In this blog post, we’ll cover breathing and stuttering.
Stuttering block feels like choking and total interruption in the airflow. What can we do with our breathing so that it helps to feel the airflow and so that it actually helps our speaking? Should we breathe in a certain way or not? We’ll cover all that and I’ll also give some powerful exercises that I do with my students.
Let's dive into it!
Let’s take a look at what goes on with our breathing when we’re saying the phrase “I think you’re right.”
Let’s imagine we said “I think” fluently and then there’s a stop of the airflow. We lose the airflow and we feel a wall and we don’t know how to get around it. We get into a block on “you’re.”
I think / you’re right.
In the same way, we could say “I think / Mike should do it” and get stuck on “M” in “Mike.” Or we could say “I think / Bill should do it” or “Steve should do it” getting into the block on “B” or “S.” Consonants kind of interrupt the airflow and we feel the hard sounds here, but let’s come back to breathing.
So when we finish on "nk" in "I think" we feel a bit of a wall. And we don't know what to do. Once we feel the tension and we get into that block the more we try to get through it the harder it gets. It's just getting worse.
And we might think that "Okay, this is my shallow breathing! I need to develop breathing so that I have that airflow to get over "I think."
And yeah, developing breathing is awesome. But let's do a little experiment on ourselves. Let's get into that block after "I think" as we say "I think Steve should do it" for example. So I want you to get into the block and then just release the block. And as you're releasing that block use the same airflow (without any inhaling as you release it) to say "Steve should do it" as many times as you can.
As you can notice, as you release the block, the air goes out and you can say "Steve should do it" several times using the same airflow. So we have lots of air in our lungs when we get into the block.
I'm getting into the block not because my breathing is too shallow or I don't have the air in my lungs or I should breathe in a particular way. Again, we still have that air in the lungs but when we get to the block, yes, the diaphragm is locked and we're not utilizing that air. That air is not engaged, it's not used, we don't need it. And after the block, once we get through it somehow, we set this pattern for our diaphragm, for our breathing that's very fast and shallow.
The general characteristic of our impaired stuttering speaking structure is we're trying to say as fluently as we can as much as we can.
I said, "I think" and that was the limit. I got to that wall there. Once I get through it, again I feel that the capacity of that fluency is limited. So I'm trying to squeeze there as much as I can, as fast as I can. The breathing becomes and stays shallow. The speaking becomes very fast.
So what I'm trying to demonstrate and I want you to actually feel it, do this as an experiment that it's not that I don't have the air. It's not that something's wrong with my breathing, it's the structure, the impaired stuttering speaking structure where we're saying something and there's a wall.
This structure brings us to shallow breathing. We set on this shallow breathing path. Our diaphragm, our breathing is not engaged properly.
So it's not the breathing that brings the block, but the structure that brings the block. And as a result, we have this shallow breathing.
Now, I'm not saying that breathing exercises are bad, they're awesome! Actually, we're going to do some! But I want you to think about breathing and breathing exercises not about as such. But I want you to think about breathing as an element of the speaking structure. We want to see where exactly and how the breathing shows up and plays its role. How breathing affects the speaking structure.
That's what I want you to bring your attention to. For example, let's take a look at the coastal breathing techniques. For example, we get to that block on "I think" and let's breathe out, take a deep breath and say the rest of the phrase.
As I said before, we're using this technique not because I don't have the air in my lungs, but because I got into the block. I got stuck, I need to unlock that block. So this breathing technique serves as the element of the structure. It becomes the element of the structure. This is the way I'm gaining control. This is the way I start feeling that I speak on my terms. So, again, it's not breathing as such, it's not a breathing technique or breathing exercise as such...
It's the way to bring structure to our speaking.
I personally don't use breathing techniques myself with my students. I'm not teaching that at all. Not because breathing techniques are bad, they're awesome, they work. But we start with the block. So it's the way to unlock the block. My approach is a bit different.
What I want you to think about is before getting to the block, there is this fluent part, "I think." And ironically, even though we said it fluently, this "I think" brought us to the block. We want to upgrade saying "I think" in a way that brings security and the feeling that you're speaking on your terms right from the first sound.
You want to feel you're speaking your terms right from the first sound.
This way you're able to create that airflow for the whole phrase. In a way that you like, you choose, you enjoy. And you don't have the block in the first place. Because we don't have the ground for the block in the first place, we have the right structure right from the first sound going through the phrase.
How can we do that? Let's take a look at a couple of breathing and speaking exercises.
Ribs. Let’s do some exercises and as I said we want to connect breathing with speaking. We don't want to just rely on breathing, we want to see how breathing works as we're speaking.
Let's start with coastal breathing. You put your hands on your ribs to feel the diaphragm. Let's play a little bit. Breathe in through the nose and exhale through your mouth. Try to focus on exhaling rather than inhaling because our speaking goes on the exhale, right? Do it a couple of times!
Do breathing out longer than breathing in. Breathe in. Breathe out. Imagine you're blowing out a candle so put a bit of intensity into that breathing out. Feel what goes on with your ribs, with your diaphragm. It should start working, start expanding, and moving in and out.
Belly. Let's do another exercise that is very close to what we did right now. You put one hand on your chest, one on your belly, and you also try to do the same thing - breathing in and breathing out, focusing on exhaling, blowing out a candle.
Watch what goes on with your belly. When you exhale your belly goes in, when you're inhaling your belly goes out. Also, watch your shoulders and your chest. Ideally, we want them to stay absolutely in the same position, staying calm, staying relaxed, staying not engaged at all. Do it a couple times, trying to catch this belly movement. We want to feel that your diaphragm works like a bump.
AOEU. The next thing I want you to do is to add some sounds so let's say the vowel sounds "AOEU." Let's try to connect them together so that we feel that continuous airflow in our breathing out. You can keep one hand on your belly because that's where want to feel that the diaphragm is working. And you can engage the other hand to feel that you're connecting those sounds together.
So this is the power of engaging, developing, working out the diaphragm. In this exercise, as you can notice, you're pressing, you're pushing, you feel how you create the airflow. It's a little bit like singing.
Singing for sure is an amazing exercise. What we're doing here is somewhere in between speaking and singing. Your diaphragm is getting compressed and it's getting a great workout.
This is by far one of the best breathing exercises because you combine it with speaking. That's what we actually want to feel as we're getting to speaking.
As you notice I also engaged my body because we want to unlock our body, we want to feel that we're speaking with our whole body. I also encourage you to play with eye contact. So you can start thinking and then as you get to the main point you're getting to the eye contact, you're emphasizing it.
I think you're right. The next exercise is to say our phrases feeling those connections.
Let's say the phrase "I think you're right" feeling how we land and stay in the vowel sounds. These are the points of support. These are the points where we feel that we are in the airflow. I want you to take notice of how we go from "i" in "think" to "you're." It becomes "thi - nk-you're."
As you play with the phrase a little further, you can feel that these connections can go a pretty long way so that in "I think you're right" we can get from "think" all the way to "right."
This is a great exercise of course but you might say, "Oh, but in real life everything collapses and I don't feel anything because my speaking goes automatically." And yes, absolutely! That's how our speaking goes - it goes very automatically. That's why I'm preaching about the hand stuttering technique.
The hand technique is when we're pressing our fingers on the thigh synchronizing this pressing with landing to those sounds, we physically feel the alignment between our brain and the speech mechanism.
We're not looking for that alignment, we're not thinking about it, we're just pressing on the thigh with our fingers and we know exactly where we are. This is another source of feedback to our ear so that we have this loop of saying, hearing, saying, hearing, so it gives us an additional source of feedback that puts us on the track to feel that alignment.
Exactly the same way as we said AOEU we're saying "I think Steve should do it." Every time I'm pressing with my finger I'm feeling that alignment landing to the vowel sound.
Oftentimes people are saying that maybe it's the same as tapping or maybe it's distracting our attention. And I need to explain again and again that no, it has nothing to do with tapping or distracting our attention.
It's just bringing alignment between our brain and speech mechanism.
It's just feeling how we land to those vowel sounds. It's just breathing out, creating that airflow that we produced with the breathing exercises. We're just putting that airflow and all those breathing exercises that we did on a very solid foundation, on a very physical foundation using the natural tool, natural device given to us by nature - the hand.
Let's come back to the big picture to see where breathing is in our improvement efforts. And it's the cause and effect line with the first box being the predisposition. That's how we're wired, that's how our brain works. Which in turn causes the next box, which is the impaired speaking structure.
The impaired structure causes the next box, the box of symptoms. I'm choking, I feel tension, I feel anxiety, I feel the hard sounds. These sounds are hard for me and I know I'm going to stutter on them.
It's interesting how our attention goes either to the root causes of stuttering or to the symptoms. And somehow, magically, we ignore what's right in front of us - the impaired structure of our speaking.
We prefer to read tons of books and articles about causes and to do all sorts of things to react to the symptoms. We say, "I'm choking so I need breathing exercises!" Or "I'm getting tense so I need meditation and relaxation exercises!" Or "I have the hard sounds - what do I do with them?" "I feel anxiety - what do I do with anxiety?" And the list goes on...
Again, breathing, meditation, relaxation - these are all great! Working on the hard sounds - great! But these are symptoms. I really want you to take notice that in between we have the impaired structure and instead of just dealing with the symptoms, it's way more effective, way more efficient to deal with the structure so that we don't give the ground for the symptoms in the first place. We don't have those symptoms because there is no cause for the symptoms.
But of course, we don't like to recognize the impaired structure, we say, "Don't teach me how to speak! I can speak fluently! I have this fluent part of my speaking, so I know how to speak! I don't stutter alone!" or "I don't stutter" in certain circumstances, in certain settings.
I perfectly get you. So I would challenge you to record yourself in real-life situations. I encourage you to record and observe the structure, observe clearly how you get into those spaces, places, points where you said something fast, fluently, shallow and there is a wall.
We feel that tension because we're not quite sure what to do with that wall, how to get around it. Yet, instead of feeling that tension, we can upgrade the fluent part of our speaking. Yes! We can work on the fluent part of our speaking that we tend to like so much.
Even though we like our fluent default speaking I want us to see clearly that technically this fluent speaking brings us to the block, that's what technically causes the speech impediments. That's where we can feel the power, the music, the effortlessness that we want to bring to our speaking - that's absolutely possible to bring all those into that fluent part of our speaking so that we don't have the symptoms in the first place!
So that we don't have the question, "My breathing is choking, what should I do with my breathing? Should I breathe somehow specifically?"
It's not about the breathing, it's about the structure that causes that point where we feel that choking, that interruption of the airflow.
Thank you so much for paying attention and going into such a long read! I'd love to know what you think and what your experience is! Are you using any breathing techniques? Do you do any breathing exercises? What are your observations about your speaking structure? Let me know in the comments!
If you are a person who stutters,
and you're not quite satisfied with how you feel at the moment of speaking interaction
I invite you to my free video training - 4 Steps To Freedom From Stuttering.
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join the Free From Stutter Facebook group.
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Thank you so much! See you soon!