The Big Idea
It seems that quite by accident I was habit stacking when my #Tip16 Brew & Dance videos were banned in certain countries – because I was singing along as well! Who knows whether it was the singing or the dancing that was most dangerous – but the science stands – singing along to your favourite tracks is positively good for you.
We invited Cathy Hart back to join us on the live. Cathy knows her onions as she teaches singing and breathing exercises – you will perhaps remember her previously (#Tip5) as she is now famous in our world for turning down the singing coach role on the X Factor! As her proper job these days, Cathy is a Life Coach specialising in confidence and a Vocal Health First Aider. Find out more about her amazing work here
Cathy helped us to understand that helpfully for most of us who don’t have an winning X Factor style voice, that the quality of the singing doesn’t matter – it is the pure act of using your instrument – your voice – along to music and cadence that does the magic – even if you believe yourself to be tone deaf. So whilst your family might not thank you for belting out your favourite tunes in the shower, or whilst hoovering or whilst dancing at a party after a little too much fizz, you go on ahead – you are doing great things for your immune system and adding to your oxytocin reserves. More on that below – for now, just know that it is doing you the power of good.
It doesn’t stop there. There’s much more than just a brain chemical release going on when you choose to sing out loud. Your emotions can actually change as a result of singing particular songs. Some of that is physical – you may remember the power of Beats Per Minute or BPM from #Tip12 – well it seems that singing enhances those benefits – by singing along to faster songs with a quicker BPM you increase your heart rate. Singing along to a song with fewer BPMs slows it down. So even if you are without your radio or access to your favourite music, you can still create some of the benefits that come from listening to music by creating your own – with the equipment you can’t fail to remember to take on your travels – your lungs, diaphragm, voice box and vocal chords!
We have talked a lot about choice so far on The52Project – the fact that if you are mindful about your moods or you understand the mindset that would most help you to achieve a task, you can then choose to do an activity that actively changes your mood or shifts your mindset. The power of singing is another brilliant habit to stack when you feel down in the dumps and want to feel better. Or when you are a bit too hyper and distracted – and you need to get a bit more serious, because choosing a song to sing along to will actively shift your mindset or mood – the science says our brain really can’t help it!
The phrase “fake it ’till you make it” also applies. If you are feeling low and want to stay low, by all means put on the sad love songs and sing along to them in the bath with the lights off! We have all felt the need to wallow in our time! Cathy reminds us that crying is a helpful way of releasing emotions that, if we suppress, can fester. If you want to feel better – or simply need to put on a brave face because you have to go to work or face the family downstairs – then stick on a happy song and sing along – if you stack #Tip10 in and keep smiling throughout, your brain simply has no choice. It cheers itself up by releasing chemicals by the physical act of smiling and singing. Actually smiling can also help with the tone of our voice when singing too.
Give it a go now -and let’s keep it simple as you might be in company and not quite ready to burst into song! Instead try saying to yourself now “I’m really so excited about this!” Chances are your voice was quite quick and probably higher in pitch than usual? Now trying saying “I feel so bored today.” Chances are your voice was lower and slower. In effect these changes in tone and pace are ‘singing’ in it’s simplest form – we are simply putting those tones and cadences to a rhythm that matches and conveys the mood. In effect Cathy helps us to understand we are all singers – even if we think we really can’t sing.
For those of you saying “I really can’t sing though, so I feel really embarrassed when I do – even if I am on my own” – help is at hand – if you are brave enough to just try! Did you know that when you sing in a group for example – say at a sports match or in a choir, your voice will automatically improve, simply by being surrounded by other voices? Cathy also had a great point to make:
“People will often be worried about coming along to a choir because they “can’t sing”. What I help them to understand is your voice is just like your legs. You first learn to use them to walk. But once you can do that you can learn to hop or teach yourself to skip – and in the case of skipping – the more practise you do, the better you get. Think about running a marathon. It might well be true that most of us couldn’t get up and run one in the morning with no training! But with training, even some unlikely people you know will have done a couch to 5k and onwards from there. Voices are just the same. We learn to talk, and with practise you can learn to sing. In fact, I haven’t met anyone yet who can’t sing with practise, so if you really think that could be you, I’d love to hear from you!”
One phrase we loved from speaking to Cathy was the idea of our ‘inner tash ‘ – the muscles above our lips that do so much more than enable us to twitch our moustaches! “When we imagine moving our imaginary twirly, handlebar moustaches, we can begin to make real changes to the sounds that we can make with our voice without try to change our voice – it’s fun! [laughs] You have a go!”
Got it…What’s the Science
Okay – so as you have probably already gathered there is A LOT of science behind this tip!
Firstly we know that singing, especially when we make a noise that is at least pleasing to us, leads to us firing up our reward circuits that includes the release of dopamine. As you are probably already aware, dopamine is our brain’s happy and reward chemical. So right from the start we are impacting out brain’s wellbeing.
As we have already explored in #Tip5 with Cathy we know that breathing is an essential way of helping our body to regulate it’s vagal tone – to help us slow down and be present, as well as to provide that all important oxygen to our brains. More blood oxygen to our brain, improve mental clarity, concentration and alertness.This also helps reduce our stress levels. In fact, you may have heard that singing helps to reduce stress levels, alleviate anxiety and promote optimal mental health.
The singing mental health link isn’t just a placebo effect. There is a growing body of evidence drawing an undeniable link between singing and improved wellbeing. Singing is proven to release endorphins (natural pain killers) and oxytocin, which is known to stimulate feelings of trust and bonding (connection) and so reduce feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression. Singers have been observed to have lower levels of our main stress hormone cortisol. This was true even for vocalists who may be facing more difficulties and are undergoing stressful situations, compared to those who don’t sing. Those that sing together are also known to share a greater sense of belonging and community which is by itself a protector against social stress and isolation such as that that can be caused by lockdowns and working from. Amazingly, when people sing together their breathing and also heartbeats begin to work synchronously. This social cohesion as well as the use of singing to remember and convey social history is probably part of the evolutionary reason for singing. Also we know we are also not the only animals to sing – for instance birds and whales sing – although it is unclear if we are the only animals to sing for fun.
And it doesn’t stop there…
If you sing you stimulate your immune system. Studies have shown that those who sang showed higher levels of immunoglobulin A, an antibody your body secretes to help you fend off infections. Interestingly, listening to music (without singing along) reduced stress hormones but didn’t stimulate the body’s immune system in the same way. So it seems that there is a link between singing and our body’s ability to fight infection.
Regularly singing is also know to improve the capacity of our cardiovascular systems which in turn means, especially with an improved ability to fight infection, we are more able to physically deal with stress, making our bodies more physically resilient. Singing can also help those with asthma and COPD. Those that sing regularly in choirs are also less likely to snore – yes snore! And we all know that snoring can disrupt our, as well as others’, sleep – sleep itself being important in our bodies’ physical, emotional and cognitive (thinking, learning and memory) health and wellbeing.
Singing also activates all sorts of circuits in the brain and like dancing (#Tip16) can give our brains a good all over work out. When we speak, regions in the left-hand side of brain are particularly involved (Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas) that are involved with speaking and understanding languages. But when we sing, we also tap into and more creative brain functions that are proportionally more associated with the right-hand side of our brains, to help produce the rhythm and melody of music. Singing involves many body functions, combining vocal sound with language and movement fires more of the brain and uses the whole body to express and communicate – again cue our habit stacking with say dancing (#Tip16). Amazingly someone might have a speech impediment but it won’t be as apparent (even absent) when they sing – because it’s ‘coming from’ and involving more of the brain to do it. Even heavy regional accents are less noticeable when people sing.
Singing seems simple, but it is actually an incredibly complicated motor activity. Like athletes, singers have to train their muscles, to project their voice in a certain way (professional singers are athletes – targeted training for multiple hours every day). BUT everyone can sing to their own standard and ability and still get the benefits. Not just laryngeal (throat) activity, singing develops musicality, musicianship and ear tuning/training is necessary which helps with listening/communication skills in other areas of our lives too.
We have already touched on how music, in particular, is inherently ‘built into’ our brains’ operating systems (#Tip12) and has benefits of improved cognition, particularly, during later stages of life. Learning to sing at any stage in life, but particularly late into adulthood can even help you retain speech and communication skills. Singing has been found to improve concentration and memory retention, particularly in people suffering from cognitive impairment and dementia. In fact choirs and singing ensembles are becoming increasingly popular in music therapy and mental health treatments including for those suffering with grief and loss – even impeding loss like for those with terminal cancer and their families.
While our voice is extremely personal to us, and while many people shy away from expressing themselves through singing, it can actually give us a thrilling sensation of letting go and allowing our authentic vocal to shine through. What happens when we sing together? Group singing can build a sense of community and it has even been proven to synchronise heartbeats, making it comparable to a guided meditation. Getting out there (even if its virtual), meeting like-minded people and immersing yourself into the joy of singing alleviates feelings of loneliness and depression. Working together to create a beautiful harmony will build trust among you and your peers while increasing your confidence too. It gives a sense of oneness.
What is truly fantastic about the research is that you don’t have to be a professional singer, have to sing in a choir, or strive to achieve perfection to reap the benefits singing can provide for you. There is no need to become the next Beyonce. Singing is unique because you don’t need to buy any expensive instruments to create sounds and actively participate in the creation of music. If you haven’t already, we highly recommend you try singing as a hobby, while you boil the kettle, in the shower, in the car or join a local choir and see what benefits you can achieve by just using your vocal and having fun with your favourite songs.
Watch our #Tip18 on the Instagram Live Recording….
It’s better together: The psychological benefits of singing in a choir by Stewart & Lonsdale , 2016
This is a “might as well” stacking tip for us! If you are doing a 30 Second Cold Shower (#Tip1) or a Warm Bath (#Tip2), listening to something on your ‘Playlist for Life’ (#Tip12) or doing a ‘Brew and Dance’ (#Tip16) you simply MAY AS WELL sing along! You are doing those things anyway and you add a simple stack to boost your brain. Quite simply what’s not to like? Absolutely nothing for you, but as always we have to put in a word of caution: you may have neighbours!
Finally as Cathy says “what’s amazing is that anatomically speaking, there’s no difference between Whitney Houston’s vocal system and yours”.
To find out more about singing – how about trying a free first session with one of Cathy’s choirs – take a look at Got2Sing.
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