Singing, Dementia and Breathing
It was so encouraging this week to turn on the National Lottery show, which I hardly ever watch, and see that a charity called "Lost Chord" were given some money in support of their work. This charity puts on concerts in care homes for people with Dementia and encourages them to sing along. People that usually utter a few words, lost in their own thought, or perhaps lack of it, were singing, remembering words and tunes, smiling and positive in their experience.
People ask how is that possible?
Many different neurological studies show that when a person sings or hums, areas of the brain, both left and right light up, areas that haven't even been researched or fully understood by "modern medicine". The left side of the brain contains speech/language centres, it helps us piece our words together! When we sing, we use our creative right brain.
MIT or Melodic Intonation Therapy used by speech, and music therapists, engages right brain activity, to stimulate the left brain, therefore helping someone who has lost the ability to speak, find it again, through singing and breath control.
I stumbled upon this quite by accident. In my early student days I used to teach singing to earn extra money, and I used to find myself attracting people with similar concerns. For example, one lady had suffered a stroke and had slight paralysis of the mouth and tongue which affected her speech, another used to stutter, one lady came to me because she was depressed and lacked self confidence and thought singing would trigger memories of her youth when she was confident and happy and used to sing often.
With all these "students" I worked exercises for breath control, opening the body, which in turn opened the voice. I used the exercises I had learnt as an opera singer, some of them really sounding quite silly. Like blowing elongated "raspberries" for example, which releases the tongue, massages and releases muscles of the face, helps locate and "feel" muscles of the diaphragm and probably most importantly, helps push the boundaries of what society deems acceptable for adult behaviour. After initial nerves and most of them really not wanting to do it, they eventually pushed through the fear and it opened them, not only vocally, but physically and emotionally too. This was just the beginning of the positive benefits of vocal development.
At the time I remember acknowledging the power of the voice and learning to sing. Having been brought up with complementary therapies and the concept of "energy" flow in one's life, it all seemed connected to me. I continued this work with different people that came my way, and I began to understand fully the importance of "breathing as nature intended" using our natural reflexes, learning to identify and not suppressing or holding negative emotions and tensions in the body. I realised this, because I was spending my time, unwinding other peoples' physical and emotional tensions through the voice. As they started to unwind and respond, the way they thought about things changed. They seemed more alive, with more confidence as they learnt tools to deal with their specific concern.
It was only later in life when I trained as a Sound Therapist that I realised that ancient cultures have been using Sound and The Voice for centuries! The use of Chanting and Song has been used to cure, invigorate, worship, journey and so on, and it does so by changing brain patterns, commonly from Beta mode which is our practical "everyday" mode of existence, to Theta and Delta modes which encourage a heightened meditative state and access the intuitive Self. Buddhist monks have chanted and toned to enter deep meditative states which have been proven to enhance well-being, relieve stress and strengthen the immune system. Even Christian monks, chanted several times a day as part of worship.
In conclusion I am over the moon that so many charities, the NHS and sceptics worldwide are starting to accept "alternative" forms of treatment. It's interesting though how we have gone backwards, and now can only "accept" something if it's printed in a medical journal, and the GP prescribes it. It always amazes me when I tell someone that if they were to experience any side effects from a Sound Therapy treatment, it may be a slight headache, as so much water and stagnation would have shifted in the body. Some people I encountered have actually turned down a treatment because of this, preferring to continue with their prescribed drugs. Have you ever looked at the Side Effects list, on drugs readily prescribed by the GP? In all honesty, I would rather settle for the headache and try to find out what is the root cause of the illness!
Just to leave you with some interesting reading and thoughts. Dr. Robert Fried, PH.D, Director of the Stress and Biofeedback Clinic of the Ellis Institute for Rational Emotive Therapy in NYC wrote a wonderful book called, "Breathe Well, Be Well".
In this book he looks at many common complaints for which patients are readily prescribed drugs by their GP. For example, heart palpitations, chest pain, tingling in hands and feet, dizziness and vertigo, hot and cold flashes, fear of dying and the list goes on. In his book he shares his research into Hyperventilation and how most people are suffering some form of this breath disorder in mild or extreme cases due to incorrect breathing, diet, allergies etc. He shares his case studies, and breath techniques in the book, along with his huge success with his patients.
The one thing that stood out for me, more than his success, was that all the symptoms described above, are actually accepted and noted in medical journals as symptoms relating to Hyperventilation, and of course the treatment for that, would be to understand and re-train one's breathing.
However, as stated in the book, many patients seeking help are prescribed all manner of drugs, not breath exercises, as it is assumed the symptoms the patient is experiencing are caused by a differing complaint, most likely one that is "curable" (or more likely, "suppressible") by the lastest drugs developed by the huge pharmaceutical companies that control our health and ultimately our existence by capitalising on the trust that humans place in their local doctor. The book gives examples of health professionals unable to recognise or understand the extensive relating factors and symptoms of Hyperventilation, even though it is an "accepted" ailment, defined by their professional literature and source books.
Dr. Fried's book, is definitely worth a read!
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Alexandra Rigazzi-Tarling, my journey into Singing and Sound for healing body, mind and spirit of all beings.