how they normally breathe and analyze it.
    • Paraphrased from the book: If the breath is shallow, shoulders are lifting, little movement in the abdominal area, there are signs, breath takes little space in your body, or there is so little oxygen in you that even small amounts of stress panic the breath; then you are a First Circle breather
    • If your breathing causes large lifting in the chest, the rib cage is tight, shoulders are pulled back, the process is overstretching and forced expansion, and you force the breath out; then you are a Third Circle breather.


First Circle Breath and Third Circle Breath (pg. 63-64)

  • Tell students to continue breathing
  • “With [First Circle] breath, you might be perceived as a victim, ineffectual, or weak – it makes it hard to connect to the outside world and easy to be overlooked and ignored. We all need First Circle breath to reflect and commune with ourselves.”
    • Invite students to try and breathe in First to reflect and commune with themselves. Encourage them to sit in First; sitting with a First body can encourage First Circle breathing.
  • “With [Third Circle] breath, you will tend to be over noticed and at worst be considered overbearing…Initially, this is a breath energy that can appear impressive, creating a surface enthusiasm in others. Eventually, it dehumanizes others as they feel powerless around you… We all need the occasional Third Circle breath when we cannot afford to engage with someone, or in a situation such as an uninvited intrusion.”
    • Give students time to breathe in Third. Again, invite them to sit with a Third Circle body.


The Two Stages of Breathing (pg. 65-70)

  • Invite students to stand in Second Circle. Have them check these parts of the body as they stand
    • Feet – energy forward on the balls with heels also on the floor
    • Knees – unlocked
    • Hips – not thrust forward
    • Spine – up, not slumped or rigidly held
    • Shoulders – released, not rounded or lifted and pulled back
    • Head – balanced, with ease, on top of the spine
    • Jaw – unclenched, with lips lightly touching
  • Tell students that they will go through exercises to help with their inhaling, allowing the breath to widen and deepen your body, and exhaling,allowing the muscles of breath to support the release of their air and energy
  • Ask students to spread out and find their own space in the room where they can move without hitting any walls or other studnets


Read through the entire Inhaling section on pg. 65-67. This will provide students with three exercises that stretch their body and deepen their breathing.

  • In these sections the word “groin” is used. I substituted it with the word “pelvis” to avoid immature reactions 
  • Give students time to experience each step of the exercises
  • As you read through the exercises, feel free to give the students side-coaching reminding them what they should be focusing on or ways to improve their awareness. 
  • It can be very helpful to model (show the students with your own body) the exercises for the students. Tell them that you will read through the exercise, show them what it looks like, and then they can try the exercise. 


Next, read through the Exhaling and Supportsection starting on pg. 68 with the paragraph “The whole process of inhaling…” until the end of pg. 70 (skip the bullet point on the top of page 69 that says “Try using this methods to…”) 

  • Support students with side-coaching and modeling again.



  • Ask students to stand in Second Circle and breathe in Second. Walk around and observe the students to see how many are successful. 
  • Ask students to put up fingers 1-5 to reflect how well they understand breathing in Second (1-not at all, 5 – strong understanding)



  • What were your successes?
  • What was challenging about the exercises?
  • How is breath connected to presence?
  • How can you use breath to enhance your performance as an actor?
  • How can breathing naturally help you in your life?


Inform students that they will work on speaking in Second during the next lesson. Ask them to memorize Sonnet 18 so they can fully participate in the activities.