Saturday, November 6, 2010

Singing Your Way To Health

I got my flu shot this week, and what do you know, but I have a cold!

So, what did I do last night? Instead of lying about in bed, I went to a rehearsal, to SING. And I came home tired, but feeling good.

Crazy? Well, I might be a little wacky, but not because of that.

Back in August, I was invited to present a vocal workshop to a church choir. The emphasis was to be on vocal technique, but as I was thinking about how to make a presentation on the technical aspects of breathing and making sound, due to the particular circumstances of certain people I know, I could not help but also think about singing from a healing perspective.

I said to the assembled choristers that our times in worship are about regrouping, re-centering and renewal, a turning and returning to being in tune with the Divine. Whether we celebrate in churches, synagogues or mosques, we are meeting the Divine from our grounding as individuals, as well as from within the harmony of our larger fellowship community or our greater culture. The shared element between each of person and the Divine could be described as unity of spirit--a vibratory exchange resulting in a sense of well being or peace.

Outlandish? New Age? Hippy-dippy?

Not so, not so!

Everything in the universe vibrates. Even seemingly solid stone mass vibrates. Children hiking through a dark forest hum and sing songs to themselves. How could it not be so that humming, toning, chant and song are an individual’s innate vibrational self-healing tool, a built-in coping mechanism? As physical beings, we are music; everywhere we go, we carry our song with us.  That famous line from T.S. Eliot’s Dry Salvages says it all: “You are the music, while the music lasts.”  This is a truth that is not new; this is timeless wisdom.

The great Sufi teacher to West, Hazrat Inayat Khan offers this, on the power of sound:

The physical effect of sound has also a great influence upon the human body. The whole mechanism, the muscles, the blood circulation, the nerves, are all moved by the power of vibration. As there is a resonance for every sound, so the human body is a living resonator for sound. Although by one sound one can produce a resonance in all substances, such as brass and copper, the there is no greater and more living resonator of sound than the human body. The effect of sound is upon each atom of the body, for each atom resounds; on all glands, on the circulation of the blood and on the pulsation sound has its effect. (Khan, 1992)
How many times have you gone to a concert hall feeling stressed from a long day at work, and exited feeling refreshed. Moreover, everyone around you seems to feel the same things you do about the performance you just heard. What is this? It is called entrainment, a synchronization of patterns, whether they are brain wave patterns, attitudinal patterns, emotional patterns. The Wiki definition of entrainment from a pure physics perspective is given:
The process whereby two interacting oscillating systems assume the same period. (Wikipedia, 2009)
More recently, the science of entrainment is being applied in different areas, such as music for therapeutic use, in the clinical setting, as treatment for everything from depression to personality disorders to cancer.
Sound enters the healing equation from several directions: It may alter cellular functions through energetic effects; it may entrain biological systems to function more homeostatically; it may calm the mind and therefore the body; or it may have emotional effects, which influence neurotransmitters and neuropeptides, which in turn help to regulate the immune system--the healer within. (Gaynor, 1999)
Singing is an activity in which both hemispheres of the brain are simultaneously activated, coordinating and cooperating to get all the right muscles to work together to gather the breath, form the words and  sounds, find the pitches and control the air flow that results in the song. Research shows that neither side of the brain dominates in music making (Gates & Bradshaw, 1977). When you sing, or engage in any music making, it could be said that you are single of mind, because your brain hemispheres are working together toward a single outcome.

I personally know singers who have sung and instrumentalists who have played through major health crises, coming out the other side, not merely healed, but transformed.

So, whether you have a cold today (like I do) or not, help yourself to a mantra or hum a little tune, or, heck, just belt out that cool, jazzy song you love in the shower.

You'll feel better. I guarantee it.



Gates, Anne and Bradshaw, John L. Brain and Language, Vol. 4, Issue 3. Elsevier, Inc., 1977. Pp. 401-431: "The Role of the Cerebral Hemispheres in Music".
Gaynor, Mitchell L. Sounds of Healing, Broadway Books, 1999, P, 134.
Khan, Hazrat Inayat. The Mysticism of Sound and Magic, Element Books, 1992. Pp.261, 263.
Wikipedia,, 2009.


  1. Wonderful Post! I'm very concerned about the lack of singing in my generation. Even just singing for your own enjoyment. Lots of people who play instruments neglect their voice. As a singer this makes me sad. The voice is the one instrument you'll always have with you. It will always be your voice.

  2. Thank you! Yes, it is sad that singing is not cultivated as much as in past generations. I think this is partly because people expect perfection, from themselves and others--I have heard personal accounts of how people were discouraged from singing, as children.

    The thing is, singing is so natural to most people; I can imagine that being told to suppress the inner urge to sing has a lasting negative impact on a person's desire to be spontaneously expressive in any way.

    Things are looking up, however, with the resurgence in popularity of a cappella ensembles, and programs like "Glee".

    If singing is natural for you, I invite you to keep making a joyful noise!