Sing to Heal
Using the Voice to Uplift Mind and Body
by Marlaina Donato
According to growing research, singing along to a favorite musical or joining a local choir can be good for our health. From college students to patients with Parkinson’s disease, everyone can benefit, regardless of talent. Singing naturally fosters endorphins, amps up immunity levels and lowers the stress hormone cortisol. A study by the UK University of East Anglia published in 2017 in The BMJ’s Medical Humanities shows that group singing—along with the positivity of social interaction—supports and improves mental health in people with depression and anxiety. Singing for the Brain, a program created by The Alzheimer’s Society, has been shown to improve memory, mood and the ability to socialize for people with dementia.
“I feel singing can be significant to mental well-being and healing from an injury or cancer, while in recovery from substance abuse, or to help cope with trauma. Additional benefits may include pain management,” says Tamera Anderson-Hanna, a licensed mental health counselor and the owner of Wellness, Therapy & Yoga, in Miami.
Breathing into Self-Expression
“When we sing, we dive straight into a conscious bodily experience that brings us into immediate connection with our bodies. Singing, especially repetitive singing where we can start to regulate a breath cycle and elongate it, gets us deeply oxygenated,” says Daisy Press, a professional singer and vocal teacher in New York City.
There’s no right or wrong way to reap the benefits of music. A few years into her professional career, Press took a group lesson with a North Indian raga teacher and experienced a deep inner shift. “I was allowed to enjoy the feeling of singing that one note and my mind turned off. I felt the intonation itself in my body—in waves, shapes and colors. Intonation itself became a real living energy that felt essentially good, restorative and healing.”
Lea Longo, a Montreal-based meditation mindfulness coach and musician, concurs. “Singing has been my way to relax, not only my mind, but my body, as well. It uses the breath, a vital tool for health. It’s my go-to place to feel better. I just sing when I need a boost, and it works for me.”
Resonance, Mantra and Humming
“The voice can be considered a healing tool for the fact that it is directly related to resonance in the body,” explains Longo. “We can think of our voice as a tuning fork to ‘tune’ ourselves and use it as a way to heal internally through the vibrations and sounds we produce.” Using sound is a subtle energy therapy that can help heal emotional or physical distress, he says.
Mantra, the recitation of specific words or traditionally sacred chants, is not a religion, but simply a method to quell mental chatter. “Mantras are vibrational tools that can be practiced by any faith or spiritual practice.”
In her work, Anderson-Hanna makes the mantra personal. “I often teach individuals how to create their own mantra and how to challenge their thinking using positive affirmations. The mantra I teach is most often a personal reflection of ‘I am’ statements they can aspire to, versus negative or defeating thoughts.”
Humming, another way to open the voice for healing, is the least intimidating for many people, but packs a powerful punch. “Out of all the many healing sounds I’ve worked with, I find that humming is the most effective because it is so inclusive—everyone can hum. Physiologically, humming reduces heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. Many different beneficial hormones and chemicals are released, including endorphins, oxytocin, melatonin and nitric oxide,” says Jonathan Goldman, co-author of The Humming Effect and director of the Sound Healers Association, in Boulder, Colorado. “The importance of nitric oxide is coming more into light since it is a vasodilator and has anti-viral qualities.” In addition, humming stimulates the vagus nerve, which reduces inflammation and enhances immunity.
Whether we sing children to sleep at night or learn to sing jazz, using our voices can be good medicine. Goldman reminds us, “There are so many different ways that sound can positively shift and change us.”
Marlaina Donato is a recording artist and author. Connect at AutumnEmbersMusic.com.