Make Room For The Stuttering

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Posted on: April 15, 2010

I have heard a lot about breathing and stuttering lately. There has been an active discussion on one of the stuttering list groups about breathing poorly or improperly being a root cause in stuttering. One woman wrote:

“Has anyone noticed when in a car with a bunch of people in cold weather sitting next to a window that when you talk the window fogs up when
no one else’s window does?  I have noticed this in the last couple years in the winter weather . I think this is due to my stutter and breathing  improperly!!”

I have noticed when it is really cold that my warm breath fogs up the window in the car too, but I thought it happens with everyone. Never really attributed it to breathing.

When I met with friend Sheila recently in the UK,  she shared some of the techniques she learned from the McGuire program. Breathing and speaking only several words on each breath is one of the focal points of this fluency method.

And I received an interesting phone call from someone yesterday. This person found my blog link through another activity that I am involved with, and attempted to track me down when he read that my blog was about stuttering. He went through quite a few steps until he was able to reach me at work. He wanted to share with me a breathing technique that he believes helps people to relax and reduce stress.

He shared how he helped a 55-year-old man who had stammered for most of his life to overcome his stammering through the use of a deep breathing strategy. This gentleman invited me to attend one of the seminars he conducts to teach people how to use this breathing strategy. He is originally from India as is the gentleman who was able to overcome his stammering using this breathing strategy.

He is going to send me some information and links to his web site and asked me to let other people who stutter know that he would be happy to share his methods with us.

In less than two weeks, I have heard or read about how significant proper breathing is to people who stutter or care about people who stutter. We all know the relaxing benefits of deep breathing. It has been used in yoga, meditation, and mindfulness for thousands of years by thousands of people.

Personally, while I understand the benefits of deep, calm breathing, I always had a hard time with the concept of using “full breath” as part of the fluency shaping therapy I was involved with for a while. I never seemed to be able to focus on taking a “full breath” in the moment of stuttering, as the stuttering has already happened. And it reminds me too much of the advice I was sometimes given by well-meaning fluent people who don’t understand stuttering: “Slow down, take a deep breath”. If that really worked to eliminate my stuttering and was that easy, I would have been doing that.

What do you think? Does breathing have an effect one way or the other on your stuttering? Have any of you tried breathing techniques that really work to reduce stuttering moments?

25 Responses to "Breathe In, Breathe Out"

Deep breathing was one of the techniques used in a therapy session I did a couple of years ago.

I find that after these therapy sessions, I was able to speak more fluently, but it did not last, sadly.

I think why it did not last for me is because I find it very unreal to pause before speaking and take a breath because I worry that this might be uncomfortable for my listener, and I think they might be thinking that I do not know what to say or wonder if something is wrong with me.

This technique work best for me, when it is used for relaxation as i find that after using it, I am a bit more fluent for a while, but I am still not able to effectively use it when I am speaking.

This technique was used along with other relaxation exercises in my therapy sessions, so it holds through that being relaxed is an effective way for better fluency in stutterers, its just that when we need them most is when it is difficult to employ them.

I don’t stutter, but breath control is still important to me.

I take singing lessons (I need them!) In my current song, every other breath is marked as optional. I have plenty of breath when I reach one, but run out before the next. That means I have to squeeze a breath into the middle of a phrase. I rush it, almost gulp it. My throat tightens. My pitch and colour go. I don’t get enough in.

I need to breathe while I have the time to do so calmly, even if I’m not out of breath. That includes emptying my lungs before the breath so I have room for fresh air.

I don’t have that problem when talking, but then I don’t have to worry about pitch, colour, and keeping up with the accompanist.

When learning to swim the front crawl, my biggest problem was not being ready to breath in during the fraction of a second my mouth was out of water. The solution was to force out lots of air — from the time my mouth went under until it was almost time to breathe in again. Later, I learned to breathe less often. I prepared myself to take a calm breath when I had the chance, before I was desperate.

Since breathing in a way that gets sufficient air into my lungs and doesn’t make me tense is important to me as a fluent, I’d be surprised if it weren’t doubly-important to someone who stutters. Even if it’s not the cause, it would probably make the stuttering worse.

Without a doubt breath control and pausing is important. This man is not telling you anything new. However, when we get caught up in the “full breath” or target terminology we lose the true essence of what we are trying to accomplish. There is more to therapy than fluency. We have to learn how to pause, say the appropriate number of words on one breath, use intonation. How can you use a “full breath” only when stressed? It is virtually impossible and I wish SLPs would get it. It would prevent all the phone calls I get telling me of therapy that made them feel like a failure. It infuriates me. It is like trying to exercise and running a marathon when you can’t even run around the block. There is so much to it, but of course you stutter so you know this. Thanks so much Pam. Please read my blog posts on my website

I guess there is a way of accessing it directly.

Yes Lori, it is indeed complicated and hard to fathom, when others who dont stutter, do so so effortlessly.

Only just come across this , why don’t I get notifications of your blog automatically Pam?

ok, back to costal breathing, it is the technique used by the McGuire Programme and The Starfish Programme. When I first heard a McGuire Graduate speak, I noticed the breathing instantly and I didn’t like it BUT what I loved was the eye contact, the smiling and the confidence that Graduate exuded ! Oh yes, I wanted some of that confidence , I desperately wanted to become a confident speaker and if it was a trade off. so be it!!

The breathing is quite difficult to learn but lots of time is spent teaching it on a course over and over again.. If you haven’t grasped the breathing, well you are in trouble really because it is paramount to controlling the stutter.

There are lots of gains from deep breathing like the others mentioned as well as calming you down before a difficult speaking situation.

Also I am one of the lucky McGuire Graduates, I was a chronic asthmatic before I joined the programme, hospitalised on several occassions. My lung capacity has increased lots due to the costal breathing technique and my asthma has significantly improved.

Note to myself.. keep it up !

Thanks for the great replies and insight Sheila! You can “subscribe” to this blog by going up to the top and signing up under RSS feed. That means you will get notification each time the blog is updated.
Please do subscribe. You have such great insight to offer.
You rock!

Maybe this piece of text might help to explain a little… we practise this to say it in one breath to expand our breathing control and focus..

Long Mantra ideally said in one breath.

My ribs have just moved out and up, and the top of my diaphragm contracted downwards as my costal diaphragm contracted, which created a vacuum in my thorax, which sucked air into the alveoli of my lungs. But now, present tense, my ribs are moving down and in and my costal diaphragm is relaxing causing the top of the diaphragm to relax upwards, which releases the vacuum in my thorax, causing air to pass over my vocal cords so I CAN SPEAK

Hi Pam,

Many thanks for creating this brilliant blog – it’s a great resource and I’m confident you’re helping a lot of people.

I realise I’m coming to this discussion slightly late – apologies – but I’m also a graduate of one of the British programmes, the Starfish Project in my case, and use it’s breathing technique a lot to control my stammering. One thing I’ve noticed reading about stammering/stuttering on what are primarily US-based blogs is that breathing is either rarely discussed or, like the post above, discussed as something novel or unusual. While listening to a few of the back episodes of StutterTalk (which I love) I came away with the same impression – it sounded like breathing strategies were regarded as something just above the level of a ‘trick’ i.e. useful for a while, but ultimately not something that could be relied upon for the long-term.

I’m not sure that the perspective in the UK is any different among SLPS, but the Starfish Project and the McGuire programme seem to be more established here with the result being that breathing – specifically costal breathing – is very much in vogue among people who stammer. Both Starfish and McGuire seem to be very busy and never short of new attendees.

The breathing technique that is taught by the Starfish Project isn’t merely breathing in isolation – it’s taught along with voluntary stammering, avoidance reduction etc. There is therefore a lot of cross-over with what many of the PWS featured on your blog and StutterTalk use. In addition, costal breathing is a specific form of breathing and something that both needs to be practised and implemented correctly before it will work. I think that’s what makes it effective and stops it becoming a trick or a crutch.

All the best,


Hi Aonghus,

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. And thats why a blog is a blog, people can find and respond whenever they wish.

I hope you will continue to read and check in. On my rather new podcast featuring women who stutter, I have spoken with two women who credit the McGuire program for totally changing their life.

One episode is up – Sheila in #14 -and I just spoke today with a young woman who had late onset stammering, she is now living in Sydney, but is from London and also attributes McGuire to literally saving her life.

In both audios, you can hear the women applying the McGuire breathing technique.

Like I write in this post, I just can’t quite get it. Maybe it is taught differently in US than in UK.

Anyway, thanks so much for the terrific feedback!


Hi Pam,

Thanks for your reply!

I think the problem you’re having might be that McGuire/Starfish use a very specific form of breathing and that is hard to implement without some guidance as to how it’s done – in that regard it’s not simply ‘deep breathing’, but rather it’s a deep breath taken very quickly. It’s not meant to be calming as such, but is a physical technique designed to overcome physical blocks.

You’re absolutely right in saying that it’s hard to think about breathing in the middle of a block and that’s why both courses advocate using a costal breath each time and every time you speak. This should reduce the frequency of blocks. When blocks do occur the technique suggests something common to many therapies i.e. withdrawing from the block and relaxing. You can then give costal breathing another go when you attempt to speak.

I realise I’m being far too technical here and that I must sound like a costal breathing evangelist! It’s certainly not a cure and requires a lot of work, but it has certainly helped some people (myself included).

Thanks again for your reply,


Hi Pam

As ever, I loved your post, so insightful and interesting.

I think deep breathing exercises are as you say beneficial and help you to relax etc but the reason that a lot of the fluency shaping courses don’t last for people is that they don’t deal with the shame, guilt, fear and embarrassment that goes with stuttering – they imply stuttering is bad – why would they spend so much time ‘shaping’ your speech and trying to be fluent. I think that when we are comfortable and happy with ourselves and our speech and stop pretending to not stutter and stop avoiding, fluency tends to be a by-product anyway – strange that!

Best regards,


I know i might be a few years too late as this is an old thread but it does help. I went on starfish a month ago and my speech has improved, although I still sometimes block, I don’t feel any tension or struggle, I just use the technique and start again. I was a bit sceptical before I went on the course but it really has helped me and I have also met some amazing people who are always free to phone and practice the technique. It really is as simple as breathing (properly) slowing down and a few other small things. If you are interested or want to find out more about starfish check out the website and give Anne a ring, she’s a lovely lady and I cant thank her or her husband enough. I think the mccguire programme is very similar, just a lot more money haha I hope this has been useful/helpful to you 🙂

wow, l wish that cud work for me. Can u send me in detail what u mean by controlled breathing. Am 29 yrs & been stuttering ol my life. Reply on my email ad. thanks xoxo..

Well, I tried some breathing techniques in the past it did not work for me. I read the entire post, I did not see which type of breathing techniques being talked about.

hi guys,
i too tried many breathing technique, but it does not work for me.
I speak fluently in front of frdz, family..etc but when in presentation i cannt able speak a word becoz that my heart beating s so fast, i really dont about the exact reason for that.itz totally spoil my carrier.
so send some breathing material r tech to my email id

[…] of the most popular posts on this blog, the one that gets the most visitors, is a post titled Breathe In, Breathe Out, that I wrote on April 15, 2010. I think it’s so popular because people who stutter are […]

hi pam,
my name is age is 21yrs and i stutter a lot.i cant even say a single sentence without stutter.due to this iam not getting jobs.
i want your help in getting rid of email id is

My breathing experience has been with the type of breathing used in Yoga and meditation.Literally breathing with the stomach , deeply and gently. I started it with the aim of learning to relax and the belief that it may help my stuttering. It has been brilliant! but alas not a quick fix. A year or two of training to make the breathing instinctive with small steps taken in speaking more confidently. The training however is not arduous… flat on your back in bed! helps send you to sleep. Get some books on relaxation to help you along. The rationale behind it is simple. Yoga allows you to do extraordinary things with your body and meditation extraordinary things with your mind I just wanted to achieve somthing very ordinary … fluent speech. The other factor that I am sure has been signifigant is that it removes the muscular activity of breathing from the chest area and the resulting tension around the vocal chords. Try holding your breath after breathing in with your chest and feel where the tension is then try it with your stomach.

Hi everyone,

Pam, could you please give contact details of the man who contacted you?

And Steve, do you mean that the yoga type of breathing hasn’t
helped your speech at all?

Hi – it was 6 years ago when the man contacted me about his breathing techniques. Unfortunately I do not have his info any longer and he never contacted me again. Sorry!

Hi Khalidmidris,
Oh yes the diaphragmatic breathing was the start of a very definite improvement in my speech. Practicing the breathing was effectively meditation. It has been shown by Harvard Neuroscientist Sara Lazar, to amongst other things reduce the activity of the fight or flight centre in the brain. Stuttering is struggle or avoidance. The other benefit of meditation is that it teaches you to focus youir attention which is a pre-requisite for any learning combine that with visualization as used by top sports people to alter and/or maintain their game and I believe you have a very powerful and holistic method of improving your fluency.

hi pam,
my name is balu my age is 25yrs and i stutter a lot.i cant even say a single sentence without stutter.due to this im suffering so much.
i want your help in getting rid of email id is

Hi there – thanks for reaching out on the blog. I cannot help you with getting rid of your stammering. I stutter too and just write this blog and host the podcast.
My advice would be to find a good therapist who is a stuttering specialist so that you can work on managing your speech. Good luck.

it is very difficult and headache to take breathe in each sentences so tell me exercises to cure it

I discovered Michael Williams on YouTube about a month ago. Loving it. Take a look! It’s really helped a lot.

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