The Whispered ‘Ah’ Procedure requires a good level of understanding of the Alexander Technique, in order to be able to perform it in a manner that will be beneficial. It is best not to try this on your own but wait until you have learnt it with your Alexander Teacher, who will guide you through the procedure. It is important that you have the skills to inhibit tension patterns and mis-use, whilst you keep giving yourself directions throughout the procedure, so that you keep free and avoid contracting your neck, throat and vocal mechanisms.
When you practise the whispered Ah it can help you improve your breathing, calm you down and help strengthen your voice – even though you do not say the Ah out loud during the procedure. Many singers and vocalists use the whispered Ah on a regular basis, because they find it to be a valuable tool that helps them look after their voices.
Also, if you are angry, or are someone that tends to swallow your feelings, bite back your words, clench, grit or grind your teeth, this procedure will be invaluable to you as one way of learning how to let go of those habits. Some people wear down their teeth through grinding them, whilst others are given a brace to wear at night by their dentist, in order to avoid the discomfort caused by habitual jaw tension and grinding teeth. How much more pleasant it could be to use the whispered ‘Ah’ instead of filling your mouth with hardwear!
As part of the calming process that can take place, you may notice an increase in saliva production in the mouth, indicating a reduction in tension plus the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), both being signs of what has been called the ‘relaxation response’ by psychologists.
The whispered ‘Ah’ can be practised in many different positions, lying down, standing, sitting, in monkey position, or with arms on the back of a chair, for instance. Perhaps the easiest way to start, is to try whilst lying in semi-supine. This can be a helpful position to use initially, as you will get feedback from the floor or AT table, so that you can notice more easily if you tighten and pull your head back and down, which you will notice as an increased pressure on your head. However you may find the procedure is more effective when you are ready to try it in an upright position.
Using a monkey position, or having your arms on the back of a chair in front of you, are particularly useful positions to assume whilst practising the whispered Ah as they enable a greater expansion and freedom in the ribcage, thus allowing deeper breathing to take place.
- Say ‘no’ to any urge to perform the whispered Ah before you have given yourself directions to free your neck, allow your head to go forward and up and allow your back to lengthen and widen. Alexander is reputed to have asked pupils to give directions ‘one at a time and altogether‘ throughout any procedure.
- The first requirement in order to perform the whispered Ah procedure, ideally, is to think of something amusing so that you smile or laugh in a natural manner. This frees the facial muscles and diaphragm, plus lifts the soft palette in the mouth. A forced smile will tend to tighten facial and neck muscles, not free them.
- Next, let the tongue drop down behind the front teeth, allowing it to become softer and so free your tongue, right down into your throat.
- Then, inhibit the urge to move without thought, give yourself directions and take care not to contract the head back and down, as you free the jaw and allow it to open in a slightly forwards direction. Do not force the jaw forwards but equally, take care to inhibit any tendency to pull it open by contracting the jaw down and in towards your throat.
- As your jaw freely opens, whisper an Ah sound on the outward breath, allowing your lungs to empty as you do so. Inhibit and take care not to contract down or force the air out but keep reminding yourself to have a free neck, tongue and throat, whilst you allow your body to lengthen and widen. It may help to remember that as the air is expelled out, it flows upwards through your body.
- Close your mouth without tightening your jaw. Inhibit any urge to force an intake of air or interfere with the natural process of inhaling – just allow your breath to enter through your nose and let it fill your lungs.
Once you have completed the procedure, you can practise it again. However, take care not to get into end-gaining by repeating the procedure over and over again, whilst gradually losing awareness and forgetting to give yourself directions. One whispered Ah performed freely is worth more to you than performing it six times with less and less awareness, so that mis-use creeps back in. Make sure your Alexander Teacher helps you with this.
There are some excellent explanations and discussions of the Whispered Ah procedure to be found in various books, particularly the whole chapter devoted to the topic in:
Indirect Procedures: A Musician’s Guide to the Alexander Technique ~ Pedro de Alcantara ~ p144