Make Room For The Stuttering

Remember To Breathe

Posted on: June 4, 2016

note-to-self-breatheIt always surprises me to hear one person who stutters advise another person who stutters to remember to breathe when facing a stressful speaking situation. It’s not something like remembering to turn off the coffee pot before leaving the house. For that, you have to consciously focus on the act of walking over to the coffee pot and powering it off.

Breathing isn’t like that. There’s isn’t an “on-off” switch that we need to remember to push. It’s not mechanical. Breathing comes automatically. We do not think about doing it. We just do it. Like the Nike slogan. The human body comes equipped with the innate ability to do that which keeps us alive. Unless of course we are injured or gravely ill and mechanical breathing is indeed needed for breathing.

So why then do we often hear people reminding us to breathe? I often get annoyed when people who don’t stutter offer me that advice. Like I have a choice. Like there is a button to push. As if “just breathing” was enough to stop stuttering.

It’s not that easy. Stuttering is a neurologically influenced disorder which interrupts the normal flow of speech. Breathing, which we already do without thinking about it, does not improve our stuttering.

I see and hear this a lot in the stuttering community. Someone will post on a forum that they are nervous about an upcoming job interview and ask for advice. Inevitably, someone will write, “remember to breathe.” That thought doesn’t enter my mind when I am faced with a challenging speaking situation. I am usually thinking about a strategy I can use to lessen repetitions or to get out of a block. Breathing isn’t a trick to pull out of the speech tool bag.

Why do you suppose people who stutter offer this advice to other people who stutter? Is it because they can’t think of anything else?

 

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1 Response to "Remember To Breathe"

Hi Pam,
As you possibly know I am certainly an advocate for breathing as part of the solution for stuttering. But I agree it is not something you can suddenly pull out in the middle of a conversation. It is true breathing is something that works on autopilot otherwise we would be afraid to go to sleep!
However we do take control for things like sniffing the air for smells and believe it or not, for making sounds such as singing or speech. When we stutter control goes out the window, continual anxiety producing encounters and the resulting habitual tension in the vocal apparatus blocks the airflow. It is quite normal for people, (not just pws) to hold their breath when anxious, to extract as much oxygen from it as possible.
One exercise that helped me get my control back was the daily practice of “Jacobsons progressive relaxation technique” where you tense selected sets of muscles on the in breath and release the tension on the out breath and of course I paid particular attention to the neck and mouth and letting the breath gently float out through the mouth as required for speech. The idea being that it eventually wires into the brain the neccessary relationship between breathing out and the release of tension.
The excercise is basically a meditation as it focuses your attention and I found it brought an awareness (mindfullness!) of what my mouth should and shouldn’t be doing.
I think the reason people give this advice is that we intuitively know a deep breath is a relaxant, think yawning.
Kind Regards
Steve Clarkson

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