You are on page 1of 9

As mentioned in previous chapters stuttering is, according to Prof Schwartz,

caused by a 'locking' of the vocal cords due to tension. The vocal cords are an
important link in the chain tension-laryngospasm-struggle behaviour
(stuttering). In the past, therapists tended to focus only on the first and third
link: tension and struggle behaviour. This resulted in a two-pronged attack:
the attempted control of tension as well as of the struggle behaviour, with the
emphasis falling on the latter.

Tension control, which included psychological treatment, did alleviate the

problem to some extent. However, the treatment of the struggle behaviour
was not particularly successful since the second link, the laryngospasm, had
not been identified. Treating the struggle behaviour amounted to treating the
last phase of a well-established, conditioned reflex. But it was too late to
neutralise this reflex; it had already become automatic and programmed.

We now know that we should focus our attack on the laryngospasm rather
than the struggle behaviour we have to prevent the locking of the vocal
cords due to tension. Prof Schwartz developed the Passive Airflow Technique
with this purpose in mind. Strictly speaking it combines several techniques.

The individuals studied by Schwartz prior to developing his technique

included people who had outgrown their stuttering while young. According to
him these children had unconsciously learned and applied some type of
'airflow technique'.

Schwartz does not claim that his therapy is completely new. Elements of his
technique have been applied by the Japanese for centuries, as indicated by
the quotation introducing this chapter. And some therapists mentioned a
spasm in the vocal cords as early as the nineteenth century. They advised
stutterers to speak while exhaling, and to sigh passively. Schwartz used
current knowledge about stuttering and stress to elaborate on and
systematise the ideas of these older authorities.

Airflow is a fluency technique to prevent the laryngospasm and the

accompanying stuttering reflex. This technique allows you to open and relax
your vocal cords before speaking. In this way stuttering is prevented without
having to cure it. It is not a miracle cure and must be acquired and practised.

The idea is that by mastering the approach step by step, the stutterer will
gradually learn to apply it even when exposed to stressful situations. Correct
application of the technique not only prevents stuttering; it also prevents
secondary struggle behaviour such as unnatural movements of the head,
arms, etc., as the stuttering reflex is now addressed at its core.

The three components of the Passive Airflow Technique

1. Passive airflow

The first step is to activate the airflow. The stutterer learns to release a very
slight, passive current of air from his mouth, almost like a sigh, immediately
BEFORE speaking. This is aimed at opening the vocal cords prior to speech.
As a result the possibility of a laryngospasm is reduced.

The airflow from the lips must be extremely passive, and not pushed or
forced. The air should drift and flow from the mouth. Hence the name airflow
technique. It is NOT a stream of air; it should evaporate from the mouth.

Note that the Passive Airflow Technique is not a breathing therapy. It is vocal
cord therapy. Of course you have to breathe in to produce an airflow. But take
care not to breathe in too deeply. That may produce a pushed flow.

2. Slowing down the first syllable

In addition it is necessary to slow down the first syllable of the first word of a
sentence. If the first word has several syllables, at least the first two should
be said at the slower rate. The aim is to reduce tension on the vocal cords. A
high speaking tempo increases tension on the vocal cords and increases the

possibility of laryngospasms.

If the first word has only one syllable, Prof Schwartz recommends prolonging
it with a mental comma following the word; with the rest of the sentence
almost following as an afterthought. Say the first syllable as if it is the only
syllable that has to be said.

If the first syllable of a sentence is slowed, the tendency will be to slow down
the entire sentence, so further reducing vocal cord tension.

Remember: once you are into the sentence and your vocal cords vibrate (i.e.
phonate), dont interrupt the phonation keep on talking. The laryngospasm
will not easily occur if the vocal cords are in vibration, but it may occur when
you have to initiate sound after phonation has stopped.

Stutterers tend to speak too fast. This fast speech is partly the cause and
partly the result of their problem. Many stutterers want to have their say as
quickly as possible. They feel that the sooner its out, the less chance of a
block. In reality the exact opposite happens: the faster they speak, the higher
the tension on the vocal cords. The stutterer has to learn to slow down his

This slowed first syllables approach is in some ways similar to the slow
speech approach well known in eg. British stuttering circles.

3. The intent to rest

Part of the function of the airflow method is to distract the speakers attention
away from the feared word. It is thus also to some extent a distraction
technique. To distract attention from the feared word, the brain must receive
a new message. This new message is rest, or relax. In this way the brain is
prevented from thinking about tension when saying the word, the

laryngospasm is not activated, the vocal cords remain open and the feared
word can be said. This is the psychological aspect of the airflow component
its most difficult component, but effective where the stutterer suffers from
severe word fear.

The intent to rest is a mental trick that can be learned. Your mouth and throat
will always function according to your intent; and if you are intent on flowing,
resting and slowing down the first syllables, your vocal cords will not contract.

PRACTISE the intent to rest by sitting in a comfortable chair and relaxing your
entire body and mind while you allow the air to flow passively from your
mouth. Empty your head of all thoughts as the air flows.

So lets combine these three components as follows: You breathe in (but not
too deeply). Then allow a very slight flow of air to pass through your lips as
you think rest, relaxing your body and mind as much as possible. Then
speak, slowing down the first syllable(s). This procedure can be represented
as follows:

[Flow] When, are you leaving? [Flow] Not, today. [Flow] On,ly on Thursday
when the holiday starts. [Flow] Ill, go by train.

Speaking like this will require practice before it SOUNDS natural to the
listener. It must also LOOK natural dont stare like a robot! Use a mirror to
monitor your posture; move your hands, head and eyes freely and naturally.
Take note of how others use body language when they speak, and imitate it.

In real life, practised airflowing creates the impression of a controlled speaker

who thinks before he speaks not an impulsive person, but relaxed and selfconfident.

Low energy speech

Low energy speech is an additional aid for those days or situations when you
are extremely tense. It is a style of speech that should be used only in
emergencies, since it isnt practical to use it all the time. It is also an aid for
those stutterers with very high tension levels.

Low energy speech is SOFT, with MINIMAL MOVEMENT OF THE SPEECH

ORGANS. Stutterers should practise it every day. Try to speak softly with
minimal movement of the tongue and lips, but without becoming inaudible.

The reason for the effectiveness of low energy speech is that it exerts much
less tension on the speech organs. It is a powerful weapon when combined
with the airflow technique. This type of speech is related to the light
contacts approach taught by speech therapists.

Some stutterers tend to compensate for their poor speech by speaking too
loudly. They want to ensure that the words they manage to say reach the

Low tone of voice

Once again a low tone of voice is not an essential feature of the airflow
technique continuous use of a low tone of voice when speaking is unnatural
and impractical. Nevertheless it can be very useful in emergencies, the
reason being that the lower the tone of voice, the less the tension on the
vocal cords.

Tone of voice may also serve as an important indication of base-level tension,

as people tend to raise their tone when tense. Before making a telephone
call, the speaker could for example practise his call by first recording it (eg.
on his cell phone or a digital / analogue recorder). If the actual telephone
conversation is also recorded and the recordings are compared, he will

probably discover that his tone of voice was much higher during the actual
telephone call. The reason would be his higher tension level during the actual

Variation in the need for technique

The airflow is obviously very demanding. Using it all the time requires a lot of
effort on the speakers part. Though the ideal would be to use it as much as
possible and to extend your use of it, in real life it is not necessary to make
full use of it much will depend on the particular situation and ones current
base-level tension. Actual use of the technique may be represented as
follows, with base-level tension abbreviated as BLT:

BLT = very low:

No technique needed

BLT = low:

Slowed first syllable OR passive


BLT = average:

Slowed first syllable AND

passive airflow

BLT = high:

Slowed first syllable AND

passive airflow, PLUS
intent to rest AND
low energy speech

Base-level tension and speech tension

In a previous chapter, base-level tension was described as the total sum of

tension on the vocal cords when the person is not speaking and has no
intention of doing so. Speech tension is the additional amount of tension that
is required for speech. Speech tension is therefore always added to base-level
tension. If a stutterer has a high base-level tension and then begins to speak,
he is subjected to his combined base-level tension and speech tension. As a
consequence he may exceed his threshold and stutter (see Figure 1 in the
chapter 'A Possible Cause of Stuttering').

The effect of the Passive Airflow technique is limited to speech tension. When
the technique is used correctly it reduces speech tension to the level of baselevel tension without however reducing base-level tension itself.

In theory this means that, with correct application of this vocal cord
technique, you have a weapon that will allow you to speak fluently even with
high base-level tension. According to Prof Schwartz, intensive training in
proper vocal cord control makes fluent speech possible, even in stressful
situations where the rest of your body is very tense. It is a fact that the
principle of differential relaxation enables one part of the muscular system to
relax while other parts remain active.

In real life, however, high base-level tension limits the margin within which
the stutterer can apply his technique successfully. The higher the base-level
tension, the more difficult it becomes to use the technique correctly.This
illustrates the importance of combining the technique with stress control (for
a lower base-level tension) and explains why the technique on its own
sometimes fails in highly stressful situations. Thats why Ive also included a
chapter on stress management. First, however, lets look at learning the
airflow technique.





Anonymous said...
I wish you the best of health Mr. Leow. I am 24 years old and I've been
stuttering since the age of 7 or 8. Mr.Schwartz's theory interests me and I
believe my speech can be improved significantly by using the passive air flow
technique and also by managing my stress level. I have a couple of questions
regarding the air flow technique. Should I inhale using my nose or mouth or
either? When I think 'rest', how to distract my mind from the fear of
stuttering? My main problem is that almost everytime I anticipate speaking,
there is a message in my brain saying "I will stutter". I really want to think
otherwise but the thought is very reinforced.

I live in a small country where there are very few speech pathologists. I went
to a couple but was in vain. Is it possible to overcome my stuttering on my
own? I know it is a long process but I willing to do so.

Thank you for your time!

NOVEMBER 21, 2011 AT 4:37 PM

Peter Louw said...
Sorry for responding so late, my blog was configured incorrectly and I have
only now read your message. 1) Nose or mouth inhalation - there's no fixed
rule, but I prefer mouth inhalation as it makes you more aware of air flowing
through your mouth, thereby promoting airflow out of the mouth 2) The 'think
rest' component is the most difficult, but can be practised - there is an
exercise in my book (in "Learning the technique") for practising it. If you focus
on "I will stutter", it reflects high tension, so you should also try to work on
lowering your stress levels. In this sense it's also an issue of "mind over
matter". Instead of focusing on "stuttering", try to focus on "using technique".
But, as I said, a negative focus on stuttering shows high stress. So you see

that stress management is an important part of this approach. 3) Overcoming

stuttering on you own is very difficult. You really need support such as selfhelp or support groups - check out my chapter on maintaining fluency later in
the book. For a start, join an internet group such as the Stuttering Community
(you can google them and join). Or google the Stuttering Homepage for lots
of support options. All the best and good luck!