I am very pleased to be given the opportunity to contribute to this exciting blog about redefining stammering. I have had a stammer since childhood and have for almost 30 years walked my own path of accepting my stammer and living well with it. This path began when I had speech therapy for the first time age 17 and refused to use techniques and only wanted to work with acceptance. When I was 21 I returned to Denmark after having spent a year in England and declared that I had a right to stammer, which rather baffled the speech therapists I had contact with. I had another spell of speech therapy when I was at University in my early 20’s, which was mainly aimed towards acceptance, but after this I decided to focus on myself as a whole person and explored various self-development approaches as well as yoga and meditation for many years. During this time I moved to the UK.
In 2009 I started a 4 year, full-time training in Eurythmy to be a performance artist and movement teacher. I was attracted to the artistic and therapeutic aspect of the training and the fact that we work with speech sounds in movement. The defining moment that led me to decide to do the training was when I participated in a course in “Eurythmy in Social Life” – the aspect of Eurythmy where you work with organisations or groups with social dynamics, social awareness and themes related to change, trust and what lives between people. I remember having the feeling that these exercises also had a positive effect on social confidence and openness and I felt a strong urge to bring them to other people who stammer. I graduated in 2013 and following a move to Scotland in 2014 have been building up my work in and around Edinburgh.
In my work I focus a lot on the mindful and social aspects of Eurythmy. The social exercises as described above are often great fun to begin with and once order starts to ensue and flow develops, they become more like an active group meditation that is often described like a synchronised dance, meditative and coordinated. I started developing my own approach to the mindful aspects of Eurythmy in response to an emerging need in the people I met to find ways of dealing with stress and more inner balance. Stress is currently being described as an epidemic in the western world and if you take all the usual stressors that people have to deal with, such as issues at work, relationship troubles, and financial concerns, and add the stress of living with a little understood difference like stammering, you can see why stress can be a big issue for people who stammer.
There is currently a lot of research regarding the benefits of movement on wellbeing. Mindfulness and resilience experts speak of the importance of bringing awareness to your body and research is showing that how we use our bodies has an impact on our feelings – as well as the other way around. Using mindful movement as a way of calming and focusing the mind has a grounding effect and participants often feel it is more accessible than conventional sitting mindfulness practices.
“… The health of your mind is profoundly linked to that of your body. Knowing this you
can make healthier choices in your life about what to eat, when to sleep and how to
behave. When you appreciate the power of the body in changing the mind you function
better. Exercise and body-centered meditation, awareness, and learning practices that
coach the body as well as the mind can help you achieve this mind-body connection.”
Sian Beilock: How the Body Knows its Mind
I had the opportunity to lead a movement workshop at the last BSA Conference in Cardiff in 2018, and have since then led workshops in the Scottish Stammering Network self-help groups in both Edinburgh and Glasgow. Feedback from participants is predominantly along the lines of feeling more relaxed, calm and composed, and one person felt it could help him combat his insomnia. I am of course interested in whether people feel my workshops are beneficial specifically in relation to stammering and, apart from a couple of people who found it hard to engage in the exercises, the answer has unequivocally been ‘yes’, as the exercises help relax mental processes and have a calming and grounding effect.
It’s important for me to emphasise that the intended aim of the workshops is not to help people stop stammering – there of course is no cure for stammering – but to provide strategies to manage anxiety, worry and stress through mindful movement, and to work with social confidence and awareness through the social exercises. My underlying theory is that if you can reduce the part of Sheehan’s famous iceberg that is below the surface (the fear, shame and anxiety etc.), the overt part that is above the surface ceases to be of so much importance and we can find a way of living well with our stammer, without it impacting on our goals and influencing our wellbeing.