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The surprising health benefit of joining a church choir

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What you can get from singing in unison goes well beyond the lovely sounds.

My sisters-in-law have fantastic voices, and both sing in their church choirs. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, so the idea of joining a choir has always been in the realm of fantasy for me. But I love, love, love hearing choirs sing. Hearing voices twined in harmony is like magic, even more so because I have no idea how those wizards make their voices do that.

Listening to choirs is incredibly soothing, almost like meditation, so it doesn’t surprise me that there are health benefits associated with hearing people sing, such as reduced cortisol levels. But what did surprise me is that singing in a choir has physical and psychological benefits that surpass the benefits of merely listening, as two psychologists from Trinity College Dublin recently discovered:

They report that listening to that soothing work did significantly increase the participants’ mindfulness level. But the group singing did so to a far greater extent. This suggests listening to music can help us focus on the present moment, but singing it does so much more effectively.

This makes intuitive sense, given that group singing requires “focused concentration,” which precludes “preoccupation with sources of worry,” the researchers write. “The call for attention to numerous details such as watching the conductor, listening to the other voices in harmony, reading the music and/or remembering the words all contribute to reaching this attentive, aware, and accepting state.”

The benefits of mindfulness are well-researched and not limited to the mind itself. Awareness and acceptance of emotional distress can buffer the impact that the stress hormone cortisol has on the body, protecting the mindful from stress-related health problems like heart disease and obesity.

But mindfulness can be a hard skill to master, particularly for those with a busy work or home life. And if you’re anything like me, when you carve out time to practice mindfulness you might end up frustrated by a busy mind that won’t stop reminding you of everything you should be doing. Singing in a choir promotes mindfulness through focused activity, and it could be an easy and enjoyable way to incorporate the practice into a busy life, with the added benefit of participating in a social activity.

Sounds like a win-win … provided, of course, that you can carry a tune. The rest of us will have to content ourselves with listening. Mindfully.

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