Monday, June 29, 2009

Swimming crawl and stuttering

Are you a good front crawl swimmer? My crawl was so lousy when I was at school. My major difficulty was breathing, especially alternating breathing from one side to the other. I constantly choked, and my movements were terrible. Even if I tried to concentrate hard on not choking and relaxing, I would still have this instinctive reaction, which made me gasp for air and in turn would completely get me out of control. But on the other hand, my breast and back stroke and diving longer distances were fine.

Only slowly did I learn to control my breathing. It took me months, but now I do not have this chocking instinctive reaction. And I even joined the swimming club, and train twice a week. My crawl technique is still far from perfect, but my breathing is perfectly fine now. No more gasps, no more struggle. And most importantly, I am more in control to focus on my techniques.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with my brain with respect to breathing while swimming crawl, but I learned to associate breathing in crawl with the sensation of running out of air and drowning. The more I tried to control my breathing, the worse it got. I got rid of this association by de-conditioning my body. It had to learn: No, you are not going to drown if you have no air for 2-3 seconds. The process took so long because I did not do it systematically, it was deeply ingrained, and I had to focus on swimming.

So why I am telling you this? Stuttering might well be similar with one big difference: there is something wrong with my brain. The moment the brain realizes a block in speech flow, it kicks off instinctive reactions as it has learnt to associate those moments with panic, fear, embarrassment, and so on. And we loose control. Unlike with swimming, those moments are not only learned by association, but can also be due to a low-capacity speech system which delays speech initiation. As I wrote before, we stutter because our brain or we expect to stutter or because the speech system can momentarily not cope due to a higher demand to capacity.

That's why unlike with swimming, we cannot easily unlearn because our brain is constantly creating mini-blocks. Think of the recovering alcoholic been given a glass of beer each week or the overweight person having to eat chocolate every week in order to test their resistance. Or, just imagine I had to unlearn the association breathing-in-crawl to choking if something from time to time creates chocking randomly in me.


Pam said...

This post resonated with me. I have been experiencing a subtle shift in my stuttering pattern recently. I was covert for many years, and have only allowed myself to stutter freely for just over three years.

Before that, I would fight to not stutter - switch words, avoid, feign ignorance,etc.

My natural stutter is mostly repititions, splattered every now and then with prolongations and hesitations.

Right now, over the last two months or so, I have been experiencing unpredictable stoppages, sometimes being unable to say what I want. I feel very much out of control when this happens. I have pretty much learned to be ok with my "first" stuttering pattern, but find I don't know what to do with this.

The swimming analogy makes much sense - I just have to figure out how to control ths new part.

Pam said...

Ah, gotta leave another comment.

No sooner had I read this post, and left a comment, that a good friend had sent me a great article on Breathing.

Sometimes we are pointed in a certain direction for a reason. I was meant to read these things today.

Ronaldo said...

Martin Schwartz believed that stuttering was due to some problem in the brain's "breathing centers" so he developed the air flow technique where you begin each sentence with a breath of air as if you were simply exhaling and then start talking. People ridicule his ideas but maybe he's on to something