Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans have an allergic disease?
It’s lousy being that one in five as a singer, even worse when it’s an allergy that affects your respiratory tract.
It may be called hay fever, seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis, it all means the same thing to your instrument. Nasal congestion, sneezing, watery, itchy eyes, throat soreness, the need to clear your throat due to post nasal drip, pain and/or pressure in the ears, headaches and fatigue can play havoc on the voice. It will affect your resonance. You may even experience voice breaks, vocal fatigue or laryngitis.
Typical treatment with antihistamines and decongestants can dry out the mucosal surfaces of your mouth, pharynx and larynx, which can lead to problems affecting your vocal quality and your vocal stamina, as well as putting you at risk of vocal injury.
A quick Google search of "singing with allergies" produces a list of quick fixes from daily nasal washes to herbal teas to lining your nose with Vaseline. They may do in a pinch, but wouldn't it be nice if you could just get rid of the allergies.
There has been a marked increase in the allergies and asthma over the last few decades. This leads scientists to believe that it is not a genetic condition, but due to environmental and lifestyle factors. One of the largest factors being diet.
If you REALLY want some allergy relief, start by taking a good look at your plate. The best remedy for seasonal allergies may be increasing your consumption of plant-based foods. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains are rich in a variety of nutrients that work together to keep you healthy even during the height of allergy season.
Follow these tips and eat a balanced diet full of the foods below and hit the high notes instead of sneezing them:
1. Eliminate Processed Food:
Processed foods can contain additives, chemicals and other undesirable ingredients like refined sugar, refined flour and soy that might make your allergies worse. They also increase inflammation in the body, which makes your immune system have to work in overdrive. This entire process makes allergies more prevalent in the body, not to mention makes you feel run down and tired. Try to buy organic, since pesticides can also cause some people to react to a food as well.
2. Rule out Food Allergies:
If you have a known food allergy, then you are probably avoiding it. However, some people have low grade allergies or even unknown food allergies. During allergy season, when your immune system will be overwhelmed you may want to cut out these common allergens: wheat, barley, rye, dairy, soy, gluten, shellfish, nuts, and sesame.
3. Eat vitamin C rich foods:
If you eat a whole foods plant-based diet, you’re probably getting a good amount of vitamin C. This antioxidant is known for its role in keeping us healthy during cold and flu season, and it can also protect us from foreign invaders during allergy season. Some excellent sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, papaya, red bell peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
4. Carotenoid Rich Foods:
Dark green leafy vegetables, including seaweed are rich in carotenoids. As are orange coloured fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and carrots. A study found that those with the highest level of total carotenoids in their blood stream (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein/zeaxanthin, canthaxanthin and cryptoxanthin) had a significantly lower prevalence of seasonal allergies.
5. Quercitin Rich Foods:
This anti-oxidant has properties of an anti-histamine. It can reduce the inflammatory response throughout the body, including those that are caused by an increase in histamine levels when an allergic response occurs. Foods such as onions, apples, berries, broccoli, cherries, grapes, capers, and tea are all great sources of this important antioxidant. You need to regularly consume quercetin-rich foods to see the benefits, but since they are all healthy plant-foods, with many other amazing benefits, you should be eating them daily anyway!
6. Eat Garlic and Tumeric:
Garlic is a such a powerful, yet humble food. This one food has been linked to cancer prevention, blood sugar regulation, a healthier heart, and reduces inflammation in all parts of the body. Boost your immunity with a small serving every day. If you don’t like garlic, turmeric is also an anti-inflammatory food with incredible benefits, and may also help lower the allergic response you suffer during pollen season. You can easily have tumeric by adding it to curries or try some Golden Milk.
7. Eat Omega-3 Rich Foods:
Flax seeds chia seeds, walnuts are all great sources. Similar to the carotenoid finding, those with higher levels of both long and short chain omega-3 fatty acids in their blood stream were found to have less allergic rhinitis.
Hydration is more important than ever during allergy season! Drink lots of water (preferably with fresh lemon – citrus has been associated with lower allergy and asthma symptoms).
9. Reduce/Eliminate Meat:
One study on diet and allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (runny nose/itchy eyes) confirmed that meat can increase the risk by 71%. Other studies have also shown the link between diets marked by greater intakes of meats, poultry, and seafood and greater risk of hayfever and asthma.
So start adding more fruits and veggies on your plate to replace the meat and processed foods and see how you do. (Bonus: these foods do so much more for you and your voice than just ease allergies)
What do you do to alleviate your allergies? I'd love to know, Leave a comment below.
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My voice teacher used to always say to me, “A tree only grows tall if it has deep roots, and your voice will only flourish if you connect deep in your body.” For me that connection to the body always felt tenuous. I had to really think about it.
That is until I started working out in an efficient way that developed my deep core muscles to the point that it wasn’t such a conscious effort any more. When that core connection is there my breathing becomes more efficient and my sound floats freely and effortlessly. I could sing all day!
First of all lets review some of the major core muscles involved in breathing.
If you’ve been going to the gym knocking out crunches and planks and still don’t feel the magical quality of that connection, it’s because these aren’t the most efficient exercises to activate the desired muscles.
Crunches really only work the rectus abdominus, a very superficial muscle. It’s the one that can give you a great six-pack, but can actually hinder your breathing if too tight. The movement of crunches and sit-ups may also put undue strain on neck and shoulders.
Planks can be great, but are really an advanced move. They can be difficult to do without proper guidance to achieve the proper muscle activation, plus they have other limitations and may not be for everyone. I’ve addressed it before here.
The following five exercises in the video will hit all the muscles that you need to get great stabilization and activation of the core muscles that will have you singing freely throughout your range in no time.
So try them out an let me know how you do with them.
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This is a question that comes up often.
A big reason many teachers site as for discouraging students from trying to achieve those six-pack abs is the fact that there is too much tension which interferes with freedom of breath, but it's not really true. (If you don't want explanations and just examples involving shirtless men, then just scroll down now.)
Ok, this can be true in an untrained singer who already has developed a bad habit of clenching their abs tightly. Dancers and body-builders are usually the worst offenders. A lot of work needs to be done to re-educate their breathing, but not really much more than the average new student who tends to breath in a shallow manner.
What about experienced singers? Really all it takes is to inform them that they should continue to practice their singing breath when they workout.
Honestly that’s all it takes if they already have good breathing patterns. In fact, most athletes do practice good breathing technique. My triathlon coach used to tell us that as we rode our bikes. “Breath into your belly!” he’d yell, “Those Tour de France guys look like they’re pregnant when they breathe!!!”
And it’s not just on bikes. Running, swimming; they all require that deep breathing that we use for singing. And these athletes hit the gym for strength training as well, so it’s not just about the weights. It about how you breathe when you lift the weights.
Let’s take a look at a few examples. I know this is going to be difficult for you ladies, but let’s make the effort to look at the breathing patterns of Chris Helmsworth (as Thor) and Michael Phelps. Try not to get too distracted.
Notice how Thor lifts his shoulders with every breath. He is concerned with maintaining his glamour muscles. The tension may be dramatic, but it’s going to affect his fighting capabilities with poor oxygen exchange. Good thing he has a magic hammer.
Now take a look at Michael Phelps. This is the way you breathe to win! Look at those ribs and abs move. You can have those abs and breath with complete freedom too.
But I’m not going to leave it there. We also want to see whether a SINGER can have a six-pack and still breathe for singing. So here is your proof with William Burden and Nathan Gunn in the Pearl Fischers duet. You can especially see the working abs at 2 minutes.
So yes, singers, you can have awesome abs and breathe freely. We don’t necessarily build tension from creating those abs, we just have to learn how to keep them flexible.
After all our abdominal muscles are important to maintaining our posture – good alignment is always encouraged for singing and those abdominal muscles are part of the recipe for achieving that. They will protect your back and allow you to move athletically while on the stage (or off).
Just remember that as you sing you cannot maintain the lean magazine-cover look. Your belly will expand as you inhale deeply.
It’s also good to note that to be really ripped also requires a low body fat percentage that just is not sustainable and may not be compatible with singing. Bodybuilders and fitness models often get dehydrated to make the muscles pop, so it’s not a look I’d recommend singers go after.
If you want to find out more about how you can get your abs and still sing with freedom, join the FREE Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice Facebook group where I share exercises every week.
Beyonce said that when she was 10 years old her father would make her sing while running on a treadmill to build stamina for her stage performances as part of the group Destiny’s Child. Apparently she still does it and so do many other pop, rock, musical theatre performers and even some opera singers.
There was an interesting thread on this subject recently in the Professional Voice Teachers Facebook group - some espousing it and some dubious of the health of undertaking such a vocal training regimen.
Singing while running is not new. The military does it with their running cadences. However, as a training tool for singers it seems to be taking off.
Today I’m going to discuss the pros and cons of this form of training, how to decide if it’s right for you and steps to implement it.
Pros and Cons of Running and Singing
From my own personal experience, when I took up triathlon my vocal stamina and power increased tremendously and I was already a fairly active person going to the gym 2 – 3 times a week and taking 3 dance classes a week, but the cardio training of triathlon made a significant difference.
And that brings me to:
Is It Right for YOU?
Yes you need to be already physically fit. If you can not run, I mean JUST run, for at least 30 minutes, you should not attempt to run and sing as part of your training. This holds true of any cardio and singing – ellipticals, bikes.
However, you may be able to WALK and sing and this can have some of the same benefits if you don’t need to do much movement, which brings me to the second point in deciding if this is right for you.
Does your singing require a lot of stamina and involve moving while singing? If you are a show choir singer, a musical theatre performer, have an active stage performance of any kind, then YES, you need to develop the stamina and the sound stability that this will provide.
My first taste of the necessity for this control came when I was in my high school musical production of Anything Goes and I had to tap dance and belt out my solo over orchestra and chorus (this was before headset sound systems, so no adjusting sound balance). I’ve since had to deal with this many times from dancing and cartwheeling through the Can-Can while singing in Orpheus in the Underworld, to sustaining a high B while being lifted up and perching on a dancer’s shoulder for the big finish after singing and dancing my way through Not Since Nineveh in Kismet.
If you just stand and deliver (or sit and deliver) then probably you don’t need to do this type of training.
Steps to Safe and Effective Run/Sing Training
Now that you’ve decided you want to attempt this type of training. Here’s what you need to know:
Just like any other training, if you do it in a slow progressive manner, you will reduce your chance of injury and soon enough will have the stamina, endurance and vocal power that you require for the most demanding vocal athletics required of you.
You are a vocal ATHLETE!
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The Fit Singer is not a medical service. All physical activity carries the inherent risk of injury. It is your responsibility to choose which activities are right for you and to consult with medical professionals as you deem prudent or necessary. You are solely responsible for your health care and activity choices.
You may find yourself exclaiming,“Oh no! Not another article about breathing?!” But hear me out. I gave this some thought. As singers the basis of our technique is breathing and there are many articles available on breathing technique. I scoured many and there are many varying thoughts. And the pros and cons of nasal and mouth breathing are very simplistic. What’s prompted me to write about the subject is the prevalence of articles I have come across in the fitness industry on breathing over the last few years and the things mentioned there that are never mentioned in the singing ones.
First let’s look at the health benefits of nasal breathing. It goes far beyond the warming and humidifying of air and filtering particles. Nitric oxide is found in the inside of the nose, which has anti-microbial properties and once inhaled into the lungs enhances oxygen uptake. The more you use your nose to breathe the more you stimulate the production of nitric oxide. Nasal breathing also stimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve provides parasympathetic innervation to glands of mucous membranes of the pharynx, larynx, organs in the neck, thorax, and abdomen. It innervates skeletal muscles of the pharynx and larynx. It also functions in controlling heart rate and the digestive tract.
So here is how all this translates into 10 health benefits:
Mouth breathing really doesn’t have much going for it. It dries out the mouth. There is a tendency to over-breathe and to breathe higher in the body. It can lead to hyperventilation. There is an increased risk of asthma and cardiovascular disease. It can cause snoring and even sleep apnea.
In fitness, nasal breathing is encouraged more and more for improved athletic performance. But how can we use this in singing when we need to take in breaths quickly? The best advice is to inhale through the nose when you can: at the beginning or when you have a rest for 2 or more counts. Otherwise try to inhale through both the nose and mouth. The more well trained you are the easier it becomes.
With my beginner students (and even not so beginner) we start with humming exercises with inhalation through the nose. The mouth should never open during these exercises. It’s quite difficult for most of them at first, but it does encourage deeper breathing, which is always a problem with beginners (not surprising, when it is estimated that 80% of the western world breathes improperly).
Many of the health benefits attributed to singing can be directly related to breathing. If you are already an established mouth breather for singing and/or exercise, it’s time to rethink how you breathe and use your nose more. So let’s make sure you are getting the most out of every inhalation!
At the end of my very first formal yoga class at a Bikram studio, the instructor came up to me since I was new and asked what yoga I had done before. I told her this was my very first class. This seemed to surprise her a bit because she said I had done very well if it was my first time. Before this, I had dabbled with yoga poses on my own and in dance classes and I suggested to her that it might have been the dance. She replied with an emphatic “NO”. She went on to explain that dancers did not necessarily make the best yogis since they seemed to hold tension and it was more to do with my breathing. When I mentioned that I was a singer her face lit up and she said, “Well that explains it!”
As singers we all know the importance of breathing. It’s the first thing that most of us are taught when we begin formal training. We learn to take deep low breaths and how to manage our breathing musculature for efficient sound production. If you haven’t mastered this yet, I hope your voice teacher is spending time helping to develop this very important part of your instrument. The specific mechanics of breathing are not what I want to discuss today. Rather I want to talk about how deep breathing will benefit not only your singing, but also athletic performance and your general well being.
Many singing teachers that I’ve had in the past and even some current discussion groups and blogs that I read caution against vigorous cardio activities for singers under the misconception that this encourages shallow breathing. Nothing can be further from the truth! Yes, inexperienced exercisers sometimes tend to breath in a shallow manner, but this is not correct and usually due to bad breathing habits at rest, as well. Elite athletes all breathe deeply – they have to. Oxygen = energy for aerobic activity. The very word “aerobic” means “with oxygen”. Athletes need to use their full lung capacity to get the greatest amount of oxygen possible that will be picked up in the blood and pumped through the heart to the muscles being used.
I remember my triathlon coach telling the rest of my team to inhale deeply on their bike ride and feel the expansion of their gut as the diaphragm descends and displaced the organs making room for the lungs to expand fully. He said if you watch the Tour de France racers, these guys who are so slim and fit, you would see they look absolutely pregnant when they inhale.
Exhalation is also important and that abdominal contraction that happens on exhalation can help with the power in your movements. Think of martial artists letting out a yell as they punch or kick and the weightlifter’s grunt.
So some quick tips on breathing as you exercise:
When doing aerobic exercise find a rhythm to your breathing. Swimming has it’s own unique rhythm and is great for controlling exhalation. For running or biking it depends on the effort. For a hard effort you can inhale for 2 steps/pedals, exhale for 2. For an easy effort try 3 and 3. There are other patterns, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
When doing resistance training, exhale on the effort/contraction of the muscle and inhale as the muscle lengthens.
Finally in stretching, relax with the exhalation and feel a deepening of the stretch, but be careful not to over stretch.
Read more about why cardiorespiratory training is important for singers here.
The benefits you will gain from deep breathing will not only help your singing and athletic performance, but will carry on into your life. Here is a list of benefits of deep breathing.
So as a singer, you already have an advantage to reap these benefits. It’s no wonder singers are known to have above average life expectancy!