Take up singing
There are ways to find your voice, your confidence and greater well being by simply giving yourself permission to sing along, says singer-songwriter and therapist , Jeremy Dion.
Singing is universally accessible, which makes it seem like it’s really no big deal. Everyone can sing a little tune, there’s nothing to it. Except that singing is a big deal. When done with a mindful presence, singing reconnects us with ourselves, our bodies, our minds, our emotions, with others and with the divine. That’s a lot of connecting. Songs become a meditation in sound, waking us up through a combination of focus, vibration and breath. Singing brings us home to ourselves, and provides a pathway to a more joyful, present life.
Any singing is healthy, leaving us feeling better than before – but when combined with the art of mindfulness, singing can become transformative. Singing wakes up our bodies. By activating the many systems involved in producing vocal sound, the act of singing itself engages muscles, moves energy, burns calories, increases oxygen to the brain and stimulates a variety of feel-good hormones, all of which leaves us feeling alive, alert, awake, expansive and present. Numerous studies have shown that singing reduces symptoms of anxiety, depression and high blood pressure, while increasing self- esteem, alertness and a general sense of wellbeing. Singing is powerful medicine.
So is practising mindfulness. In fact, many studies show the same type of benefits with meditation and other mindfulness practices as with singing: reduced stress, a greater sense of joy. The combination of the two, mindful singing, recognises that singing is a meditation in sound, a sacred practice of using
our voices to bring us in to the present and to connect us with everything else.
When it comes to things that make us feel good, singing is one of the best. It serves us on every level, from the physical to the spiritual. Singing is sacred and it can also be silly – but whatever we call it, it benefits us when we do it regularly.
Singing along with familiar songs, singing in a group, singing alone, even singing without words leaves us feeling better than we did before. It’s like taking a walk. I don’t think I’ve ever regretted taking a walk, having always felt refreshed afterwards. Singing is like that. It doesn’t seem to matter whether I sing happy songs or sad songs, original songs or covers. Singing always leaves me feeling better than I did before.
Singing is really good for us, the evidence is irrefutable. It may actually be one of those rare activities that have few, if any, adverse side- effects except for singing incorrectly and damaging the vocal chords. Or those relational challenges we associate with being vulnerable and therefore potentially embarrassing. But we won’t let that stop us, right? Right?
Singing’s multitude of benefits doesn’t stop with us. It even affects the air and the life around us. And the majority of the research points to group singing (i.e. singing in a chorale or choir) as providing the most benefits of all. This may explain the recent increase in the numbers of people joining choirs around the world. More people singing in the world gives me hope for humanity.
Putting this all together for a moment: everything in the universe is vibrating and singing, we all respond to music in positive ways and secretly (or not) love to sing, and singing is really good for us on every level. So what’s the problem? Why aren’t we all walking through the world singing our own personal, awesome soundtrack? Well, some of us are, I suppose. And I tip my hat to you if you happen to be one of them. But most of us aren’t singing our own soundtrack, unabashedly, in all of our full-throated majesty. In fact, many of us, if we sing at all, sing sparingly, usually alone, or we have stopped singing altogether.
To be fair, some of us aren’t singing because we tried it, didn’t like it, and that, as they say, was that. Although my therapist side becomes instantly curious about why we didn’t like it. Because our souls did, our hearts did and our bodies did, too.
The truth is that for most of us something else happened along the way. Sometimes we remember what that something was, and other times not. Often, the sensations, beliefs and stories that stop us from singing with a full voice live in us as a felt sense rather than a coherent narrative. Our wounds become implied memories, lurking in the background but colouring those things with which we are willing to engage. We don’t want to sing. So we don’t. We aren’t comfortable, for whatever reason. And the idea of it makes us turn away and desperately seek a change in subject. What happened to us, and how can we shift what seems like an age- old automatic response? How can simple mindfulness practices unleash the joy that our voices are waiting to express?
Singing engages the body whether we’re sitting, standing, driving in the car or lying down on our backs. It wakes us up, vibrating melodic energy into every one of our billions of cells! Singing is a major mobilizing force, galvanizing emotional, mental and physical energy, bringing us into the present moment and opening up our hearts.
When we sing, our body buzzes in healthy and enjoyable ways. And those buzzes can be magnified when we learn and practise proper singing techniques. By ‘proper’, I’m talking about some basics: standing erect, feet firmly planted on the ground, knees gently bent, chin slightly tucked, sternum raised (see ‘The Garcia Position’, right), core muscles engaged for breath support – all of this involves the focused use of many parts of the body, and it can be exhausting. But if you stick with it, practising a little every day, it’s worth it.
Mindful singing is about balance. As we learn to support vocal tone with the strength and support of our core muscles, the rest of singing is about relaxation. The importance of this cannot be overstated. In addition to relaxing our throat, neck, shoulders and head, we’re also aiming to relax the tongue when we sing. This is important for two reasons. First, holding tension in our body will alter our voice, constricting the tone a bit and shifting away from the open, full sound we want to produce. Second, an engaged tongue blocks the sound. Now, of course the tongue will be naturally engaged to some degree while singing, especially while pronouncing the lyrics. But when the tongue is anywhere but resting gently and flatly on the floor of the mouth, it’s in the way, compromising the shape of the tone. Balancing all of these new ways of singing is a lot to think about at first, I know. Stick with the basics: gently engage the core for breath support, and relax the rest of the muscles.
Not only can singing be uplifting in the emotional sense, but it’s anatomically accurate as well. If we’re singing correctly, our bodies as well as our spirits will become uplifted. In the body specifically, I’m talking about the sternum, our upper chest and our ribcage.
This expansive singing posture is also a nice reflection of the open-hearted way in which we are striving to live. Open chest, vulnerable heart, facing forward, ready to meet the world, supporting ourselves with the breath, using our voices with authenticity and integrity to speak and sing our deeper truths. This is how we sing, this is how we live: presently, mindfully, musically, gratefully.
"Singing always leaves me feeling better than I did before."