Singing for Lung Health

By Trina Rule

My career as a secondary school teacher was always enjoyable and fulfilling but, in combination with the debilitating effects of almost 30 years of RA and with a growing family, it left me with little energy for much else in my life. So, when I took early retirement two years ago, I was excited to have the time to pursue some hobbies that I had not had time for previously. I had always loved singing and so I joined a couple of choirs and thoroughly enjoyed not only the singing but the social aspect of a communal activity as well.

However, I encountered a problem relating to RA. I frequently experienced discomfort when breathing and I found that the long breaths required for singing were causing me problems. I ploughed on though, determined to continue with this enjoyable past-time. However, last August, I had surgery on my neck and my restricted movement caused a slight problem with the anaesthetic. This left me with some swallowing issues and, more annoyingly, problems with singing.

I was beginning to think that maybe it was going to be too difficult for me to pursue this hobby when a friend told me about a group that had set up locally, called ‘Singing for Lung Health’. So, I went along – perhaps a little sceptically - to see if it could be of any help. I am so glad I overcame my scepticism because the results have been remarkable.

The group is run by local musicians, Kate Barfield and Greg Stephens. Having run community choirs since 2003, Kate had a great awareness of the many benefits that the singers seemed to gain from belonging to a choir. She took this further by training with the British Lung Foundation which runs courses for this very purpose. This training enabled Kate to teach specific breathing techniques through singing to improve lung health. To put the theory into practice, in November 2015 she set up Village Voices, a community choir specifically for people with breathing difficulties.

The group itself is run weekly and although we meet in a retirement village in Stoke, there is a wide range of ages from young adults to older people, both men and women. The group is open to anyone, regardless of their musical ability, but who have some kind of breathing difficulty. For some, the breathing problems might be very severe, whereas for others, it might be mild asthma. There are a number of people, like me, who have other medical problems that have caused breathing difficulties.

Each session starts with relaxation exercises, the practising of breathing techniques, followed by some vocal warm ups. We learn to breathe in a certain way which is now becoming second nature to me and is certainly easing the discomfort I felt previously.

The benefits of singing are proven to be many and they are not all medical. Research has shown that singing can help us to feel more in control of our breathing, encouraging us to breathe more deeply and more slowly. It improves muscle strength which is very good news for those RA sufferers whose muscles are affected. It improves posture which, again, is something often adversely affecting RA patients. In addition to these physical benefits, singing can improve voice projection which, in turn, may improve confidence. Perhaps most importantly though, is the wonderful sense of well-being that results from singing, particularly with other people. There is no medicine like it! RA can sap your energy, your enthusiasm and your mood but the simple act of joining voices with a group of friends every week, can counteract all that negativity.

These groups are springing up all over the country now as more people like Kate train to run them. It isn’t really about the sound; many of the people who attend would probably admit that they have never really sung before – it’s about the benefits to health and wellbeing. Having said that, I think together we make a good sound and we have even performed in public to a very enthusiastic reception!

I am so pleased that I found this group and I really want others like me to reap the benefits of a good sing.

To find your local group, visit www.blf.org.uk/support-for-you/singing-for-lung-health