Bristol is the most recent U.K. city hosting a Singing for Breathing group, called Singing for Lung Health, an initiative created to help anyone living with a lung condition as well as their caregivers.
Singing for Lung Health is part of the Life of Breath project, a five-year research project led by Bristol and Durham universities and funded by the Wellcome Trust with support from the British Lung Foundation.
The new group meets every Wednesday at the Greenway Centre in Southmead from 1-2 p.m. Entrance is free, no singing experience is required, and participants can expect to find mild, uplifting vocal exercises and easy songs in a friendly and informal atmosphere.
The idea is to raise awareness of breathing patterns, teach participants how to better control their breathing, and cope with breathlessness.
Life of Breath’s mission brings together an interdisciplinary team of collaborators working to find new ways of approaching breathing and breathlessness and their relationship to health and disease.
“As well as being great for wellbeing and mood, there is increasing evidence that singing helps people living with lung conditions cope better with breathlessness and feel more confident about their breathing,” Havi Carel, a professor at the University of Bristol and one of the project’s principal investigators, said in a press release.
The project embraces the holistic view that breathing is not only a bodily function, it also is vital for communicating and self-expression. Art, culture, and even spirituality have approached the issue of breathing.
Breathlessness is a personal experience, and coping with it varies considerably among different people. This variability makes it difficult to measure and to treat, something Life of Breath wants to improve by helping people live well with breathlessness.
The original idea behind Singing for Breathing was born in 2008 at the hands (and voice) of Phoene Cave, a vocal coach and music therapist. She was invited to teach singing lessons to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients at the Royal Brompton Hospital to see if singing could improve breathing management in these patients.
She recalls being happy but incredibly nervous at the beginning. “One woman said to me incredulously, ‘I can’t even speak, let alone sing.’ She did sing, though, and told me how much better she felt afterwards. It took her back in body, mind and heart, to a time when she danced and felt alive. Music has the power to do that,” Cave wrote in a March 2016 blog on the Life of Breath website.
In the next two years, Phoene worked with hundreds of patients at the Royal Brompton Hospital with a variety of lung illnesses. Singing for Breathing then gained the support of the British Lung Foundation and kept growing. Currently, there are over 50 groups across the U.K.
For Phoene, Singing for Breathing became not only an evidence-based treatment but also a deeply holistic intervention. The changing of its name to Singing for Lung Health in the Bristol group testifies how seriously it is being taken.
For the new group hosted at Bristol, Jules Olsen, a vocal coach and the group’s leader, hopes that they “will not just improve participants’ feeling of control over their breathing and better ability to breathe correctly, but have a great time in the process.” She added that, “Singing is a fabulous activity for health and wellbeing, particularly singing in a group which adds a wonderful social aspect.”
Sandra Taylor, a patient diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis 15 months ago, joined the group and is happy with the results achieved so far.
“The singing has really enabled me to understand more about the process of breathing and controlling my breathing which really helps manage my condition,” Taylor said. “I’m not a singer by any means but I would really encourage anyone with a lung condition to come along to the group. It’s great to meet with other people in similar situations and compare notes to see how they are coping.”