Another Reason to Sing!
“I sing because I’m happy! I sing because I’m free!”
These are two lines from the song I love to sing in the shower, and I sing them at the top of my voice. Why do you sing? Singing is a wonderful activity which has all sorts of benefits—physical, psychological and emotional, and social. It’s like that health drink that promises to treat every malady under the sun on a cloudy day, except that singing truly does. There is a yet another benefit of singing that I don’t hear people talk much about and I wonder why. I don’t think it’s because we’re not aware of it; maybe it’s so obvious that we overlook it. But before we discuss that other good reason to sing, let’s look briefly at the overall health benefits of singing that people are aware of already.
Physical benefits of singing
Singing is a good form of physical exercise. Yes, it certainly is, especially for seniors, adults with disabilities and injuries. No gym membership required. No special outfit needed, or any outfit at all. No special equipment to buy. You don’t even have to consult your doctor before beginning the exercise. Just open your mouth and sing. And by doing that, you can
- boost your immune system,
- improve your breathing,
- improve your posture, and
- get a better night’s sleep.
However, there is an important caveat: In order to experience these physical benefits from singing, you have to use “proper singing techniques.” What are proper singing techniques? The major ones are posture and breathing.
Posture: Stand (if possible), straighten your spine, and relax your shoulders so that you can get the air you need in your stomach for your lungs to expand. If you want to know more about striking and holding the correct singing posture, check out this site.
Breathing: Breathe correctly so that you are singing from your diaphragm or tummy. Try the fun breathing exercises in this YouTube video.
Better posture and better breathing lead to better circulation in the body, which supports overall better health.
Psychological and emotional benefits of singing
Parents have long been aware of the psychological and emotional benefits of singing. A crying baby that can’t seem to be comforted is soon lulled to sleep by the sound of his mother or nanny singing—even when the song is about a cradle crashing down and taking the baby with it.
Rock-a-bye baby, in the tree tops
When the wind blows the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
Down will come baby, cradle and all
Baby is drowsing, cosy and fair
Mother sits near in her rocking chair
Forward and back, the cradle she swings
Though baby sleeps, he hears what she sings
Thankfully, at that age the lyrics don’t matter to the child, and the rocking cradle or arms are what put him to sleep finally. But the real effect is upon the singer, who succumbs to the potency of her own voice. And there is science behind this effect. According to Take Lessons, Inc:
Singing is known to release endorphins, the feel-good brain chemical that makes you feel uplifted and happy. In addition, scientists have identified a tiny organ in the ear called the sacculus, which responds to the frequencies created by singing. The response creates an immediate sense of pleasure, regardless of what the singing sounds like. Not only that, but singing can simply take your mind off the day’s troubles to boost your mood.
In addition to these mental and emotional benefits, singing can keep the mind sharp, or sharpen it, as needs be. Singing often involves learning—learning new songs, new harmonies—and “learning has long been known to keep brains active and fend off depression, especially in older people”. It’s not surprising, then, that singing acts as a natural antidepressant.
Singing also lowers stress levels. Through correct posture and breathing, it reduces muscle tension and causes the level of the stress hormone cortisol to fall.
Singing improves memory and mental alertness. This has been found to be true particularly for persons who suffer with dementia.
Here’s another caveat: The psychological and emotional benefits of singing—that is, happiness—are most likely to be experienced when you sing along with others.
Social benefits of singing
Why should it matter whether you sing in the shower or on the porch with a group of old friends? “[B]ecause some of the most important ties between singing and happiness are social ones.” Choral singers or people who belong to a choir are said to be among the happiest people in the world!
When you sing with others, especially if it’s on a regular basis, you’re a part of a group, you belong, and that sense of belonging is good for your mood, your self-esteem and your self-confidence. You have a commitment to people who depend on you, you have a support system, and that brings meaning to your life. You also have a reason to get out of the house—out of bed! The sense of belonging, of commitment and of purpose are critical to living healthily, especially if you’re an older adult and/or dealing with loneliness.
So, join, or start, a choir, a quartet, or some sort of singing group in your church, temple, residential community, workplace; or sit on your neighbor’s porch and together sing some of your favorite songs; or break into song around the dinner table, during a family visit: it would make the journey easier.
Another good reason to sing
A healthy body, a happy state of mind, and enjoyable relationships are some pretty good reasons to keep on singing or to begin singing. But, as I said at the beginning, I believe there is yet another good reason to sing. Singing connects with your consciousness. Consciousness is one of the unique characteristics of human beings. “Consciousness refers to your individual awareness of your unique thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations, and environment.” It is “the quality or state of being aware especially of something within oneself; the state or fact of being conscious of an external object, state, or fact.”
Consciousness enables human beings to engage in introspection, to interact with your mind.
When you sing, you interact with your own mind, you talk to yourself in a way that reveals you or makes you aware of what you are feeling in that moment, what you need in that moment. An ancient Hebrew poet wrote and sang:
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
It’s a bit awkward, most would agree, to talk to yourself, to have a dialogue with self; but it is a positive thing, you would agree, to sing to yourself. For in singing to yourself, you connect with yourself on a spiritual level, paying attention to your life, on purpose, and without judgment. Scientists call this kind of interaction mindfulness. The benefits of mindfulness, especially for seniors, are a better immune system, increase in the brain’s grey matter, and decrease in cellular aging, which taken together mean that you won’t grow old as fast as you age.
Singing is all that! The quality of your voice or vocal cords does not matter. Singing is a wonderful activity that strengthens the body, engages the mind, awakens the spirit and enriches the soul. When you sing, you will make friends and get to know yourself better. So, as often as you can sing, sing! In good times and bad times, sing! When you’re happy and sad, sing! When you’re with friends and alone, sing! As you reflect on your journey, sing! As James Weldon Johnson implored African Americans to do: “Lift every voice and sing / Till earth and heaven ring.” Because there are many good reasons to sing.