Therapeutic speech

Anthroposophic therapeutic speech (1) is used in the treatment of dyspnea, its effect extending to the levels of body, soul and spirit. Depending on the patient’s general condition, therapeutic speech is either done actively by the patient or it reaches him through attentive listening. The ‘I’ activity of human speaking, the words and sounds of which are imbued with spiritual principles, resound through the person’s entire being. While sounds in eurythmy therapy (as visible speech) correspond to movements in the patient’s life organization and have an effect there, the spoken sounds of speech enter via the patient’s breathing organism and affect the etheric organization’s activity in the body’s fluid element. The air organism, which permeates the entire human organism, is specifically shaped by the formation of sounds (2). Each sound creates a shape in the air. This activity forms the etheric organization and thus leads to the physiological effects of anthroposophic therapeutic speech. The meaning of a particular sound sequence is less decisive for therapy than its specific sound effect (3). Accordingly, many therapeutic sound sequences and exercises may have no apparent textual meaning. Spoken language relates to experiences in the soul, as well as having physical effects. We “feel” the meaning of words simultaneously while assimilating the information that they convey. Thus, the words for one and the same concept may sound very different in different languages. Finally, therapeutic speech uses verses and meditations to provide spiritual content. The patient can develop new perspectives and internal sources of strength through working with these verses and meditations.

The therapeutic approach

  • The unpleasant feeling of heaviness that accompanies dyspnea can be improved by initial movement exercises (starting small, depending on the patient's situation), with subsequent speech-oriented breathing, e.g., using exercises such as
    “Ach” or “Oof”.

  •  “F” can be used to support exhalation.
    Exhale “F” and imagine a calm breeze sweeping gently across water.
    At the end, articulate a small “t” to relax the diaphragm, followed by a pause.
    Like “F”, the sound “V” can also be intoned, which adds the voice.
    The sound sequence “F – S – SH” is also helpful.

  • For exhalation disorders such as obstructive ventilation disorder (COPD, for example), sounds spoken with a narrow mouth position (pursed lips) can be helpful to center the patient’s breathing and voice in the sound: 
    a phrase with emphasis on “M”: “Moody mindful mortals amassing, motioning” (“Mut machen mir mutige Menschenmassen”)
    Texts in hexameter are particularly effective .
    The hexameter rhythm has a direct effect on breathing. It can also be absorbed via listening alone, and with rhythmic touch accompanying the speaking.

  • Dyspnea almost always leads to latent hyperventilation. This must be considered with all exercise sequences.
    The consonant sequence: “K – L – S – F – M” is particularly suited for
    prolonging exhalation step by step, in which first only “K” is spoken, then “K – L”, etc., building up to the whole sound sequence.
    A challenging breathing exercise given by Rudolf Steiner is completely geared to this situation (4):
    “I breathe power of life” (“Ich atme Kraft des Lebens”)

  • To strengthen inhalation and exhalation:
    the vowel sequence “A – E – I – O – U” appeals to both inhalation and exhalation.
    It can be articulated with different consonants:  “DA DE DI DO DU”, “TA TE TI TO TU”, “NA NE NI NO NU”, etc. This releases tense breathing and leads it into exhalation. A dactylus rhythm can be added to these sequences. It is also helpful to make a sound with “N” and the vowel “O”. The voiced “N” has a calming effect in speaking “O”.

  • For cardiac dyspnea, we can use a heart exercise according to Christa Slezak-Schindler:
    Say “T” (allow it to strike into the breath from the tip of the tongue), form an interior space with “AU” and warm it up with “H”: “TAUH”, then speak it vice versa: “HAUT”.

  • The altered rhythm of breathing caused by dyspnea can be harmonized using rhythmic speech exercises, e.g., with
    dactylus ( ), hexameter, trochee ( ) and amphimacer ( ).

    Sounding the syllable “OM” has proven to be particularly effective.
    When speaking it, the vocal approach should be shifted far forward (in contrast to eastern methods). With “O”, the speaker imagines the oral cavity as if surrounding an imaginary sphere with a receiving gesture. “M” streams out until the end of the breath, accompanied by a horizontal gesture into the distance.

  • The following sequence of syllables has proven itself helpful for all cramping of the diaphragm (i.e., elevated diaphragm). The sequence can even dissipate a beginning asthma attack:
    Elastic speaking of each syllable in “ABRACADABRA”. 
    The vowel “A” widens the respiratory tract the most and is introduced with a typical gesture to accompany the consonants.

  • Verses and meditations can open up a spiritual source of strength, which can aid patients wrestling with questions of meaning and perspective, e.g.:

    A breath from the spiritual world is what
    Streams into the body when awakening
    Streams out of the body when falling asleep
    As the being of the I experiences itself
    In the oscillating meaning of existence.

    In the breathing of spiritual weaving I am
    As air is in the lungs
    I am no lung; no, I am a breath of air
    And lung is, what knows of me:
    If I grasp this — I know myself
    In the spirit of the world. —

    Rudolf Steiner (5, p. 71 and Mantric Sayings, p. 61)

1 Denjean-von Stryk B, von Bonin D. Anthroposophical therapeutic speech. Edinburgh: Floris Books; 2000.

2 Maintier S. Speech – invisible creation in the air. Vortices and the enigma of speech sounds. Herndon: Steiner Books; 2016.

3 von Bonin D, Gutschner P. Wirkprinzipien der Therapeutischen Sprachgestaltung. Der Merkurstab 2012;65(1):18–24.

4 von Bonin D. The background to anthroposophical therapeutic speech. Edinburgh: Floris Books; 2012.

5 Steiner R. Mantric sayings. Meditations 1903–1925. Great Barrington: Steiner Books; 2015.