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Breathe, Heal and Sing!: Singing Back to Life


A new program teaches breathing techniques used by opera singers to aid Covid-19 patients after discharge.

photo_camera A basic need arises once the emergency of Covid-19 is over: easily breathe again.

Breathe

Distress, choking, shortness of breath, coughing, voice alterations, difficulty swallowing, and chest pains are some of the most frequent sequels in patients who have been infected with Covid-19. These symptoms can linger for even months after the patients have been discharged.

A basic need arises once the emergency is over to get back to "normal" life: easily breathe again.

"We were going through a very severe emergency last year, with a sharp increase in the number of Covid-19 cases. I wondered how art could contribute to alleviating the health crisis," said Miryam Singer. She is the director of Arts and Culture, and in 2020 she coordinated one of the Covid UC workgroups.

Then she heard about an initiative of the London Opera: "ENO Breath." 

In September 2020, the English National Opera (ENO) began an online pilot programme. Based on the same techniques used by opera singers, it offers tools to support patients who experience difficulty breathing and reduce the anxiety this can cause.

They started with 12 patients, and in less than six months later, they had reached 1,000 people, working in partnership with ten hospitals in London and the north of England.

"It's a wonderful idea," thought Miryam Singer, also the winner of the National Award for Musical Arts 2020. "We can replicate it, improve it and adapt it to our capabilities."

As stated by President Ignacio Sánchez in La Segunda newspaper: "music and singing, along with stimulating proper breathing, will undoubtedly support having good spirits, joy, and hope in a speedy recovery and a better future for each patient. The different disciplines of the university come together to support the comprehensive rehabilitation of our people who have gone through a difficult health situation. Art and its different expressions are an integral part of rehabilitation, physical development, and also of the spiritual happiness of our national community." 

Heal

Inspired by the English initiative, the idea of developing a program was born, but with local characteristics: Respira, Sana y Canta!! (Breathe, Heal and Sing!!)

The Chilean version has two parts: 

  1. Open format: a series of short videos with breathing exercises available to the entire community on the program's website.
  2. By Registration: online workshops, led by an opera singer for a group of up to eleven participants per session. Only people who have been discharged from being hospitalized may participate. Registration for the workshops is through a form on the same site.

The workshops include a work plan that addresses different aspects such as posture, breathing, and voice work. An interdisciplinary team has prepared the exercise program of a vocal coach, a speech therapist, a kinesiologist. The three young UC singers teach it. 

"These breathing exercises make it possible to recover lung capacity to a great extent. They also help people relax after having gone through such an intense experience," explained Catalina Briceño, MD, medical director of the program.

"It has been very enriching to work with an interdisciplinary team of professionals," said singer Marisol Vega. "This is a beautiful project. Singing is a tremendous help for people's emotional, mental and physical health.

"Once the critical state of the illness is over, patients are discharged. They often feel "abandoned" and can no longer do the same things they did before," said Vanessa Rojas, also a singer.

"The idea is to accompany and support them, so those who have gone through such a difficult disease feel that they are not alone," added her colleague  Javiera Lara.

Watch the complete set of exercises.

Sing

"It's about people not only recovering physically, but also emotionally. Covid-19 is a very intense and tough experience. We want them to recover fully, to feel self-reliant again, to regain their self-confidence and the joy of living," explained Miryam Singer.

Likewise, Dr. Catalina Briceño emphasized that this workshop allows the participants to connect with other people who have gone through the same experience. 

"For UC Christus Health Network, this initiative is very enriching. It is part of the follow-up program we already have and allows us to provide a more comprehensive accompaniment," she added.

"People think that we singers have a special 'gift.' But we train hard to be able to sing. We exercise throughout our lives, and that awareness of the process of singing is what we want to pass on," added Vanessa.

"This project allows us to connect to the body through music, which is something vital for people who have gone through this. Singing is a way to stop and look at ourselves internally," she added.

"In the workshops, we teach simple exercises that people can do in their daily lives," said Marisol. "We want them to feel that they can sing, that they can come back to life. It's not just about surviving the virus. It's about restoring dignity."

As Javiera Lara explained, since this is an online workshop, "we try to bring the face-to-face feeling to Zoom. We do the exercises together with the participants and adjust the activities according to the group's pace."

The "final test" is to sing a song with the whole group.

As Miryam Singer concluded:

"The ultimate goal is, people can heal by feeling the warm embrace of music. This initiative was born within Universidad Católica to extend its benefits to the whole community. We are open to any hospital interested in providing this service to their patients. They only have to contact us at respirasanaycanta@uc.cl, and we will respond immediately".

The Respira, Sana y Canta!! Team

  • Miryam Singer, director of the Respira, Sana y Canta!! (Breathe, Heal and Sing!!) Program.
  • Dr. Catalina Briceño, Head of the post-Covid follow-up program of the UC Christus Health Network.
  • Mauricio Chacón, kinesiology professor.
  • Daniela Verástegui, clinical tutor in Speech Therapy. 
  • Doris Silva, soprano and professor at the Institute of Music.
  • Vanessa Rojas, soprano and teacher of the program.
  • Javiera Lara, mezzo and teacher of the program.
  • Marisol Vega, soprano and teacher of the program.
 

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