Feel like bursting into song? Go ahead and sing as often as you wish to because it is therapeutic, says Hema Vijay

Do people feel good and break into song, or do they simply sing and start feeling good? Well, both the ideas may be true. Extensive research conducted around the world says singing aloud can help relieve stress, increase lung capacity, fine-tune speech, and enhance mood, energy and confidence levels.

Perhaps this is why the trend of interactive song sessions, rather than passive listening-oriented concerts is catching on. For instance, M. O. Parthasarathy, who works to promote the understanding of classical music among the masses through shlokas and chants (incidentally, a former Ranji Trophy cricketer), conducts vocal concerts, where the audience is invited to sing along rather than listen in silence. “Concerts should help a listener gain something — learn a new raga, or get a chance to sing and benefit from the experience,” says Parthasarathy, more famously known as MOP. In his concerts, he simplifies a classical song, breaking it up into phrases, so that even lay persons can pick up the melody and sing it.

Can everyone sing?

Scientists believe that since song is a form of sustained speech, almost anybody who is able to speak can sing, though, of course, achieving excellence takes time and practice.

“Singing is a very developed aspect of human communication. It can help some people relax; in that sense, it is a therapy. Many other factors such as posture and breath control count too,” says Prof. Mohan Kameswaran, ENT consultant and head and neck surgeon, Madras ENT Research Foundation.

“Music therapy need not necessarily be high-brow, passive, expensive or inaccessible. Even a chaiwala can understand and benefit from classical music, if concerts are made more interactive,” says MOP. He admits that as a boy, he used to run away from music, even while his father, a classical music guru, who taught not just gifted students, but also physically challenged children and those from the underprivileged sections. “The atmosphere always resonated with the strains of music,” he says.

Classical pianist Anil Srinivasan is one of those who beats stress by singing aloud. “It has the same effect as does a spot of jogging. I feel better,” he says, adding, “when you sing, toxicity and negativity are forced out of your system and energy is released.” Singing has been shown to release endorphins, the feel-good chemicals, into our bloodstream. Singing therapy works on the broader premise of understanding the activity that makes you feel good, and doing it. So, if trying to sing makes you feel more stressed and increases your blood pressure, choose some other activity that is relaxing.

Active singing sessions as opposed to passive listening to recitals have many positive spinoffs for senior citizens (who form the bulk of the audience in a classical music concert) because, unlike listening, singing aloud involves perception and action, as well as the sensory, motor, limbic and other relevant regions of the brain. This keeps aging brains active and alert, which is crucial to stave off depression and dementia. And if you happen to sing in a group, the barrier of self-consciousness that prevents many from opening their mouth is overcome.

Even for the general population, singing aloud creates stress-free moments. This is because worries and depression are forgotten when you focus on learning a tune. Says Anil, “Singing forces me to concentrate. Normally, the mind has many thought streams. When you sing (to the best of your ability), your thoughts get focussed.”

Singing aloud has a positive effect on kids too. For one thing, singing trains the voice, and builds a child's confidence to speak. This, in turn, makes the child self-assured and poised, and improves his public speaking ability, or his ability to handle a group discussion with ease. Singing promotes good posture, which improves blood circulation and general health. Most important, “We learn to breathe properly when we sing. Usually, breathing in most people is shallow,” points out MOP.

So go ahead. Open your mouth wide and sing the tunes that run in your head. Sing like you talk — naturally. And if you're off-key, maybe you should spare a thought for its impact on your listeners' stress levels, and sing in solitude.

REASONS TO SING

* Singing aloud can help relieve stress, increase lung capacity, fine-tune speech, and enhance mood, energy and confidence levels.

* Sing-along concerts involve perception and action. They help aging brains remain active, and stave off depression and dementia.

* Singing sessions can help kids in voice training, build their confidence to articulate their thoughts in day-to-day conversation or improve their public speaking skills.