In our continuous journey to find effective ways to manage stress and enhance mental health, it might come as a surprise to you that the art of singing, particularly the breathing techniques involved, stands out as a remarkably potent tool.
As a singer, songwriter, and coach dedicated to empowering people of all ages through songwriting and singing, I've witnessed firsthand how mastering the art of breathing for singing can be transformative in managing stress, anxiety, and overwhelm, whether you're a teenager, a reporter working in high stress environments, a parent, or someone in the military.
Singing isn't just a tool for feeling seen, heard and validated - there's some key benefits that can assist us exponentially when it comes to tension, anxiety, and stress relief.
Quick Note - Abdominal Breaths: Engaging the Diaphragm
Diaphragm breathing, or abdominal breathing, is a breathing technique where the diaphragm is used effectively, allowing deeper, more efficient breaths. This technique not only improves voice quality but also helps in managing the body's reaction to stress.
The Science Behind Breathing Techniques in Singing
Breathing is the cornerstone of singing. The techniques used by singers, such as deep breathing, breath control, and diaphragm breathing, are not just vital for vocal performance but also for regulating the body's stress response - perfect for every situation from stage fright through to adverse situations.
When we engage in slow, deep, abdominal breaths, we stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which counters the body's stress response and promotes relaxation. And when we learn controlled breathing: our sense of control around those same adverse situations can dramatically improve as well.
Deep breathing, a technique often emphasized in singing, goes beyond mere vocal benefits. It plays a crucial role in managing our emotional state. When we breathe deeply, our body sends a signal to the brain to calm down and relax. This signal then travels to the rest of the body, offering a counterbalance to the stress response. This process is particularly beneficial in reducing the physical symptoms of stress, such as an elevated heart rate or rapid breathing. By incorporating deep breathing exercises into our daily routine, we can train our bodies to handle stress more effectively, making us more resilient in the face of life's challenges.
Moreover, the practice of breath control, integral to both singing and stress management, teaches us to be mindful of our breathing pattern. This mindfulness can lead to a heightened awareness of our emotional state, allowing us to recognize signs of stress early on. By adjusting our breathing pattern – slowing it down and making it more deliberate – we can actively engage in reducing our stress levels. This kind of control when it comes to our breath not only helps in immediate stress relief but also contributes to long-term emotional regulation. Over time, individuals who practice these breathing techniques often find themselves better equipped to handle stressful situations, leading to a more balanced and calm approach to life's ups and downs.
Deep Breathing: A Natural Stress Reliever
Deep breathing exercises, a fundamental aspect of singing, have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce stress levels, and help in calming the mind. This type of breathing encourages full oxygen exchange, which can slow the heartbeat and stabilize blood pressure, thereby reducing stress.
Some common breathing exercises you might hear about are:
Box breathing: inhale slowly for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale slowly for four counts, and hold for a further four counts before repeating the process over again.
Pursed lip breathing: Keeping your mouth closed, inhale slowly through your nose for 2 counts, pucker your lips as though you were going to whistle, then exhale slowly by blowing air through your pursed lips for a count of four.
Diaphragmatic breathing [otherwise known as belly breathing or abdominal breathing]: Lie down on the floor, with your lower back flush against the ground, and your knees propped up with your feet flat. Place one hand on your upper chest and one hand below your rib cage [pinky finger on your belly button], so you can feel the movement of your diaphragm [which is a large pillow of muscle located directly under your lungs]. Inhale through your mouth or your nose, and feel your stomach rise as your lungs fill with air. Take note to keep your other hand [on your chest] as still as possible. Exhale using pursed lips as you tighten your abdominal muscles, keeping your upper hand - again - completely still.
Lions Breath: Settle into a cozy seated posture. Feel free to sit with your legs crossed or rest back on your heels, whichever feels more comfortable for you. Place your hands on your knees, spreading your fingers out wide to feel grounded and stable. Begin by taking a deep inhalation through your nose, allowing your eyes to open widely in response. Simultaneously, open your mouth as wide as you can, extending your tongue out and down towards your chin. As you do this, engage the muscles at the front of your throat. Now, exhale forcefully through your mouth, creating a prolonged “haaa” sound, as if you are fogging up a mirror. This exhalation should be robust and engaging. Direct your gaze gently upwards, either towards the space between your eyebrows or focusing on the tip of your nose, whichever feels more comfortable for your eyes. Repeat this breathing exercise 2 to 3 times, allowing yourself to feel the release and rejuvenation with each breath.
Bee Breath: Gently close your eyes and ease the muscles in your face. Rest your index fingers lightly on the tragus cartilage, which is near your ear canal. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale, softly press your fingers against the cartilage. With your mouth closed, create a deep humming noise. Carry on with this practice for a duration that feels comfortable for you.
Jaw Release: Similar to the bee breathing technique, close your eyes, and relax the muscles in your face again. Pretending you have a piece of really sticky fudge in your mouth: breathe in fully using your diaphragmatic breathing technique whilst exaggeratedly chewing said pretend fudge. As you exhale, hum quietly from a relatively low note to a higher third, and back down.
Breath Control: More Than Just a Vocal Technique
Breath control, essential in singing, is about managing the breathing pattern. This control can lead to a significant reduction in the symptoms of anxiety. By focusing on controlling their breath, individuals can divert their attention away from stressors, promoting a sense of calm and focus.
But it can also positively affect our long term health as well:
Controlled breathing can cause physiological changes that include:
lowered blood pressure and heart rate
reduced levels of stress hormones in the blood
reduced lactic acid build-up in muscle tissue
balanced levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood
improved immune system functioning
increased physical energy
increased feelings of calm and wellbeing.
Relaxation Techniques: The Role of Singing
Singing incorporates various relaxation techniques, including box breathing and other breath exercises, which are known to alleviate stress and anxiety. These techniques can help in lowering the heart rate and reducing muscle tension, leading to a more relaxed state.
But singing can do so much more than that.
The Impact on Stress Levels and Overall Health
I tell my students this all the time, but regular engagement in singing and its associated breathing exercises can have a profound impact on overall health. By consistently practicing these techniques, individuals can better manage their stress levels, leading to improvements in both mental and physical health.
Practical Applications: How to Use Singing Breathing in Daily Life
Incorporate Breathing Exercises into Your Routine: Start or end your day with a few minutes of deep breathing or diaphragm breathing exercises. This can set a calm tone for the day or help in unwinding before bed.
Use Your Breath During Stressful Moments: When feeling overwhelmed, pause and focus on controlling your breath. This can be a quick and effective way to reduce stress in the moment.
Practice Mindful Singing: Engage in singing as a form of mindfulness. Pay attention to your breathing pattern, the rhythm of your breath, and how your body feels as you sing.
Join a Choir or Singing Group: Regularly singing with others can enhance the benefits of singing breathing techniques, while also providing social support and reducing feelings of isolation.
Write and Sing Your Own Songs: Expressing yourself through songwriting as well as singing can be a powerful way to process emotions and relieve anxiety.
So... What Does this Look like for You and Your Stress Levels?
The act of singing and songwriting, with its inherent breathing techniques, posture hacks and ability to cognitive reframe negative into positive, offers a holistic approach to managing stress, anxiety, and overwhelm. By incorporating these techniques into your daily life, you can tap into a natural, effective way to minimize stress, improve your mental health, and find a greater sense of balance and calm in your life.
Especially if you exist in a high-stress environment or workplace, and need to find quick, effective ways to manage your anxiety and overwhelm.
Remember, your voice is not just a tool for musical expression, but also a key to unlocking a more relaxed, balanced, and joyful state of being. Embrace the power of singing and let the rhythm of, and ability to control your breath guide you to a place of peace and resilience.
For more insights into how singing can transform your stress management strategies, feel free to reach out to me. Together, we can explore the world of singing and breathing techniques to find the perfect harmony for your mental and emotional well-being.
Click here to book your free breakthrough call with me to learn more about Empowerment through Singing and Songwriting coaching.
I look forward to speaking with you soon!
~ Emma G