Sing for the JOY of it

What is it about singing that lifts our spirits and changes our mood?  A year-long course in Berkeley CA entitled “Awakening Joy” recommends three things to bring joy into your life:  meditation, movement of some kind (walking, dancing, etc.) and singing.  In each monthly session of the course the participants hear lectures, experience guided meditations, listen to live music, and perhaps most importantly, they sing together.  The point is not to create accomplished singers of course, but simply to connect the community in song.

Rick Hanson (neuropsychologist, author of Buddha’s Brain) was a recent guest speaker at the “Awakening Joy” course.  He talked about how our brains are wired for negativity: once burned, twice shy.  Human beings, at least those who survived to share their genes, found that it was better to be anxious about a non-existent tiger in the bushes, than to be care-free and devoured!  Brains developed to be on the alert for danger.  The continuous buzz of anxiety was a survival necessity earlier in our human history, but these days can cause needless stress and suffering.

According to Hanson, it is easy for our brains to record the hard stuff – the insults, or the disappointments.  It is harder for our brains to process and retain the good stuff – one’s own accomplishments, or the generosity of friends.  As he puts it, for the brain it’s “Velcro for the bad, Teflon for the good.”  Hanson recommends pushing back against this biology, and paying attention to the good when it naturally appears.  He suggests giving ourselves 10, 20 or even 30 seconds to fully experience a good moment.  This seems like a ridiculously short time, but it’s harder than you think.  Taking time to really feel the event in the body gives the brain time to absorb and learn.  And as Hanson often says, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”  Because the brain is “plastic,” it can create new neural pathways and learn new ways of dealing with the world.

Sing for the JOY of it!

When we sing, we are creating not just seconds of good feeling, but full minutes!  When we fully give ourselves over to singing, we can experience a realm of connection, non-judgment and beauty.  For many people this is easiest to accomplish in a group.  Our own small voice is blended with the others around us, and there are other voices who are adding harmonies.  We can enjoy the support of the guitar or piano, and we can rest for a moment in the group feeling of contentment and flow.  As the song progresses to the second and third verses, our brains are given the needed time to absorb and integrate the positive feelings.  One can only imagine the wonderful things that this is doing for our brains!

~ Liz

For more about Rick Hanson, click HERE for his website.

Click HERE to see a Hanson video: “Take in the Good.”