This post originally appeared on the Full Circle Yoga & Healing Arts Blog on November 7, 2020.
It’s been hard to write lately. With so much going on in the world—pandemic, social injustice, political discord, devastating wildfires, I could go on and on—it doesn’t feel like anything I could say would be important… what can you say to people when so many are suffering? Well, one thing my mentor suggested recently was, “Look for ways to stay connected to your humanity.” This idea really resonated, and I began to look for the little ways my family and I could stay connected to our humanity in our day-to-day lives.
My middle schooler is taking Music Appreciation this semester and the class has introduced him to a variety of new music styles (thank goodness!), one of which is instrumental cover songs. He was so engaged in and excited about his recent listening assignment that he insisted I listen with him, and the evening evolved into an exploration of various instrumental artists and their interpretations (and music videos) of popular songs. My daughter, who is taking violin for school this year, eventually joined us and, before I knew it, we were dancing and singing and laughing the night away together.
Suddenly I was reminded there is powerful healing in song. There are many studies that show the benefits of listening to music and singing, whether on your own, as a group, or in community. In cultures and religions around the world there is tradition and ritual rooted in music because of the ways in which music and song can connect humans, emotionally and spiritually. You can probably think of at least one time where you felt an emotional response to music in a group setting, whether it was singing the national anthem at a sporting event, listening to the songs of protesters, singing hymns in church, sharing a love song with a partner, or hearing a parent calm their child with a lullaby. Throughout the ages, humankind has found connection—whether to each other, to our breath, to the natural world, or to spirit—through song.
That night singing with my kids in my living room, I remembered how much I enjoy the mindfulness of song. Singing keeps you in the present moment, focused on the sound of the melody or the words you’re supposed to sing next. Singing while doing everyday tasks (like folding laundry or doing dishes) can take your attention off the mundane and make it fun. In fact, cultures throughout the centuries have created “work songs” designed specifically to coordinate and make daily tasks enjoyable.
So the next time you’re stuck in your head with your stress and worry, try turning to song. You can put on a song that reminds you of a specific emotion, letting the feeling wash through you as the sound waves pass through the room (this works better with speakers rather than headphones). Or turn on an upbeat song that has a rhythm you can dance to, closing your eyes so you’re not concerned with how you look and can just feel into the music. I like to set a daily alarm on my cell phone, reminding me to take a break from the day-to-day tasks and listen to some music. It can often be just the thing to get you out of your head, into your body, and into the present moment.
- The Health Benefits of Singing. Barbershop Harmony Society, 2019. https://www.barbershop.org/the-health-benefits-of-singing
- Launay, J. and Pearce, E. Choir singing improves health, happiness – and is the perfect icebreaker. The Conversation, 2015. https://theconversation.com/choir-singing-improves-health-happiness-and-is-the-perfect-icebreaker-47619
- Longhi, E., Pickett, N., and Hargreaves, D. J. Wellbeing and hospitalized children: Can music help? Sage Journals, volume 43, issue 2, p. 188-196. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0305735613499781
- Music and health. Harvard Men’s Health Watch, 2011. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/music-and-health
- Schäfer, T., Sedlmeier, P., Städtler, C., Huron, D. The psychological functions of music listening. Frontiers in Psychology, 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3741536/
- Whiteman, H. The power of music: how it can benefit health. Medical News Today, 2015. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/302903
- Work Song. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_song