Singing and illness

I normally am pretty cheery and happy when I talk about my work, but today I am sad. After three days of a chesty cough and problems breathing (I don’t DO coughing!) I came home today from the doctor’s with a verdict of bronchitis. OK. I knew I was feeling unwell, fevers etc. But  coughing drives me NUTS! With each cough I imagine my vocal folds going redder and getting more inflamed. I have to take more time off work. This makes me sad, because I love my work. I don’t want to infect my students, and I am certainly NOT coughing through a singing lesson. Very bad form! It means I have to reschedule many many lessons and cancel others. It inconveniences me, and my students who may have auditions or performances coming up in the near future. It interrupts our learning. Many times students come to lessons unwell and in no condition for a lesson. Sometimes they are exhausted from performance schedules / work / studies / exams. Sometimes they are sick, recovering from being sick or on the cusp of being sick. Unfortunately infectious diseases are infectious and airborne. I catch them – and this year has been remarkably plentiful in terms of both student illnesses and my own illness. The other nasty side effect is being self employed I miss out on income. What to do?

I need to stop being upset about being sick and look at recovery. Here are my steps to vocal health:

1. REST. Get enough sleep. If your body is sick it needs to recover.

2. FLUIDS. LOTS of water, herbal teas (non drying!). I love the Vocal Five Teas because the seed which comes with the beautiful organic teas (Sterculia Lychnophora)  is great for reducing inflammation (Chinese medicine) but check with your doctor if in any doubt. Try to avoid menthol based teas and try chamomile, liquorice, ginger, lemon and my favourite, jasmine tea. Hot water with lemon and honey and bits of fresh garlic is another favourite of mine. But beautiful filtered water and lots of it is the best!

3. VOCALISATION – rest but not COMPLETE vocal rest. Unless your doctor or an ENT suggests this (usually after surgery – or if you have laryngitis where the larynx is inflamed), some resonant voice exercises may be useful in the healing process following inflammation. (LeBourgne, W, Rosenberg, M. 2014. The Vocal Athlete. Plural Publishing: San Diego. p116.). What are resonant voice exercises? Try some semi-occluded vowel exercises, such as making sounds through a straw, bubbling the straw into water, small quiet glides on ee or oo. Check out this article from The Voice Council which included Ingo Titze’s now famous straw exercise YouTube video.

4. Keep up your body stretches. Head, neck, shoulder back and body stretches. I start every lesson with stretches and see no reason to stop stretching because my lungs are playing up!

5. PRACTICE SILENTLY. This really works! Practising using your imagination, imagine you are singing, use all the muscles but make no sound. This avoids excessive vocal use in recovering voices but ensures your muscles and brain are still doing the practice. Research presented by Prof Graham Welch at the Hobart ANATS conference (October 2015) “Singing Futures: Pedagogies, Practices and the Digital Age” indicated that the brain continues to lay down the neural pathways seen during practice almost as strongly when imagining you are practicing. This was shown via MRI scans which clearly demonstrated similar brain activity levels during actual practice and imaginary practice.  Great news if you have a performance or audition coming up and the large strikes. Try it – I have used it here in the studio to great success.

So now, I am off for cup of tea, some straw exercises, and some more rest.