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.

Project Calm - - Contents -

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."

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