Today's column is going to be about the way I physically manage my stuttering. There are other parts that I feel are more important in dealing with it, but this is probably the easiest to explain (plus I don't want to run out of things to write about this early) (I'm also going to try to break the record for use of parentheses to throw in asides in a single column, held by The Sports Guy in 2001):
Everything I do starts with diaphragmatic breathing. I hold my hand on my belly button and make sure that I am breathing slowly. In Dr. Mercaitis' Intro and Counceling classes, she would often start the hour with a 4-minute mini-meditation to the frustration of many. It's definitely not something I want to do in the company of other people. Corny? Yes. Weird and new-age? Yes. But a waste of time? Absolutely not. Correct breathing is the most important part of fluent speech. If I start off tight, I am not getting a single word out. Of course this is also a difficult thing to do in a real-life situation. I have to prepare thouroughly, so for phone calls and class presentations I have more time to relax and focus on my breathing. On-the-spot situations are much more difficult and therefore can be the most frustrating.
Breathing correctly is a difficult thing to do all the time. As you might have noticed, even if you don't try to breathe, your body will do it for you, so unless you train your body to breathe in a certain way you will go back to whatever you were doing. I try to take a couple minutes a day to focus on correct breathing in order to train myself to do it the right way. Of course, this is especially hard for me because I have been holding in my gut for the last 5 years to create the illusion of abdominal muscles. I can't decide which is more necessary. After all, if I'm cut up like Usher, who needs to talk? (Speaking of which, since I'm not stealing Ethan's food or ordering Wings every 4 hours, the washboard is coming along nicely...)
(That also reminds me of a quote from my friend Marty Jezer's book Stuttering: A Life Bound Up In Words, in which he talks about an anti-stuttering pill that he was testing that could have sexual side effects. He wrote, "What's more important: to not stutter, or to fuck?" This was one of my favorite quotes, especially for a book with minimal cursing. It is a great read for anyone, not just for people like us. Marty used to help lead the stuttering support group meetings at UMass that I attended, but he died of cancer several months ago. He was a great guy and a personal role model and he will definitely be missed by anybody that knew him. If you read his book you will know why.)
The other strategies I use regularly are called reduced rate and easy onset, and all that means is I talk slower in order to stay in control. If I can time both of these with breathing correctly, everything goes well. There is a diagram I look at to make sure that I am using good form. Picture a basic drawing of a mountain, so the two top lines of a triangle (If I could figure out how to put pictures in this damn thing, I'd draw it for you). The incline of that first line is inhaling, and the decline of the second line is the exhale. I am supposed to start vocalizing about a half-second down the decline to make sure that I have an open airway. When I practice I do that very slowly and focused to make sure I am using proper form. Just like a basketball player takes 100 foul shots during practice (well, a good player, like Larry Bird, not somebody like Charles O'Bannon). As in anything in life, practicing the fundamentals is the most important part. I practice by using recorded tracks I made on my computer where I just read sentences and random words (especially with sounds that I have the most difficulty with, such as /d/). The things I am saying are very basic, but it doesn't matter if I'm reading See Dick Run (hehehehe...), as long as I am using proper form.
So basically, that's what I do. There are other techniques that are out there, but as of now this is what works best for me. These are tried and true. Next time, on a completely different note, I'll talk about what situations are the hardest for me to transfer these techniques in to (and just how frustrating that can be).