Sing Your Way to Calm
By: Beth McHugh 2007
Anyone who has suffered from debilitating anxiety will know that correct breathing is one of the principal weapons against anxiety and panic attacks. There are countless references to the importance of breathing correctly in many schools of relaxation therapy, including yoga.
While all of these methods are excellent and should be pursued, it can take a considerable length of time to make correct breathing your everyday style. Patterns of quick, shallow breathing which promote anxiety due to the changing oxygen/carbon dioxide ratio in the blood, are often firmly entrenched. It can take a lot of conscious effort to make correct, or diaphragmatic, breathing the default breathing style for your body.
So while you are going about the task of learning to breathe correctly through daily meditation, here is a quick method that will restore your breathing rate to the speed and depth that nature intended while you’re waiting for your retraining skills to kick in.
Sing! That’s it. Whenever you feel that your stress levels are rapidly on the rise, put on the music and sing along. The best type of music to use for this purpose is obviously something that you like, but try to use music with a slow, calming beat. The beat should preferably be slower than your heart rate, which, if you are feeling quite distressed, does leave a large range of music open to you. But the slower the rate, the better.
Many people do have problems with learning to breathe correctly. Yoga breathing classes are often filled with people who feel quite relaxed during the gentle physical relaxation activities, but as soon as the breathing exercises begin, their stress levels increase. This is indicative that the person is definitely overbreathing and using an upper chest, shallow-breathing method as their everyday breathing style. When they try to modify it, they become temporarily distressed.
Singing, however, forces you to breathe more slowly. Yet, because you aren’t consciously counting and restricting your breathing rate, it does not cause the above problems. Through singing, you will willingly and naturally take in a large breath and slowly let it out as you extend that breath to get you to the end of the lyric for each bar of music. Voila! You quickly and easily change your breathing rate in an efficient and pleasurable way.
Sing at home when you feel stressed. You can sing in the car during traffic jams to lower your stress levels. Humming achieves much the same goal in more social situations. Continuing your daily practice of correct diaphragmatic breathing will render this method unnecessary, but until it kicks in, singing is the best means of inducing instant and correct breathing patterns.