The “Whispered Ah” – for Calmness, Muscle Relaxation and the Posture

I was recently reminded of an Alexander Technique known as the Whispered Ah – developed primarily for those in the performing arts [Josefsberg Breathing] [Dias WhisperedAh, p. 4] [Breaking WhisperedAh].   It is a very simple technique that initiates, for me, a process of increasing inner calmness, muscle relaxation and posture restoration.  It also seems to produce, as described below, a quietening of the mind and thoughts.

This article presents the technique, some personal observations, a wrap-up, quotes on the Alexander Technique, quotes on the related practice of Edmund Jacobson’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation and a note on the related practice of “The Silent Huh.”

Updates:  Added quotes on the related work of Edmund Jacobson in Dec. 2019.  Added a note on a similar technique referred to as “The Silent Huh” on Feb. 6, 2020.


How to do the Whispered Ah:

Whisper “Ahhh” and smile with the eyes.  Repeat as many times as desired.

Notes:  Release all tension from the jaw, tongue and eyes while exhaling.  Thinking of something funny seems to naturally aid in releasing any tension there.  After whispering (on the exhale), inhale with the lips opened or closed as desired.  This technique can be done, for example, while seated, standing, walking or waiting.  More details on the technique are provided in the aforementioned references.


Some personal observations:

The observations are loosely categorized as body-related, mind-related, thought-related and general observations as they can cross-over from one category to another.

  • Body-related observations:
    • Though the release of muscle tension starts in the jaw, tongue and eye areas, it gradually extends to other areas such as the neck, shoulder, spine and arms – as awareness of muscle tension elsewhere arises.
    • As I  repeat the “Ahhh”, my breathing gradually becomes deeper (filling more of my lungs) which seems to help correct my posture.
      • The awareness of discomfort along the spine when hunched could also be a contributing factor to the posture correction.
  • Mind-related observations:
  • Thought-related observations:
    • After a while, I sometimes catch myself no longer doing the Whispered Ah and notice that my attention has gone back to thinking and thoughts.
      • Tension has creeped back to the eye and mouth area.
      • It is as if the thoughts have magnetic powers to attract my attention and a ninja-like stealth to re-direct the attention from the Whispered Ah – as also described in [KendoNotes_Meditation2].
    • Verbal and image-related thoughts seem to diminish or disappear.
      • This observation seems related to the findings of Edmund Jacobson who had developed the “Progressive Relaxation Technique” in the early 1900s.  As summarized by Dr. Mike Samuels [Samuels_MindsEye, p. 2]:
        • Jacobson found that when people see something in their mind’s eye, there is measurable tension in their eye muscles.
          • In fact, if people imagine a dog running from right to left, their eyes will shift from right to left.
        • Likewise, Jacobson found that when people think in words (inner speech) there is measurable tension in the muscles of speech, especially in the tongue and the muscles of the jaw.
        • When people are totally relaxed their jaw actually drops loosely and their eyes become motionless.
        • Jacobson believes that when the body is totally relaxed, there are no images in the mind; at that moment the mind is essentially clear.
        • He believes that the mind becomes relaxed and clear naturally as the body becomes more deeply relaxed.
      • As summarized in [Wildstress_Quieting]:
        • Jacobson found he could quiet the mind by reversing the brain-muscle process.
          • If he could get muscles to quiet (relax), this would cause the brain to notice and would respond by quieting.
          • So, when being bugged by pesky inner critics or endless self-chatter, rather than engaging with that chatter to try to get it be quiet, go through the following relaxation process (described in the article).
        • Quiet muscles will lead to a quiet(er) mind.
  • General observations:
    • The calmness, relaxation, posture correction and a general sense of well-being seems to grow with each repeated “Ahhh.”
    • This may be an effective way to “warm-up” prior to a session of meditation or deep belly breathing.

Wrap-up

During a recent experience of walking outside in cold winter weather in the East Coast, I recall opening the mouth, exhaling steam (mist) from the mouth like a dragon while whispering “Hah”, inhaling the frosty air deeply through the nose and then repeating the process.  In retrospect, it seems that I was naturally doing a slight variation: a “Whispered Hah” with a bit of tension in the mouth.

Incidentally, there is a similar technique referred to as “The Silent Huh”:   Sigh out on a whispered “huh”.  It is described in more detail in Exercise No. 3 “Making space in your throat” in [Fisher_Voice].  (Thanks to a family member who pointed this out.)

I think this technique is Ahhh-some! 😉


Quotes on the Alexander Technique

  • Peter Buckoke, Musician and Alexander teacher, The Royal College of Music.  I believe that his comments in the context of music can be applied to kendo, sports and other areas of life.
    • From [AlexanderNow]:
      • For performance to be healthy, spontaneous and creative, it needs to be free from rigidity of mind, body and intention.  Alexander thinking facilities all of these freedoms.
      • The work develops awareness that we can choose the responses to stimuli in our lives rather than responding automatically.  Another way of describing the state we might choose to be in is ‘truly present’.
      • The work starts by developing an understanding of the nature of habit and the identification of any negative personal habits.
      • Performance anxiety is a perfect example of an automatic ‘response to stimulus’ and can be tackled with this psycho-physical approach – like any other habit.
      • Alexander work tends to free the mind, body and spirit from automatic repetition and gives one the feeling of being alive and ready for anything.
    • From [Buckoke_Learning]:
      • We all learn effortlessly about anything that genuinely captures our interest.
      • I see learning a skill, such as playing an instrument, as building a huge variety of reliable repetitive responses (a collection of habits) to different but connected stimuli.
      • Our repertoire of habits can be recognized as character or musical personality. Described in this way, recognising habits that we would like to change is part of what is involved in developing as a musician.
      • How to change habits:
        • Noticing the existence and nature of the negative habit empowers us to change.
        • We also need to see there is a moment of choice between stimuli and our automatic or habitual response to it -­ that is, potentially, the moment of change.
      • A research project carried out at the Royal College of Music about 60 years ago concluded that the Alexander technique should be the basis of the education of all musicians.  I agree with that bold statement.

Additional quotes can be found at [Alexander_Quotes], [Bloch_Alexander] and [Plake_Quotes].


Quotes on Jacobson’s Progressive Relaxation Techniques

  • Edmund Jacobson
    • An anxious mind cannot exist in a relaxed body...
    • From [Timeline_Jacobson]:
      • It might be naive to say we think with our muscles, but it would be inaccurate to say we think without them.
      • Quick eating is a characteristic of those who are tense.
  • From [Samuels_MindsEye]
    • People can become aware of the difference between tension and relaxation in their bodies by tensing a muscle and then letting it go. p. 2
    • It’s not doing the exercises which is most important in the Jacobson method; it’s allowing oneself to relax and remain relaxed.  This concept of allowing relaxation to take place is an important one. p. 2
      • Emil Coue, a famous French pharmacist who wrote on the power of suggestion in the 19th century, pointed out what he called the law of reversed effort: “To make good suggestions it is absolutely necessary to do it without effort . . . the use of the will . . . must be entirely put aside.  One must have recourse exclusively to the imagination.”
    • This is similar to the effect that Zen philosophers have referred to as “letting go.”
  • From [SanJoseUniv_PMR]
    • Edmund Jacobson was a U.S.-trained physician who noticed that all his patients with illness showed chronic muscle tension. He theorized that if muscle tension was significantly decreased, the chance for illness would diminish. p.1
    • The body’s muscles respond to thoughts of perceived threat with tension or contraction.   p. 2
      • Muscular tension is believed to be the most common symptom of stress, and can lead to: – stiffness, pain, discomfort, distorted and disaligned posture, and joint stability. p. 2
    • Relaxation techniques designed to relax muscles, with the idea that if you relieve tension in the body the mind will follow.  Sometimes we are too stressed to slow our minds down first! p. 1
    • As body relaxes, so does the mind. p. 2
  • From [Wildstress_Quieting]:
    • Edmund Jacobson gave us Progressive Relaxation to calm our minds through quieting our muscles. In his life-long process of refining Progressive Relaxation he found a profound, rapid, and easy way for getting control of two disturbing activities that we all have: inner chatter and troubling inner visions.
    • When we chat to ourselves in our heads, we actually use many of the same muscles we use to speak out loud. Talking is so well practiced that we tighten throat, tongue, and facial ways that are unconscious until we learn to spot their movement.
    • Jacobson found he could quiet the mind by reversing the brain-muscle process. If he could get muscles to quiet (relax), this would cause the brain to notice and would respond by quieting.
  • From [Wildstress_Jacobson]:
    • We all know that the brain can command certain muscles in the body to get us out of bed and keep us going until the end of the day.
    • What Jacobson saw, was less observed: the muscles could command the brain.
      • When muscles are active, at some level of tension, messages are being sent to the brain that the muscle indeed is doing something.
      • That something can be an action we are aware of, say brushing our teeth, or the action can be something we are not really aware of: clenching teeth, holding tight neck muscles, locking down forehead muscles, etc.
      • Unconsciously producing and holding muscle tension is a perfect avenue for chronic stress to creep into the body.
    • What would happen, Jacobson wondered, if a person who experienced long term stress learned to relax their muscles on a regular basis?
      • A person could do this sort of work at the end of the day to unwind (actually, un-tense).
      • There would be a double effect: unconscious muscle holding would be stopped and in turn, the mind would be quieted by the lack of muscle communications being sent to the brain from the muscles.
      • Indeed, Jacobson found and proved, released muscles lead to a quieter brain

References

[AlexanderNow] “What is the Alexander Technique?” AlexanderNow.org.

[Alexander_Quotes] “Alexander Technique Quotations,” AlexanderTechnique.com.

[Bloch_Alexander] Peter Bloch, “What some well-known people have said about the Alexander Technique,” peter-bloch.co.uk.

[Buckoke_Learning] Peter Buckoke, “Learning how to learn,” (PDF, 3 pages).

[Breaking_WhisperedgAh] “Alexander Technique for Well-Being,”  BreakingDepression.com, Jan. 13, 2014.

[Dias_WhisperedAh] Georgia Dias, “Voice work in the Alexander technique.” (PDF, 6 pages).

[Fisher_Voice] Jeremy Fisher, Gillyanne Kayes, This is a Voice:  99 Exercises to Train, Project and Harness the Power of Your Voice, Profile Books, 2016.

[Josefsberg_Breathing] Mark Josefsberg, “Alexander Technique Breathing,” MarkJosefsberg.com.

[Kabat-Zinn_BodyScan] “Jon Kabat-Zinn Body Scan Meditation GUIDED MEDITATION,” July 18, 2016 (45:27 mins).

[KendoNotes_Awareness] Young, “Awareness and Who am I?” KendoNotes.com, April 14, 2019.

[KendoNotes_Meditation2] “Reflections on Meditation – Part 2: Some Experiences and Catching the Ninja,” KendoNotes.com, June 16, 2019. 

[KendoNotes_MushinQuotes] “Quotes on Mushin, Flow and Open-Focus – Overview,” KendoNotes.com, Dec 13, 2017.

[KendoNotes_OpenFocus] “Open Focus, Mushin and Kendo,” KendoNotes,com, May 3, 2016.

[KendoNotes_SoftEyes] “‘Soft Eyes,’ A Way of Seeing and Being – Quote and Resources,” KendoNotes.com, December 21, 2018.

[Mindful_BodyScan] “The Body Scan Practice,” Mindful.org, Nov. 7, 2012.

[Plake_Quotes] Bill Plake, “The Alexander Technique – Quotes & Aphorisms,” AlexanderTechniqueFoothills.com.

[Samuels_MindsEye] Extract of Drs. Mike and Nancy Samuels book, Seeing with the Mind’s Eye, by John Living, in2it.ca,  (PDF, 14 pages).

[SanJoseUniv_PMR] “Progressive Muscular Relaxation,” KIN/HS 169, San Jose State University.

[Timeline_Jacobson] Laura Smith, “This doctor pioneered the idea of relaxing and doing nothing—to be more productive,” Timeline.com, Nov 7, 2017.

[Wildstress_Jacobson] “Muscle Man, Edmund Jacobson,” Wildstress.com.

[Wildstress_Quieting] “Quieting Inner Chatter and Dimming Inner Visions – Which Muscles to Relax,” WildStress.com.

Keywords:  Peace, Heijoshin

Copyright 2019 KendoNotes.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s