Members of an unusual singing group in Bristol, England, are not just having fun, but learning more about their lung diseases.
In addition to helping them explore breathing and breathlessness, it’s helping researchers learn about the disorders as well.
The group, which includes pulmonary fibrosis patients, is part of a five-year research project funded by the Wellcome Trust. Led by the Universities of Bristol and Durham, it is titled “Life of Breath.” The project’s goal is to find new ways of understanding breathing and breathlessness and how they affect illness and wellbeing.
To enroll, participants don’t need to be experienced singers. The program consists of gentle, uplifting voice exercises, singing, and breathing training, including using the diaphragm in breathing.
A singing and breathing coach insures that the classes are useful and fun, increasing participants’ knowledge of and capacity to control their breathing.
“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,” researcher Havi Carel said in a University of Bristol news story.
“Breathing isn’t just a bodily function,” she said. “It allows us to speak, laugh and sing. It connects us to the world. It reflects our state of mind and can be consciously controlled. The personal and cultural meaning of breathing goes beyond the simple act of keeping us alive.”
“Breathlessness is also a personal experience which can be very scary and sometimes requires support,” she said. Because of that, “health professionals find it hard to measure and difficult to treat. Those living with breathlessness are often forgotten. We want to help people live well with breathlessness.”
Lung conditions such as pulmonary fibrosis not only diminish patients’ ability to breathe, but also lead to anxiety, including from challenging social situations.
“My condition is not as severe as other people’s, but it is a progressive illness,” said Sandra Taylor, who was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis 15 months ago. “The singing has really enabled me to understand more about the process of breathing and controlling my breathing, which really helps manage my condition. 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.”
Jules Olsen, the voice coach who leads the training, said singing can help improve overall health and wellbeing, particularly when it’s in a group setting, which facilitates socializing.
“The songs and exercises are all simple and fun and accessible to all, regardless of age or ability,” she said. “Through this group, I hope we 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.”
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