Instinctively we know that music and singing affect us. It’s a language that crosses continents and cultures, and allows us to share uplifting experiences. Singing songs from other cultures helps us build appreciation for everything we have to offer each other. Our singing, by ourselves or in a group, not only lifts our spirits but also enhances our health. The best part is, a star quality voice isn’t needed to have fun and reap the benefits. Decades of scientific evidence document that singing is good for our body, mind and spirit.
In the award-winning documentary film Alive Inside, Dan Cohen, a social worker, went to a nursing home for people with dementia. Working with each person, he found out what music they liked and made a play list for them. As the residents listened to their personal choices, people who were barely talking proceeded to sing along to their music and dance. The outbreak of spontaneous singing took the staff by surprise. The door to their memory, that had been closed for so long, was now opening. The film concluded that both listening to music and singing reactivates the area of the brain that controls reasoning, speech, memory and emotion. So, singing improves cognition and clear thinking.
Researchers at a Harvard associated medical center have shown that singing helps people recover from strokes and brain injuries. Singing is part of the process to relearn speech. Former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords used song therapy to help her recover her ability to talk when a gun shot wound to her head destroyed her speech. By singing first and then slowly dropping the melody, two years later she was able to testify before a Congressional committee. Even healthy people who sing learn words and phrases faster.
There are other benefits just waiting to be claimed with a song in the shower, or humming tunes on a road trip. Singing releases endorphins that make us feel good, and reduces the hormone cortisol so stress is reduced. The positive feelings of the endorphins can also help decrease pain. Singing can stimulate our immune system because it soothes us and lowers our blood pressure.
Patients in hospitals are able to calm themselves by singing their favorite songs. Their minds are quieted because fear and worry are reduced. Recovering from surgery, my sister-in-law remembers one particular nurse that would walk the hall at night singing soothing songs. She remembers it because it was comforting to be sung to when she was in pain, and she could quietly hum along. Singing can be both a gift to ourself and others.
Singing improves lung function because it involves deep breathing and use of our respiratory muscles. This means that people who have asthma, cancer, COPD, and multiple sclerosis can benefit from singing. When we sing our posture is often improved. Regular singing can change breathing patterns enough to decrease snoring (my husband needs this one). This just keeps getting better and better.
Singing can help us process grief so it helps with emotional pain. I’ve sung to myself when I’ve needed a dose of serenity in the middle of something difficult. Songs don’t have to be pretty – we can sing while we’re crying which releases our pain, so healing can begin. Let’s sing bravely when we’re hurting and don’t know what to do. Let’s give voice to the anguish built up inside and let it out so a ray of hope, or peace, or relief can enter.
Whether it’s singing or humming, it relaxes both body and mind, keeps us grounded and reduces unproductive thinking. Because it quiets the mind, we can more easily find our spiritual place of inner peace and serenity. What an amazing thing it is that our voice can carry healing energy throughout our body. Let’s give ourselves permission to break into song more often, or join a singing group for greater social connectedness. In Mitch Albom’s words. “God sings, we hum along, and there are many melodies, but it’s all one song – one same, wonderful human song”
Until Next Time – Sylvia