written by Michele G. Fava MS CCC-SLP
During these times of physical distancing and sometimes social isolation, not to mention a multitude of ever-changing emotions, singing can be a powerful antidote and support. It’s an opportunity to accompany the feelings that are below the surface or perhaps bursting through in unhelpful ways or behaviors.
I like when my song matches my mood. Sometimes it just arises, the right song in the right moment to acknowledge the way I am feeling. Even to accentuate it. I find this very powerful and healing. It’s an honoring of sorts. And when that happens, there is typically a perceived shift in mood. Sometimes it is just a small shift – a change in my body’s response to stress, a feeling of calm perhaps resulting in a sense of clarity, conviction, hope, or relaxation. I’m not trying to create any of these emotions; they just emerge as if from the effects of a good medicine or like a gift from the giver of song.
Singing allows us to connect with how we really feel, whether we sing along with a recording, with our family or neighbors (even out windows to one another) or to ourselves. It can be powerful when a song just arises out of our experience right in the moment. This expression helps move emotions through in a healthy way, regulating our nervous system. Sometimes we just need to express how we feel in song rather than suppressing or avoiding feelings. The saying “what you resist persists” is a truism that applies here and so embracing the emotion through song can be an easier way to meet and be with the feeling.
I used to have “arguments” in an operatic voice with my daughter to help the frustration transform and lighten with silliness. We would sing things like: “you need to do your chores…brush your teeth once more…” and she would answer back in her own operatic voice “no I won’t this time…I am busy leave me alone”. It was hard to be really mad when we communicated through silly song. I invite you, when you get frustrated, scared or sad with the difficult news or your circumstance or when you feel a bit of gratitude: put it in song. The other day I felt so glad to be in my very comfortable pajamas. I had to express all of that joy and so it literally came out in song- “I love my pajamas; they feel so good!” which I kept singing as I delighted in the felt sense of my plush and cozy pj’s.
Physiologically we benefit from singing. The act of singing allows our exhalation to extend longer, promoting increased oxygenation. As a result, we may feel a decrease in anxiety and an increase in alertness and energy. There is evidence that singing can boost your immune system and reduce stress hormones. Breath is the foundation of singing as air is moved out of the lungs and toward the vocal folds by the coordinated action of the diaphragm, abdominal muscles, chest muscles and rib cage. As the airstream passes through our vocal cords (folds) they vibrate creating a buzzing sound. This buzzy sound is then amplified and modified by the resonating cavities (throat, mouth, nasal passages) and then formed into sounds and words when articulated via the tongue, soft palate and lips. Resonance and vibration that occurs during singing can lead to qualities such as intuition, instinct, compassion, love and overall connection and spiritual well-being.
Your voice as an instrument for health and healing: Part 2 will focus on how the physiology of singing can transform our experience. Stay tuned for more on sound and spirit.