Some days I wonder what the idea of self-care would have meant to my great great grandmothers. What it would have meant for Black women living in an openly racist and sexist society in the 1850’s and 1860’s in Texas or Mississippi to take time to rest and restore?. Where did they carve out space for softness, ease and flow as well as anger and grief?…Surely, it would have required ingenuity and confidence to assert oneself in a culture that said (and often still says) being Black and woman was less than human. It would have required spirit and creativity.
Nowadays in our Western culture we have grown accustomed to the term “self-care”. There is a fairly common list that one thinks of when hearing this hyphenated phrase. A string of recommendations from magazines to self-help books suggesting meditation, walks in the park, a getaway with close friends, a nourishing meal, journaling and of course physical exercise. But there was no list like this (that I know of) for our ancestors. Yet, there was one thing that most people had and still have access to anywhere in the world, something which human beings have used for centuries: singing.
One of the things that I have been most interested in as a voice and movement teacher is the idea of singing for self-care…singing for the Soul. Of course there are a myriad of practical reasons to study with a voice teacher. Studying voice with a teacher on a consistent basis will help you to learn how to sing without straining, to sing without big breaks in your range, to improve your pitch, to get an accurate understanding of voice anatomy (for example you can’t literally sing from your diaphragm, you breathe from your lungs, the diaphragm is an involuntary muscle), to build a basis of healthy vocal technique in order to learn new repertoire from, to improve older repertoire, to improve your performing, to improve your own interpretation and original expression. These alone are some pretty damn good reasons to study singing !...plus... it’s FUN!
But while all of this is happening there is a simultaneous and equally, if not, arguably greater result that begins to occur. One of the seemingly miraculous benefits of singing (although it’s not miraculous because you are putting in the time, attention and effort) is the part where you start to experience YOU, your soul singing. (This is also one of the JOYS of TEACHING singing!) This is where you start to hear your voice louder, fuller, higher, lower than you have heard it before. As the student you don’t fully recognize it because it is MORE than you imagined, and it is also easier than you believed singing to be. And as a result you start to feel the power of your voice as tension unravels. It is poetic, sometimes emotional, playful and just like life, ordinary. But that power, that new you, is as addictive as it is soothing. Sticking with the process and even warm ups start to become a way to release stress, increase of oxytocin (those “feel good” hormones) rest and restore.
So learning how to sing can help you prepare a solid foundation for that upcoming tour, recording session or performance. You can also sing to strengthen your voice for the innumerable peoples and places where you will need to speak up and sing out. You can even use singing to connect and communicate with other vocalists and musicians without words. But moreover you can sing for your health, for your spirit, for peace of mind, for Soul-care.