Singing for Self-Care
What is it about singing in the shower, or belting out a tune in the car, that feels so good? You may have heard about singing's affect on the nervous system and our happy hormones (see my course, Bio-hacking your Brain with Singing), but it's so much more than that!
It doesn’t matter if you’ve never had a lesson, or even consider yourself a singer. If you can make a sound, you can use the hidden power of your voice for relaxation, restoration and transformation.
Singing can have positive impacts on us physically, mentally, socially and even spiritually. You can think of it as using your voice for your non-musical goals- that is, to feel rested, rejuvenated happily function at the best of our ability.... although you may find your voice improves as an added bonus!
Singing for Self-Care shifts our perspective from thinking of music as something passively happening to us, to something we can actively harness to improve our lives.
1. It doesn’t require training.
This may seem like a strange thing to say as a singing teacher. But when it comes to our intention of singing for self-care, all you need is your natural voice.
Many of us have past programming that our voices don’t have value. Perhaps you were told you had an ugly singing voice when you were a child, or someone made fun of you when you were singing your heart out in front of the mirror. These experiences are sadly very common and can have a lasting impact on people’s relationship with their voice.
The truth is though, much like the conversations around body-shaming, there is absolutely nothing wrong with your voice. Likely, some of your favourite singers might not have conventionally beautiful voices, but sing with such authenticity and emotion that it doesn't matter. Your worth as a person and your right to express yourself does not change depending on if you can sing in tune or not, or which high notes you can or cannot hit.
2. It’s neural dense.
Singing is one of the most neural dense activities we can do as humans. This means that we are engaging a lot of different parts of the brain as we sing. The cool thing about this is that certain elements of singing technique affect certain parts of the brain.
For example, singing has a direct impact on our autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for our feelings of relaxation and peace. Singing also has a positive effect on our hormones.
If you’re interested in learning more about this, I take a deep-dive into the biochemical effects of singing, and as a result, how we can use singing to improve our health here.
3. It communicates something deeper.
Singing has the power to plunge into our unconscious mind. While singing activates our prefrontal cortex, where we process thoughts and analyse things, it also works in deeper and more ancient parts of the brain. Oftentimes when we sing, we connect with an inner universe of emotions below the surface. We can get into a state of flow where we are expressing freely and genuinely.
By its very nature, you can’t rationally wrangle with your unconscious mind. When we sing without “thinking”, as in not using our analytical brain, we have the ability to reach a little deeper. At the end of a singing session, we may actually come to an understanding of a pattern, behaviour or situation in our lives that we couldn’t have arrived at had we tried to nut out the problem with something like journaling alone.
4. It’s portable.
There are many aspects of our singing for self-care practice that can be done either silently or with very little noise! It's perfect if you need a little pick-me-up at work or school without openly serenading the people around you (...or you could treat them to a free concert!)
For example, an important aspect of singing is obviously breathing. With singing, we aim to take deep, diaphragmatic breaths, which is sometimes referred to in meditation as belly breathing. You can do this absolutely anywhere. You could be cooking dinner, driving, doing your shopping, or maybe you want to get focused and calm before walking into a job interview or a situation where you know you will be under pressure. Taking a few diaphragmatic breaths has a very calming effect on the nervous system.
If you want to actually vocalise on the go but would prefer to keep the volume down, Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract exercises (or SOVTs) are the way to go. This is basically just a fancy way of singing with your mouth partially closed, which you can do by humming, or singing through a straw. Not only will you be quieter, but these exercises are also very gentle and therapeutic for your voice.
And of course, wherever you go, your voice will go with you!
5. It’s social.
It’s thought that singing evolved out of a need for human connection. And this is mirrored with the pleasure hormones released as we sing, especially with a group. Singing can be a social activity that connects us with our community, and this sense of connectedness is very important for our mental health.
Even with physical distancing during the pandemic, we can still enjoy singing together. You can join a virtual choir, or even explore “duet with me” type videos on tiktok or smule. Not to mention, you can crank up a song and sing with your favourite singers, maybe even having fun with experimenting with harmonies!
6. It’s an anchor for meditation.
If you’re familiar with meditation, you may know that meditation requires a thought anchor. This is a point you always gently return the spotlight of your attention to when your mind wanders. A lot of the time this may be the breath, so as your mind inevitably wanders to another thought, you notice this and then gently refocus on your breath. With breathing being such an important part of singing, you can absolutely choose the breath as your anchor, but you can also choose to use vocalisations instead. The wonderful thing about using vocalisation as a meditation anchor is that is it so versatile.
Singing provides added sensory feedback in your body. As you breathe out to sing, you could focus on the vibrations you are creating with your voice. Where do you feel them in your body? How do they relate to your breathing pattern? What if you sing loudly or softly? High or low?
This curious, non-judgmental and relaxed exploration of our bodies is incredibly healthy for us. It has the power to rewire some of our negative self-talk and judgments and just enjoy the moment.
7. It’s spiritual.
Singing in meditation, or chanting, is a spiritual practice shared by many cultures and religions throughout the world. There is the classic example of “om” in Hindu tradition, but singing mantras is also practiced in Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism and Christianity (think, Gregorian chants).
You can use chanting in any way that aligns with your faith, and this also includes chanting in a completely secular or non-religious way. One of my favourite ways to incorporate singing into my meditation is with the use of singing affirmations over and over.
8. It develops a skill.
When you sing regularly as part of your self-care practice, you are indirectly... practising!
Practising singing doesn't necessarily have to mean drilling scales, or hard phrases over and over.
Despite our intention being different when we use singing for self-care, we are still reaping technical benefits.
For example, if you are spending 15 minutes a day solely focused on diaphragmatic breathing, or perhaps the sensation of keeping your hum completely constant on a nice smooth exhalation, you are having an impact on your singing. These are fundamental parts of singing technique! So in your meditative practice, you are subconsciously improving your singing voice at the same time!
9. It helps us with our sense of self.
Harking back to the self-limiting beliefs many of us hold about our voices, it can go beyond being shamed about what our voices sound like, and actually deeper into our sense of self and expression. Maybe you were told to shut up and be quiet a lot as a child, perhaps your ideas or passions were laughed at, maybe people constantly talk over you, gaslight you, or make you feel small. There are countless factors in our lives which may make us feel like our feelings don’t matter. Maybe you have issues expressing your needs, your boundaries, or just saying no to people. When you feel like you can’t express yourself freely, how is that reflected in your sense of self? Do you feel undeserving? Unseen? Unloved?
When you bring singing into your self-care practice, not only are you reclaiming your physical voice and its sound, you are also reclaiming you essence. What makes you, you. You are re-learning that it’s ok for you to express what’s in your heart and mind.
10. It holds space.
Your self-care practice is time for you. It’s a self-created space where you can safely express whatever you need to. Singing allows you to explore your own feelings, physical sensations and thoughts in many different ways. Singing is a wonderful way of exploring emotions without judgment and then letting them go.
With singing and creating sound, you are also taking up more space. Not only are we taking up the physical space we deserve as we breathe deeply and expansively, but also with our voice radiating out, we take up more space with sound waves too! Singing for self-care is a beautiful tool in which we can work past habits of withholding our opinions, ideas and thoughts, and can express ourselves unapologetically.
Bonus: 11. It’s free.
It's so obvious is almost goes without saying! This is your body. You have complete agency. Singing with the intention of self-care is something that you can do any time, any place, and for zero cost. Yet it is hugely valuable.
Tell me in the comments, how do you incorporate singing into your self-care?