Singing for health

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Research studies show that the health benefits of singing are far greater than most people realise. Music, and in particular singing, is a beautiful human phenomenon that has evolved with us possibly since Homo Sapiens evolved advanced speech patterns. The vast range of songs seem to be universal, including dance, lullabies, healing and love songs to more functional forms of singing such as the Swedish ancient herding call “kulning“. But from my decades of experience I believe there’s so more to it. Mother Nature is supremely clever, and using the body to sing has more function than simply for auditory pleasure.

Importance of breath in singing for health

It may seem obvious to all that breathing is a fundamental part of being a human, and not something that we spend a lot of time thinking about. Unfortunately, dysfunctional breathing is extremely common, and can negatively impact all aspects of our lives. Correct breath management is obviously crucial for good singing. By working on achieving a full, deep breath in singing, which involves releasing the abdominal muscles and expanding the intercostal muscles, we begin to understand what correct breathing could feel like.

This is perhaps the most obvious benefit of singing – improved lung function, which consequently increases the amount of oxygen in the blood (Idrose  et al). As important as getting oxygen in to the blood is getting carbon dioxide out of the system, something that may be overlooked in cases of breathing dysfunction ( i.e. hyperventilation in anxiety attacks). When we sing, whether it is a long vocal exercise, or a long phrase in an opera aria, we get accustomed to fully releasing our breath, and at the same time becoming more CO2 tolerant, which is something that is recognised to improve sport performance as well as aid in anxiety reduction.


Singing also seems to have a strong impact on the function of our immune system. This study showed that singing leads to increases in Secretory IgA, the key defence our body uses to protect from pathogens that may penetrate mucosal surfaces, while any negative affect is reduced. Research also shows a decrease in the stress hormones cortisol and cortisone when we sing in low-stress situations.

Collectivity and singing for health

Singing collectively, as in a choir, is also an ancient practice, and researchers found that when people sing together, they develop a strong sense of community and social inclusion. It can also cause your body to release the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which may help give you a heightened sense of connectedness.

The Vagus Connection

What I find particularly interesting is the  connection between singing and the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It connects your brain to many important organs throughout the body, including the gut (intestines, stomach), heart and lungs. The vagus is also a key part of our parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system.

It influences our breathing, digestive function and heart rate, all of which can have a huge impact on our mental health. Increasing the vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and having higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress. Researcher have discovered a positive feedback loop between high vagal tone, positive emotions, and good physical health. In other words, the more you increase your vagal tone, the more your physical and mental health will improve, and vice versa.

This is when it gets really interesting! Singing has proven to be a great way of toning the vagus nerve, thus improving mental, emotional and physical health, including reduction in stress and anxiety. Because the vagus nerve is connected to the larynx, when we hum, sing or chant (or gargle with water!), the nerve is stimulated, and consequently positive outcomes are created.

In my teaching, I have had clients come to me with with various challenges in terms of health, ranging from Complex PTSD to acute anxiety, and I find that when given a safe space to work and explore their voice, the mere act of singing has a robust and lasting positive effect on their well-being, particularly in CPTSD.

Although music and singing has consumed my professional life , I’m finding more and more that ” systems” tend to overlap, and therefore my holistic interest in singing, not just as an artistic expression, is growing. By constantly reading new research in whole systems medicine I have been inspired to find new ways to help my clients not only become better singers, but also to live fuller lives and feel better in themselves

Nitric oxide and health

Nitric oxide ( NO ) has become a bit of a buzz word in the health conscious community, and for obvious reasons. It was discovered by Nobel price winning researchers in 1998 that NO, the most abundant gas in the human body, “acts as a signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system”, it is a vasodilator, maintains endothelial cell barrier function ,and acts as an antimicrobial agent, with many, many other functions in addition.

The mucosa of the nose and sinuses release nitric oxide. Sinus epithelium produces an especially large amount of nitric oxide and it has been reported that levels of exhaled nasal nitric oxide increase dramatically if a person hums while exhaling rather than exhaling silently. And what is humming? Well, it’s simply phonating on the consonant “M”, which is something my clients can confirm that I have them do frequently as a vocal exercise!

As a vocal exercise it is hugely useful for the singer to connect to their breath, appoggio, and to find resonance in the nasal cavities. We now know that in addition, humming produces more than 7 times more nitric oxide in the nasal cavities than simply exhaling through the nose without phonating.

The NO has antimicrobial properties which can act protectively in the nasal passage from pathogens, and there is clear evidence that one can use humming to rid oneself from chronic sinusitis! Nitric oxide produced in the nasal cavities through humming may also help to reduce respiratory tract infection by inactivating viruses and inhibiting their replication in epithelial cells. Clinical trials have been designed to examine the effects of inhaled nitric oxide in COVID-19 subjects.