Its causes are absolutely everywhere. Would you agree?
While I’m here at Resonanz Opera this summer, it’s certainly something that many singers are telling me about. How they feel stressed. How they feel anxious. How it affects their performance.
Our natural “fight or flight” stress response can sometimes go a little overboard. It’s supposed to help us escape injury or death in an emergency and then return to normal after we’ve fought or flew. But, that doesn’t happen too much in our society - it becomes a long-term reaction. It becomes chronic. If you’re a singer you definitely know what I’m talking about - work, rehearsals, practice, school, gigs, family. We try to do it all and it can take a toll on us.
You’ve probably heard of the main stress hormone, called “cortisol.” It’s released from your adrenal glands in response to stress. It’s also naturally high in the morning to get you going, and slowly fades during the day so you can sleep.
Did you know that too-high levels of cortisol are associated with belly fat, poor sleep, brain fog, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and even lowers your immunity? If you’ve ever experienced a pre or post show cold, it was probably brought on by stress.
Do you experience any of these? Well, then read on because I have a list of foods, nutrients and lifestyle recommendations to help you lower this stress hormone naturally!
Foods and nutrients to lower cortisol
Let’s start with one of the biggies that increase your cortisol… sugar. Reducing the sugar we eat and drink can be a great step toward better health for our minds (and bodies).
High doses of caffeine also increase your cortisol levels. If coffee makes you feel anxious and jittery, then cut back on the amount of caffeine you ingest.
Also, being dehydrated increases cortisol. Make sure you’re drinking enough water every day, especially if you feel thirsty. I’m constantly surprised by how many singers still aren’t getting enough hydration.
Eat a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods; this doesn't just help reduce stress hormone, it helps all aspects of your health.
Lower your cortisol levels with tea and dark chocolate (not the sugary milky kind!). Have a bit to unwind.
Don’t forget your probiotics and prebiotics! There is so much new research about the gut-mind connection, and how taking care of your friendly gut microbes is key! Make sure you’re eating probiotic rich fermented foods and getting a healthy dose of prebiotic fiber.
Lifestyle techniques to lower cortisol
It’s not just food, but there are things you can do with your time that can lower cortisol.
Reduce your stress with mindfulness. Many studies show that reducing stressful thoughts and worry reduces cortisol. Every singer should develop mindfulness strategies that don’t only reduce stress, but can improve your performances.
Get enough exercise (but don’t overdo it). While intense exercise increases cortisol levels temporarily, it can reduce overall cortisol levels. Even on those busy days dry to squeeze in a few 5 - 10 minute walks or even better - a 20 minute HIIT workout.
Get enough sleep!
Getting adequate sleep is way too underrated. Sleep reduces cortisol levels and also helps improve your overall health in so many ways.
Relax and have fun. Things like deep breathing, massages, and listening to relaxing music all reduce cortisol. They also happen to be things that will aid your singing in other ways.
Be social and bust loneliness. Would you believe me if I told you that science has shown health risks from social isolation and loneliness? It’s true! Maintaining good relationships and spending time with people you like and who support you is key. Luckily, most singing involves getting together with others to make music. What could be better!
Too much of the stress hormone cortisol can have several negative impacts on your health and voice. There are many proven ways to reduce levels of cortisol naturally.
In terms of foods and nutrients, have less sugar and caffeine. And have more water, fruit, tea, dark chocolate, probiotics, and prebiotics.
Lifestyle factors are huge when it comes to cortisol. To lower yours, exercise (but not too much), get more sleep, relax, and have more fun.
In the comments below, let me know your favourite ways to bust the stress hormone cortisol!
Recipe (High fiber prebiotic): De-Stressing Chocolate Pudding
3 ripe avocados
¼ cup cacao powder (unsweetened)
½ cup Medjool dates (pitted and soaked for 20 - 30 minutes)
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 dash salt
Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Try adding a pinch of cinnamon for a deeper flavour.
This summer is a whirlwind for me this year. Often I spend my summers enjoying some time to myself, training for triathlon, some light planning for the fall and teaching voice one day a week. My online world continues, but not teaching really frees up a lot of time.
This summer however, is vastly different – and in a good way. I’d say even a GREAT way.
It started of with a bang with five days in Vegas at the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) conference .
That was loaded with inspiration; refreshing old ideas and exploring new ones.
With my head still swimming with all of that, I made my way to Resonanz Opera in Ohio, where I’m pulling triple duty as director of the high school internship program, teaching health & wellness for singers in my LIVE Empowered Singer program and stepping in for the Abbess in Suor Angelica. This last one was impromptu as the originally cast Abbess could not make it. Good thing I brought my score!!!
We started off our Empowered Singer program talking about mindfulness and ways of thinking. And it was also the subject of a couple of sessions at the NATS conference. This is a subject of growing importance to singers.
In an industry where we can feel such negativity - feeling examined under a microscope, dealing with rejections, feeling the heat of competition, being our own worse critic, struggling with finances and so on, it can all affect our ability to free our voices, to open ourselves to our own vulnerability, to be confident in that vulnerability, to be able to cope with the stresses in the face of that negativity, and to bring out our true creative nature.
Great performers have learned to overcome this. In part this is due to these traits that they have in common:
A fighting-spirit: That doesn’t mean you’re going to get in a catfight with that arrogant soprano with a diva complex (she’s probably dealing with issues of her own). What it means is that you have the fight in YOU to carry on no matter what obstacles come your way, to fight to make YOURSELF the BEST you can be, to keep improving in all aspects of your life.
The ability to focus their attention: In times of stress if the stress levels get too high we can hyper-focus, that is we narrow our range of focus and often to the negative. At the same time if there is too little feeling of stress or nervousness then there is a lack of focus and can become easily distracted. Finding that middle ground of our stress response allows us to focus on the task at hand with detachment from emotional responses without sacrificing expressivity – sometimes this is called the Flow State.
A positive attitude: Towards yourself and others. Being willing to learn and grow. The ability to forgive.
Self-Confidence: So often we think of self-confidence associated with body image and as the opposite of shy, and though to some extent that’s true, it’s also confidence in the skills you have, and being confident that you will master the skills you don’t yet have.
Self-Discipline: Of course, we know we need self-discipline to practice, but it is also the self-discipline to practice effectively. There is also the self-discipline required to keep detached during performances and detached from distractions, and finally, self-discipline in other areas of your life that may have a bearing on your instrument, such as looking after your health.
Determination: In the face of all odds you are determined to get the outcome you want. Whether it is to perform your best at your next concert, get a handle on your finances or the determination to make this career choice work for you, your determination will find ways to tackle any obstacle.
You can have these traits, too!
The good news is all these traits can be learned and practiced. The most effective path is through mindfulness.
Mindfulness can be used in many ways:
Studies have shown that meditation and other mindfulness practices do actually make physiological changes to your brain.
Mindfulness can be informal or formal.
Formal include practices such as prayer, transcendental meditation, visualization practices and yoga.
Informal practices can be washing dishes, eating mindfully, walking or running (when runners get in the zone), taking a shower.
Most likely you will use a combination of different types of mindfulness to achieve different outcomes.
You may use informal methods to calm yourself or unleash creativity (the best ideas always seem to come in the shower) or even learn to focus (focus on experiencing your meals, slowly chewing, tasting, smelling).
Formal methods can help you reach deeper into yourself to make changes. Get over performance anxiety or learn how to control your temper by practicing visualization of the situation you are going to be in that may trigger the unwanted responses. You can use visualization to improve motor skills, as well – a great way to practice when you’re traveling and won’t be able to properly vocalize.
Mindfulness practices usually will cross-over to other benefits, just the focus of attention may change. Example: A visualization practice will help you focus, de-stress, release tension and master a skill.
There are many apps available that can lead you through guided meditations. Choose one and get started to reach heights of awareness you didn’t think were possible. You can start of with as little as 5 minutes a day.
The key to success with mindfulness is to practice it consistently. Focus on one area of improvement at a time and stick with it for at least three weeks before moving on to another skill or goal.
If you want more guidance on mindfulness join our free community at Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
Follow The Fit Singer on Facebook or Instagram to follow my adventures at Resonanz this summer and get more tips on all things vocal health.
I've just got back from a wonderful five days in Las Vegas. But I wasn't there to play. I was there for the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Conference. This biennial event is a must for any teacher who is committed to professional development.
There were so many sessions to learn from. It runs the gamut from really geeky voice science talks to more spiritual aspects such and mindfulness and yoga for singers. There is also so much wonderful singing! The guests artist this year were Christine Brewer and Stephanie Blythe with Craig Terry at the piano. All I can say is WOW!!!
It's also a great opportunity to network with other teachers, exchanging ideas and making new friends.
One of the highlights of the NATS conference this year was to interview Claudia Friedlander about her newly released book "Complete Vocal Fitness - A singer's Guide to Physical Training, Anatomy, and Biomechanics".
Grab a cup of tea, sit back and watch our interview here, then scroll down to find out how you can get your copy with a 30% discount!
You can get "Complete Vocal Fitness" at most major booksellers and Amazon. However, Claudia is giving The Fit Singer readers a special 30% discount by ordering directly from the publisher Rowman & Littlefield. Click here to order and then enter your promo code: 4eNATS18. This offer is good until September 26, 2018.
Also check out Claudia's blog The Liberated Voice at claudiafriedlander.com
And don't forget to join our online community dedicated to singers' health and fitness - Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
If you don't have time or the background chatter of the conference is too much for you then have a glance through the transcript (you may want to look at the video from 14:30 onward as Claudia give a demonstration of a couple of exercises):
FS: Hi Claudia, So happy to have you here with us.
Claudia: Oh, I'm so excited to be talking to you about fitness.
FS: It's a passion, right?
Claudia: Well, yeah and one of the nice things about having the book out is that I have more opportunities to just nerd out about anatomy of fitness with other people who are interested in singing and body issues.
FS: Can you tell us a bit about your background; what brought you to this?
Claudia: I became interesting in singing and fitness at around the same time. I always wanted to be a singer, but when I was a kid nobody wanted to hear me sing because I had a sort of harsh disorganized voice. I couldn't get cast in any of the school musicals, it was very heartbreaking, so picked up clarinet and became very good at that. Everybody wanted me to play the clarinet, so I just settled for that.
It was around the time that I finished my undergraduate degree that I had the opportunity to do some body work with a therapist who was really good at helping to relieve chronic muscle tension and I found I had all this muscular tension around my breathing, my throat and my articulators that had been keeping me from being able to sing freely and so all this tensions started to go down and I was able to have access to my body and I discovered I did have a pleasing voice.
So I started taking singing lessons and began formal study and I was surprised to discover when I went to graduate school that not everybody had the same expectation that I did, which is that it is possible to affect structural changes in your own anatomy that would then make your voice better. And I found out most voice teachers expect that the voice that the student brings into the room is the instrument that they have, that they will teach them how to use that instrument when I knew that it's possible to improve upon your instrument. In my case it had made the difference between not being able to sing at all to singing well.
As I became more interested in vocal technique I became really interested in finding out ways that I could help singers improve their own instruments, so that they could really optimize their bodies for peak performance in singing the way athletes do for peak performance.
FS: How do you view singers as vocal athletes? It's a very physical, demanding thing that we do with our voices that involves the whole body, so do you feel we need to train more like athletes?
Claudia: We need to train both more like athletes and more like instrumentalists. Instrumentalists learn things about repetitions, motor learning, self-habitualization skills because they have to integrate an external object to coordinate well with their own bodies, so they learn some things about that. They also...instrumentalists generally learn about how their instrument functions and how it's constructed so they know if there's a problem with the instrument they know how to repair it. If I have a missing pad on my clarinet It's not going to play, but I know either how to do that myself or take it someplace where it can be repaired. So I think we have a lot to learn from instrumentalists and we also have a lot to learn from athletes and fitness trainers because we are athletes, what we do is so similar to what elite athletes do because an athlete doesn't stop being an athlete once they step off the court. They view their bodies as an athletic tool at all times, so how you care for your physical health, how you eat, how you sleep is all going to have an impact on how you do your job.
FS: So being a singer is a lifestyle.
Claudia: It's a lifestyle choice.
FS: If you want to optimize performance you do need to make that... I know for myself when I started training for triathlons all the triathletes would say "This is a lifestyle, it's not just the training and doing races, we live it". So similarly singers should be approaching...that we are living it...our instrument is a living instrument, too, so it needs that extra care.
Claudia: It does. I mean we're also hedonists. We're not going to have anything to sing about if we don't have full lives, as well. There is a chapter on nutrition in the book, but I'm not advocating that people adhere to some really stringent diet, so they're always able to... it's not quite what you need to do if your in training. We do need to be mindful of using food as fuel the same as athletes do and making sure we are fuelling appropriately and tending to the health and development of our bodies and our instruments, but we also need to have...
FS: We have to let our hair down...
Claudia: have some crazy experiences.
FS: There are also limits we need to draw, too. Like post-performance going out drinking with your cast-mates when you know you have to perform the next day is probably not a good idea. You need your sleep, you need to make sure your re-fuelled so that you can recover well for the next thing that's coming up.
Claudia: Absolutely! We need to be mindful of what our bodies need to do and I've discuss this in the chapter on nutrition and what best practices are for singers. They moderate what they're eating and drinking. We're in NATS in LAS VEGAS, so...
FS: Of course, Vegas, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
Claudia: There's a section in the chapter on how to drink reasonably and how to avoid a hangover and I thought about printing out a "Here's a PSA on what to about a hangover" that I thought about leaving in my publisher's booth, but you know, you don't want to presume that your colleagues will be drinking and maybe we won't go there so I didn't...but there's some good advice on how to make sure you're not drinking too much and what to do about it the next day.
FS: Most singers when they talk about fitness, they usually hear, from so many teacher, that they should limit it to yoga and I know there are singers out there are training more and are running marathons and stuff, too, but it still seems to be there's a stigma about working out to hard. What are your views on that?
Claudia: Traditionally voice teachers have been very concerned about having there students workout to much, and I think the reason for that is because when, especially performers, they want to look good on stage. they want to look good in HD, as there are more and more opera broadcasts, and if you have a workout regimen that is limited to pumping up your glamour muscles, you're probably going to throw your whole instrument out of balance because when we think about the muscles that are usually most aesthetic, we're talking about wanting six-pack abs, we want nice well-defined pecs, women want to define their arms, but if you just focus on those parts, rather than looking at the body as a whole and asking how can I optimize my physical structure for peak performance in singing what you end up doing is over-developing the glamour muscles, under-developing the muscles that need to stabilize them and your going to throw things out of whack. For example, if I want to go just pump up my chest a lot, the pectoral muscles are going to get tight and it's going to push my shoulder in like this [rounds shoulder] and my heads going to come forward like that [juts head forward]. and then where is my larynx, right? Whereas, if you go about developing strength in a way that's balanced I can build up my pecs and stabilize my shoulders and I'm going to have a better base of support for displaying my glamour muscles and I'm going to be able to maintain alignment. So what I've tried to do with this book is to explain how sports scientists go about assessing an athlete and noting where do you have some weaknesses, where do you have some overactive muscles, where are there imbalances and then just assigning a program to bring the entire musculature in balance. So the aesthetics are something that you can pursue within a program that is achieving balance and the kind of strength and stability we need as singers, but if you pursue a fitness regimen for the purpose of only aesthetics you might do damage to the voice, if you pursue an athletic regimen with the purpose to optimize your body for peak performance in singing you can also reach your aesthetic goals.
FS: The aesthetics are the icing on the cake. Actually pursuing a healthy lifestyle and balance in the workouts, it's [the body] going to get there, so you don't have to focus on particular things. If you focus on the whole - it's like any other athlete, too, they do cross-training because they need to have that balance. You're going to overwork certain muscles and be more prone to injury, of course for singers, throwing off alignment, it's going to throw off your whole voice.
Claudia: One of my mantras is form follows function, which is that if you do everything you need to do to be a spectacular highly functional vocal athlete, you're going to look the way that someone who was striving to be an athlete looks. It's going to be different for each one of us. Our bodies and our voices are so incredibly unique. This is why I encourage people to really just pursue what they feel is important for their own balance, their own strength and find out what is the aesthetic that will evolve into because if we just take some sort of aesthetic ideal or make ourselves look like "that" is no more useful than saying this is my favourite singer I'm going to try and sound exactly like her. You might be able to mimic that, but you'll never be as amazing as developing your own individual voice.
FS: That's so important, your own individuality involved in all aspects of your instrument. How do you feel that yoga and other somatic bodywork can fit in or complement weight training or resistance training?
Claudia: Yoga's fantastic! Yoga is wonderful. We have yoga teachers out there who are specializing in helping singers, connecting what they're doing with their yoga practice with what they're doing with their singing. Shout out to Mark Moliterno and Sarah Whitten, who are both doing wonderful work in this area. It's not instead or in addition to, it's just another modality. I found yoga to be a wonderful practice. I need to get back to do more of it. It's just a fantastic whole ancient practice that's also good, not only strength and flexibility, but also body-mind integration. It's a wonderful practice for singers to engage in.
What I'm promoting with my book is just more of a sports specific approach to training. What fitness trainers do when they've got an elite athlete that their trying to prepare to win that gold medal or do better for their team of their sport and that's just taking a step back and looking at what are the assets that an athlete needs to do their job well. What movements do they need to excel at, what do they need for strength and flexibility. Do an assessment of that athlete to know where they've got some strengths and some weaknesses, what they need to bring them into better balance, what you need to focus on to make them excel at the movements they need to engage when they're playing their sport. So a bit of an analysis of that for the vocal athlete in the studio and there's a collection of exercises and directions in the book, but you don't need to use these exercises. You can go to a yoga studio or work with a fitness trainer. What I want the readers to understand is that these are the things that I need to work at, these are my goals and so what's the modality, what's the routine, that's going to be the most enjoyable to stick to in order to achieve those goals.
FS: Great! Now I know you said we need to look at the WHOLE body, but if you had to give just three exercises that a singer should include in their workout routine, what would they be?
Claudia: Well as I said in the book, I was reluctant to say this is "the singer workout" because everbody needs such individual special things for the same reason that the voice lesson you get from your voice teacher is not necessarily the same lesson as your other colleagues in the studio are going to get from that teacher. That said, one of the things that I think is most important for singers is to be able to stabilize their shoulders so that they can maintain an open and relaxed ribcage, a dynamically engaged ribcage while they're singing. A common problem I see in singers of all stripes is that sometimes the chest collapses, so it's pressing down to drive air out of the lungs as you sing and this is not going to be great for the biomechanics of the larynx and that's one of the reasons I got into this because I would see students doing this and I would say, "No you need to let your sternum stay high". Well how do you do that?
Having high sternum means that you are able to stabilize your shoulders [brings out resistance band, 14:30 on the video], the rhomboids, the middle and lower trapezius are those muscles that are between the scapula and stabilize your shoulders. You can try this yourself. Slump forward a little bit then bring yourself back up into good alignment. You're going to feel how those muscles between your shoulder do that. Though I don't recommend doing exercises in isolation this is one I do in the studio, which is to engage those muscles and I would put my hands on a student's shoulders to feel it going. [Holds resistance band out in front with both hands shoulder width apart]. And have them exhale and vocalize while pulling on the resistance band so that those muscles in the back stay engaged. My sternum actually gets pulled up as I do this. So focusing on engaging, strengthening, stabilizing the scapula the muscles between the shoulder blades, the rhomboids, the mid and lower trapezius and also massaging the upper trapezius. There's another thing I can recommend. We all tend to be overactive with our upper trapezius and if I'm elevating my shoulders all of this is encroaching on space that I need around my neck for my vocalizing, so being able to release that muscle is important. One good way to do that is take a small massager and I can hold this on my trapezius [demonstrates massager on trapezius], going around to the back and I'm going to elevate my shoulder a roll it to the back and down and then straight up, I'm not going to come forward, while I'm massaging it. That's going to help the trapezius release so it will be easier for me to engage my shoulder stabilizers and avoid having the shoulders come up to my ears.
I think that's a pretty good example. These are a couple of things I think are important for most singers. I don't think you have a teacher who wants you to elevate your shoulders while you're singing. If they do that's ok, I can help you strengthen that too, but I rather that we didn't. [Laugther] Just being able to release that muscle and stabilize the shoulders, there are certain things I can't really help you to do withing the context of a voice lesson, but if I take you to the gym I can show you how to work on these muscles and do things that can keep your sternum elevated very easily while you sing so you don't have to think "keep the sternum up, keep the sternum up", it will just stay there.
FS: Thank you so much for being here this has been a lot of great information.
Want to work on your vocal fitness? Then join our online community at Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
It’s been a long evening of performing and you come home feeling vocally tired and want to unwind.
Golden Milk may be just the thing for you. Not only does it have a name fit for a diva, but this incredible drink has some exceptional health benefits, especially when you drink it in the evening.
The main ingredient is the powerful spice tumeric, which has been used in ayurvedic medicine for centuries. The main compound of turmeric is curcumin, a polyphenol, has the potential to create more than 150 therapeutic activities. It’s non-toxic, antiseptic and natural.
It also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.
That already sounds like just what your poor tired and inflamed vocal folds are asking for.
But there’s more! You can boost the bio-availability of curcumin by pairing it with black pepper. The piperine in black pepper allows for an increase in absorption of curcumin by 2000%. That means way more anti-inflammatory action in your bloodsteam.
More benefits of turmeric:
– Boosts memory and brain function
– Improves insulin sensitivity
– Aids a healthy digestive system
– Detoxifies the liver
– Helps maintain cholesterol levels
– Strengthens the immune system
– Help with stress management
– Help speed post-exercise muscle recovery
How to make Golden Milk:
First make a turmeric paste separately by following these instructions:
Mix all the ingredients together in a small cooking pot, stirring them over a medium heat until the mixture becomes a thick paste. Let the mixture cool and store in a jar in the fridge.
Next, make the Golden Milk by adding ingredients and some of the turmeric paste:
Mix all the ingredients together in a cooking pot on a medium heat except the honey, do not let boil. Add the honey to taste.
Drink Golden Milk every night before you go to bed to really see the health benefits. This may be especially beneficial if you are rehabilitating a vocal injury.
At the very least drinking Golden Milk once a week alongside a healthy and balanced diet should also improve your overall health and keep down any voice-use related inflammation.
Looking for more ways to help your vocal health? Then join our free Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community.
Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”
For singers the topic of gut health is usually restricted to gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD) and it's cousin Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LRP), but with so many other health conditions beginning in the gut that can ultimately affect a singer's ability to perform it's time to look at the full picture.
While "All disease begins in the gut" may not be 100% true for every disease in every person, more and more research shows that our gut (digestive system) has a bigger role in many diseases than we used to think. And we're not just talking about heartburn (which includes GERD and LPR), constipation, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, etc. We're talking about all kinds of issues like allergies, which is a common complain among singers, as well as pain, mood disorders, and nutrient deficiencies.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Our gut is the portal to the outside world. It's here where we take in disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. We also take in nutrients (and toxins) through our gut. The nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body. We're just learning the connections between our gut and other areas of our body, like our brain (have you heard of "the gut-brain axis"). Not just our gut per se; but, its friendly resident microbes too. These guys also have newly discovered roles in our gut health and overall health.
So, let's talk about the roles that our gut and our gut microbes play in our overall health. Then I'll give you tips to improve your gut health naturally.
Our gut’s role in our overall health:
Our gut’s main role is as a barrier. To let things in that should get in, and to keep things out that should stay out. Think of “absorption” of nutrients as things we want to let in; and “elimination” of waste as things we want to pass right through and out.
This seemingly simple role is super-complex! And it can break down in so many places.
For one thing, our guts can "leak." Yes, like a long tube with holes in it, it can allow things to get into our bloodstream/bodies that can wreak havoc (bacteria, undigested food, and toxins). You name it, whatever you put into your mouth can be absorbed by your gut and get into your bloodstream, even if it's not supposed to. And when your gut wall gets irritated, it can "leak." When this happens, you get inflammation, which is a starting point for many diseases that don't seem linked to the gut but have a sneaky connection there. This includes colds, flus and sore throats, which every singer dreads!
FUN FACT: 70-80% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.
A healthy gut is not a leaky gut. It maintains its barrier and shuttles things through to be eliminated. Maintaining a healthy gut barrier is the first pillar of gut health.
The second main part of your gut are the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, and have all kinds of other health benefits, like mental health benefits, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing blood sugar.
So, keeping your gut microbes happy is the second pillar of gut health!
How to improve gut health:
There are a lot of natural ways to improve gut health. Let’s start with what to stop. It’s always best to eliminate the cause, so let’s stop giving our guts junk to deal with. How about eliminating added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol? Try that for a few weeks, and you may be amazed at how much better your body (and gut) feels.
You may also want to eliminate other gut irritants. Dairy and grains contain common compounds known to irritate some people’s guts. Sometimes you only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your health.
By eating nutrient-dense foods, we allow ample macro- and micro-nutrients into our gut to maximize the chance for absorption. These nutrients help our bodies build and repair our gut, and every other body part as well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, colourful fruits and veggies, and fish.
The second pillar of gut health is our microbes. By ingesting probiotic-rich foods and drinks, we can help to replenish our gut microbes. These are found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Make these a part of your daily diet.
Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fiber. Not eating enough fiber increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Fiber plays lots of roles in our gut, including whisking away some of those pesky bad bacteria and toxins so they can be eliminated. Fiber also helps to feed our friendly resident microbes that help us absorb and digest our food better. What foods have a lot of fiber? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even cacao.
And don’t forget the uber-important lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep, stressing less, and getting the right amount (and intensity) of exercise for you. It’s easy to forget some of the simple, but key links there are between what we do with our bodies and how well they function.
The function of your gut is key to your overall health. There are two pillars of gut health: maintaining a good barrier and maintaining healthy gut microbes.
The main ways to improve both of these naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole foods. Foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fiber. And eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol.
To find out more join our free Facebook community here.
Recipe (Probiotic-rich): Fermented Carrots
Yield: 12 servings
1 L warm water
4 tsp salt
4 carrots, medium, peeled, sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed (optional)
Make a brine by dissolving the salt in water.
Place carrots into a clean canning jar, packing them in tight. Make sure to leave about 1 inch of head space at the top.
Fill the jar with brine, making sure to cover the carrots completely. Weigh the carrots down to make sure they don't float (you can use a "fermenting weight").
Close the jar and let it sit at room temperature for 1-4 days. The longer it sits, the more the flavor will develop. Feel free to open and taste.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Use this as a side dish, or even a snack.
These days it seems like every time you ask someone how they are the answer is “busy”. In an age where technology is supposed to ease our workload, the average person is actually working more.
The life of a singer can be exceptionally busy. Since most singers don’t make a living wage off their singing, they need to supplement with other income, so add to a daily job and household responsibilities the time for lessons, research, practice, rehearsals and performances and you can be busy from early morning to late in the night.
If you’re lucky enough to be a successful professional singer, life is still a hectic whirlwind of travel, lessons and coachings, auditions and, for some, 8 performances a week or MORE!
A singer’s life is full of stress.
It’s not just the busyness, but the emotional stress that we need to get through dealing with auditions, performance expectations (ours and other’s), reviews, rejections, competition and worrying about our vocal health.
You as a singer are already most likely a sensitive soul. Singers, as other musicians, feel deeply. This gives us the ability to transform the notes and words on a page into a profound emotional experience for your audience. This also makes us more vulnerable to mental health issues.
What is stress?
Stress is a natural response to external stimulus. It’s part of our fight or flight instinct. You sense a threat and your body starts to release a number of stress hormones into the body, mostly from the adrenal gland.
A stressor is the stimulus (or threat) that causes stress, e.g. exam, audition, performance, divorce, death of loved one, moving house, loss of job.
Sudden and severe stress generally produces:
This explains the pre-performance shallow breathing and loss of appetite, and the post-performance colds that many singers experience.
Usually, when the threat is past, your body goes back into a balanced state.
Problems start to occur when the stress doesn't dissipate or occurs with great frequency. This is chronic stress. It can affect the immune, metabolic and cardiovascular systems, and lead to atrophy of the brain's hippocampus (crucial for long-term memory and spatial navigation).
Cortisol (one of the main stress hormones), stays elevated. This is the hormone that releases glucose for energy. This can lead to unregulated eating and the craving for “comfort” foods, to maintain the energy levels that the stress response is asking for. Outcomes of this can be obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
In fact, untreated chronic stress can result in serious many serious health conditions. In addition to the above it can also lead to anxiety and depression, insomnia, muscle pain and heart disease.
Despite its connection to illness, it’s estimated that 33 percent of Americans never discuss ways to manage stress with their healthcare provider.
So how can you tell if you are over stressed or approaching burnout?
If you’re to stressed you might feel:
If you’ve reached the point of burnout you will be experiencing:
If you are experiencing burnout or chronic stress symptoms then be sure to address this with your health care practitioner.
8 Tips to Manage Stress:
The best way to manage stress is to make it a priority to do so. So here are 8 tips to help you reduce the stress in your life.
If you want more stress busting tips and a supportive community of singers, then click here to join our free group Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
Coffee is one of those things - you either love it or hate it. You know if you like the taste or not (or if it’s just a reason to drink sugar and cream). You know how it makes you feel (i.e. your gut, your mind, etc.).
Not to mention the crazy headlines that say coffee is great, and the next day you should avoid it!
As singers we are also told to avoid it due to the dehydrating effect of caffeine on our vocal folds.
There is actual science behind why different people react differently to it. It's a matter of your genetics and how much coffee you're used to drinking.
NOTE: Coffee does not equal caffeine. Coffee contains between 50-400 mg of caffeine/cup, averaging around 100 mg/cup. Coffee is one of the most popular ways to consume this stimulant. But… a cup of coffee contains a lot of things over and above the caffeine. Not just water, but antioxidants, and hundreds of other compounds. These are the reasons drinking a cup of coffee is not the same as taking a caffeine pill. And decaffeinated coffee has a lot less caffeine; but, it still contains some.
Let's look at caffeine metabolism, its effects on the mind and body, and whether coffee drinkers have higher or lower risks of disease. We'll also look at some studies on the effects on the voice. Then I’ll give you some things to consider when deciding if coffee is for you or not.
Not all people metabolize caffeine at the same speed. How fast you metabolize caffeine will impact how you’re affected by the caffeine. In fact, caffeine metabolism can be up to 40x faster in some people than others.
About half of us are “slow” metabolizers of caffeine. We can get jitters, heart palpitations, and feel "wired" for up to 9 hours after having a coffee. The other half is "fast" metabolizers of caffeine. They get energy and increased alertness and are back to normal a few hours later.
This is part of the reason those headlines contradict each other so much - because we’re all different!
The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body
NOTE: Most studies look at caffeinated coffee, not decaf.
The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body also differ between people; this is partly from the metabolism I mentioned. But it also has to do with your body’s amazing ability to adapt (read: become more tolerant) to long-term caffeine use. Many people who start drinking coffee feel the effects a lot more than people who have coffee every day.
Here’s a list of these effects (that usually decrease with long-term use):
So, while some of these effects are good and some aren’t, you need to see how they affect you and decide if it’s worth it or not.
Coffee and health risks
There are a ton of studies on the health effects of coffee, and whether coffee drinkers are more or less likely to get certain conditions.
Here’s a quick summary of what coffee can lead to:
Many of the health benefits exist even for decaf coffee (except the caffeine addiction and sleep issues).
NOTE: What’s super-important to note here is that coffee intake is just one of many, many factors that can affect your risks for these diseases. Please never think regular coffee intake is the one thing that can help you overcome these risks. You are health-conscious and know that eating a nutrient-rich whole foods diet, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep and exercise are all critical things to consider for your disease risk. It’s not just about the coffee.
Caffeine and the Singer
So what does it mean to you as a singer?
An initial pilot study from 1999 showed that there was an effect on vocal production in all participants after consuming 250 mg of caffeine, though the variability was quite great. This study had only 8 participants, so it was to small a sampling to make a definite conclusion.
A subsequent study from 2011 with a group of 16 subjects compared them in two sessions, one at which they consumed 480 mg caffeine and one at which they consumed a sham beverage containing only 24 mg. There was no discernible difference in voice measurements between the two sessions.
Another study from 2013 took 58 females between the ages of 18 and 35. They were split into two groups, one being given 100 mg of caffeine and the other control group being given a placebo. Tests administered to both groups did not identify any differences between them in the measurements of vocal acoustic and aerodynamics.
All these studies have small samplings and many limitations, so no firm conclusion can yet be reached on the effect of caffeine on the voice.
The best advice is "better safe than sorry". Follow conventional vocal wisdom by restricting caffeine use and for every cup of coffee, drink 2 cups of water.
Vocal issues aside, should you drink coffee or not?
There are a few things to consider when deciding whether you should drink coffee. No one food or drink will make or break your long-term health.
Caffeinated coffee is not recommended for:
If none of these apply, then monitor how your body reacts when you have coffee. Does it:
Depending on how your body reacts, decide whether these reactions are worth it to you. If you’re not sure, I recommend eliminating it for a while and see the difference.
Recipe (Latte): Pumpkin Spice Latte
3 tbsp coconut milk or other non-dairy milk
1 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon)
¼ tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp pumpkin puree
½ tsp maple syrup (optional)
1 cup coffee (decaf if preferred)
Add all ingredients to blender and blend until creamy.
Serve & enjoy!