By Susan Brownfield
Meditation is a practice that has been in existence since before the recording of history. Its origins go back to mainly religious contexts, but it has gained a lot of interest in the scientific community recently as it has been confirmed that the brain is malleable and not as static as we once believed. More importantly, singers can use meditation as another tool in their arsenal to improve their performance abilities. Meditation helps to reduce anxiety and promotes mindfulness, or in other words, full presence in body and mind.
Molding Our Brains
Recently, a group of Harvard neuroscientists embarked on a new study following a group of participants who agreed to engage in an eight-week “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program.” (1)
Previous studies had revealed distinct differences between seasoned meditators and those who had no experience with meditation at all. These differences included a hardening of the cerebral cortex in areas connected to attention and emotional integration among those subjects who had no experience with meditation. The difficulty with these studies, however, was that they were unable to make the association with meditation and the differences between the two groups.
In the Harvard study, MRI brain scans were taken at the beginning of the mindfulness program experiment, and again afterwards, in order to determine whether there were any notable changes.
What they discovered was quite remarkable. In just eight weeks, researchers found more grey matter density in the brain areas associated with memory and learning. They also found positive changes in the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that responds and reacts to signals of anxiety and stress.
The researchers were astonished to discover just how elastic the brain can be, not to mention how quickly it can respond and positively change with the practice of meditation.
Meditation and Singing
I had heard about the benefits of meditation for years, but I had not tried it out for myself until recently. Even though I am a proponent of natural remedies and natural living, I’d hesitated in trying meditation because I didn’t think I had the patience to just sit and do nothing. It didn’t make sense to my personality, which has always been focused on constantly ‘doing’ something. I soon discovered, however, that sitting and doing nothing was precisely what was needed for my often perfectionistic and Type A personality.
I also realized that meditation helped both my singing practices and my performances. I noticed that I could access a sense of calm much more quickly than previously. This is significant in my case, because I struggled with crippling performance anxiety for many years. I also found that I am more aware and present in my daily interactions. I have become calmer and more engaged in my relationships.
Getting Help With Your “Practice”
The practice of meditation is just that – a practice. In the same manner that we hone our vocal skills and technical abilities, we can practice meditation and mindfulness and improve the practice with each effort. These efforts pay dividends as they increase the ability to be fully connected to the music, more present during performances, and all that with significantly diminished feelings of anxiety. In fact, I have used meditation prior to auditions to lessen my performance anxiety and it helped tremendously.
For meditation novices, it is quite easy to get started… there are many free, guided meditations on Youtube and elsewhere on the internet. One can even download many of them to a smartphone to help with getting started.
I have found that it is very worthwhile to try to get past the ‘woo-woo’ factor that is often associated with meditation and mindfulness. If it helps, you can simply think of it as medicine for your brain!
Susan is a classically trained singer currently living in Switzerland with her family. She has performed and taught for many years. In addition to music, Susan is passionate about all things related to health and wellness. An avid home cook, Susan loves to experiment with dishes from all over the world. She’s a homesteader in the making who finds herself in the city at the moment, but dreams of having a plot of land someday where she can put her hands in the soil and plant to her heart’s content. Learn more at www.thenaturalsinger.com.