Saturday, February 25, 2012

7 Habits for the Healthy Singer

Right about this time in the school year, teachers in classrooms all over America would be wealthy if we had stock in Kleenex! I, for one, can't keep them in my own chorus classroom long enough before my students are begging me for more. The majority of my high school chorus students seem to be sick right now, and the culprits tend to be the changing seasons, allergies, and the rampant spreading of germs from one human to another.

I have been very lucky this school year in that I've only been sick once, and only had to miss work for one day while I was recovering. I've been told that first year teachers' immune systems are especially compromised that first year because our bodies are not used to coming in contact with the amount of germs that get passed around at schools. However, since I was anticipating this problem, and also because I am constantly trying to practice good health to be the best singer I can, I put together seven habits that I am consistent to follow, and so far, they are helping me to ward off those nasty germ-monsters lurking in every hall way and on every doorknob (fingers are currently crossed!).

These are really in no particular order and could most likely apply to any normal person in any profession, not just singers. Here are my Seven Healthy Singing Habits:

1. Water is your best friend! Oh, yes it is! Ok, so I know this is common knowledge to the whole wide world, but have you seriously ever stopped to think about what a miracle-worker water is? Your body depends upon it to thrive, and more importantly, to live and perform all functions necessary to a healthy body. Water flushes out bad toxins in your system. Aside from that, water is an incredible thirst-quencher with a whopping zero calories. You cannot do any better than room temperature water to hydrate your vocal cords when singing.

The downside to consuming the recommended amount of water (8 servings of 8 oz per day) is the initial onset of having to use the bathroom all the time, but I've been assured that your body will adjust over time.

The other downside would be the major use of plastic bottles (for those of you going green), but that is easily fixed with one of my favorite new products on the market, the Brita reusable water bottle with a filter built right in. Fountain water stood the test in my Brita bottle and tasted just as fresh as any bottled water.

So, not only should water be consumed as much as possible all the time, but even more so if you feel a cold coming on.

2. Invest in good vitamins! I learned this lesson the hard way because I just couldn't see shelling out my hard- earned money on a daily multi that cost more than $10. However, those $10 and under vitamins just weren't doing their part to get me through the grueling school day. So I finally invested in some GNC vitamins, and almost immediately noticed a difference in my energy level. The real shock came when I compared my new GNC vitamins to my old cheapies: the cheap ones didn't even come close to the GNC ones I was paying triple for. Experts also say that your body doesn't even process those cheap vitamins the same way it does a more expensive one. Take it from me: good vitamins are worth the investment, and I think they are the single smartest thing a health-conscious singer can take.

3. When you feel a cold coming on, fight back! There are definitely several different actions to take when you feel like you're getting sick. The first thing is to immediately go wash your hands and continue to wash them thoroughly throughout the day to stop the spread of even more germs. Guzzle water like it's the end of the world (see Habit 1), take your multi (Habit 2), and then have a nice glass of EmergenC (can be bought at any supermarket or drugstore). I like EmergenC better than Airborne because it comes in tons of yummy flavors and dissolves into water a lot easier. Finally, get some rest and see if that cold doesn't leave before it gets started!

4. Go easy on the medication when you have to sing. This is something that many of singers don't think about, but it is unwise to take a pain reliever before you have to do a lot of heavy singing. The reason being is that a pain reliever's primary job is to block nerve receptors from receiving the pain signal (thus doing its job by alleviating your headache, cramps, or whatever else), but it also causes you greater risk of over-singing because you can't tell when you're straining too much. Also, decongestants are great for their original purpose, but if you try to sing while on one, again you can risk over-singing, and also do damage to your cords because the decongestant has dried up all the mucus in your sinuses.

5. Know when to stop singing. This is a big one! I wish I were Superwoman when it comes to singing, but I'm not. When my throat gets irritated or I've just done a ton of singing, I try to take some time off, even if it's just a couple of days, and I don't sing a word. It's really difficult to do, but worth the recovery time my body needs. My goal is to maintain a healthy voice all my life, so it's not worth blowing it out over any single thing.

Your body will usually tell you when it needs a break! Listen to it, take the break, and you'll be much better off in the long run, vocally and otherwise.

6. Exercise should be a priority. I see so many correlations to exercise and singing, but what I'm noticing more and more is that people who don't exercise or are overweight tend to sing flat and/or have trouble with breath support, which is a MAJOR component to being a healthy singer. When you do exercise, you are allowing more oxygen into your body on a regular basis, and your lungs love that air! You will notice as your endurance in exercise increases, your breath support also gets better. Also, I have to specifically recommend yoga just because the focus is on breathing, continuously inhaling and exhaling, and becoming more aware of the breath. This translates directly into singing and can help you become more adept at mastering control of your voice.

7. Minimize your stress. I'm kinda laughing at myself as I type this right now, because my life is just about as stressful as it's ever been. But, I realize that stress does have far-reaching, long-term effects on the body, and likewise on the voice. I do not sing as well when I'm stressed. So my solution is to employ my own ways of stress relief every single day so I don't allow myself to get too overwhelmed. I actually have a written list of things to turn to when I'm feeling blue. A few of my stress busters are taking a bubble bath, walking my yorkie outside, turning off the television and cracking open a book, and writing or journaling. All of those things tend to return me to a healthy, happy state of mind for the time being, so I use them often. If I can't alleviate a stressor, at least I can forget about it for a while. Make your own list of stress-busters and vow to do a couple things on the list every time you're feeling sub-par. Your body and your voice will thank you for it.

Well, that's my list of healthy habits! Hope you get a chance to try one or all of these and they help you gain your best voice ever! As always, happy (and healthy) singing!

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