Published On: Wed, Mar 26th, 2014

Sing, Sing a Song for health

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The song “Sing” from Sesame Street may just be a suggestion to “Sing, sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong,” but inadvertently, it is telling you to improve your health.

Music therapy has been utilized as a healing force for centuries. It was used by the Ancient Greeks to cure diseases of the minds, throughout Europe to purify souls and by Native Americans through chants during the healing process.

Today, music therapy is still a source for the improvement of emotional and physical ailments.

Along with listening to music to improve one’s mood, individuals can, in a way, “cure” themselves by singing.

Speech pathologist and Pocahontas County Schools director of special education/student services/technology coordinator/transportation Ruth Bland has utilized singing when working with patients with speech issues.

“We do rhythm activities all the time with children who have non-fluent speech,” Bland said. “Stuttering is not the politically correct term any longer, it is children with fluency problems.”

Although the students don’t actually sing during rhythm activities, the exercises are similar to singing.

“You have a prosody in your voice – it’s the sing-song effect of speech,” Bland explained. “There’s some rhythm and tone and pitch in your voice. Stuttering has never been proved whether it’s physiological or whether it’s psychological, but when you change the rhythm, the stuttering behavior, or fluency, goes away.”

For example, Bland said country music singer Mel Tillis has a serious fluency disorder, but when he sings, the disorder goes away.

One reason Bland cites for the difference in talking and singing can be found in the brain. Speech is controlled by a different part of the brain than singing. Similarly, cursive writing is controlled by a different part of the brain than print writing.

“I’ve had people who have had what is called Broca’s Aphasia,” Bland said. “You can’t understand a word [they say] but they can carry the tune and they can sing. Broca’s and Wernicke’s are the two aphasias that we work with and there’s a right hemisphere aphasia which, the people are just articulate as can be, but they can’t write and can’t comprehend what they are writing.”

Along with helping people with fluency disorders, singing can also help those who have damaged their vocal chords.

“I have treated two people in my lifetime for voice disorders because they had sung outside their pitch range and ended up with vocal nodules,” Bland said. “We had to bring them back with their pitch range but not go outside of their pitch range anymore.”

Singing is also beneficial to the body, specifically the lungs.

Dr. Ben Kim, a chiropractor and acupuncturist in Tornoto, Ontario, provides an array of medical advice on his website, drbenkim.com

In an article, “Why Singing is Good for Your Health,” Kim explains the physical benefits reaped from music.

“If you’ve ever been in a choir, you’ve probably been told that the proper way to sing is from your belly,” he wrote. “The ideal is to use your diaphragm – the large muscle that separates your chest and abdominal cavities – to push air out through your vocal cords. Using your diaphragm to sing is a good way to promote a healthy lymphatic system, which in turns promotes a healthy immune system.”

Kim suggests singing on a regular basis, whether on your own or with a group.

Group singing, or singing in a choir has grown more popular recently due to the TV show “Glee” and the movie “Pitch Perfect,” both of which depict a show choir and a cappella groups, respectively. Although both the show and movie showcase high school and college singers, adult choirs have been on the rise, as well.

According to Chorus America, 32.5 million adults sing in choirs, increasing by nearly 10 million in the past six years.

While there is no great physical benefit to singing in a choir, other than the choreographed dance moves, there is an emotional and mental benefit.

In the article “Singing Changes Your Brain,” in Time magazine, Stacy Horn wrote that research has been conducted to find the reason for the energizing effect and elation singing brings to people.

“The elation may come from endorphins, a hormone released by singing, which is associated with feelings of pleasure,” Horn writes. “Or it may be from oxytocin, another hormone released during singing, which has been found to alleviate anxiety and stress.”

The older generation also benefits from singing. People who sing on a regular basis can actually improve their lung capacity which normally depletes with age.

Although he does not “prescribe” singing to his patients, Pocahontas Memorial Hospital respiratory therapist Dean Gunter said singing does improve the power of the lungs.

So whether you are looking to improve your physical or mental health, or just want to entertain yourself and get rid of that gloomy cloud hanging over your head, just “sing, sing a song.”

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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