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Complementary and Alternate Therapies for Singers
Megan Young, Artistic Services Manager, OPERA America
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Voices9/1/2006

Editor's Note: Note: Before engaging in any new complementary or alternative therapy, be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies. Each discipline has its own regulations about professionally licensing practitioners, and these rules may vary from state to state. If you plan to visit a practitioner, choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and adheres to the organization’s standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapies or programs.
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In this information age, it's downright difficult to dodge the constant deluge of advertisements telling us how we can live longer, lose weight, gain weight, lose wrinkles, gain energy, and find inner peace, all from calling a 1-800 number and swallowing a magic pill (at the low, low price of only $60 a bottle!). Unfortunately, there is no magic pill that will instantly transform you from a mercurial, vulnerable singer to a balanced, self-assured conqueror of the musical stage. But there are a multitude of complementary and alternative therapies that, when practiced with care and patience (along with regular check-ins with your primary care physician), can help you to achieve a better balance in your life, both professionally and personally. You are your instrument, after all, and taking care of your instrument should be your highest priority!

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the Federal Government's lead agency for research in the field, divides complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) into five categories:
  1. Alternative Medical Systems
    Alternative medical systems are built upon complete systems of theory and practice. Often, these systems have evolved apart from and earlier than the conventional medical approach used in the United States. Examples of alternative medical systems that have developed in Western cultures include homeopathic medicine and naturopathic medicine.
  2. Mind-Body Interventions
    Mind-body medicine uses a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind's capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. Some techniques that were considered CAM in the past have become mainstream (for example, patient support groups and cognitive-behavioral therapy). Other mindbody techniques are still considered CAM, including meditation, prayer, mental healing, and therapies that use creative outlets such as art, music, or dance.
  3. Biologically Based Therapies
    Biologically based therapies in CAM use substances found in nature, such as herbs, foods, and vitamins. Some examples include dietary supplements, herbal products, and the use of so-called natural, but as yet scientifically unproven, therapies (such as using shark cartilage to treat cancer).
  4. Manipulative and Body-Based Methods
    Manipulative and body-based methods in CAM are based on manipulation and/or movement of one or more parts of the body. Some examples include chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation, and massage.
  5. Energy Therapies
    Energy therapies involve the use of energy fields. They are of two types: Biofield therapies are intended to affect energy fields that purportedly surround and penetrate the human body. The existence of such fields has not yet been scientifically proven. Some forms of energy therapy manipulate biofields by applying pressure and/or manipulating the body by placing the hands in, or through, these fields. Examples include Qigong, Reiki, and Therapeutic Touch. Bioelectromagnetic-based therapies involve the unconventional use of electromagnetic fields, such as pulsed fields, magnetic fields, or alternatingcurrent or direct-current fields.
Source: nccam.nih.gov

But wait, there's more! Now that you understand the basic concepts involved with CAM, here are some therapies that may help you in the never-ending process of reaching your highest potential as a singer (and as a human being). Keep in mind that none of these therapies will be your panacea, however. Well-being is a very personal process, and the key is finding the practice(s) that will enrich and complement the life you already have.

Acupuncture
A part of Chinese medicine for at least 2,500 years, acupuncture is based on the premise that there are patterns of energy flow (Qi) that run through the human body. Disruptions of this energy are believed to be responsible for imbalances and disease. The most popular form of acupuncture seeks to correct these imbalances by penetrating the skin with thin metal needles at identifiable energy points in the body which are close to the skin.

Alexander Technique
The Alexander Technique, based on the work of Frederick Matthias Alexander, is a means of improving how we use ourselves. The basic principle is this: The way you do something affects the results you get. It has been called a "pretechnique" which people can apply to furthering their own specialized skills and activities and it can also be used as a preventative technique to improve and maintain health. We are all unique, with different bodies, different experiences, and different problems, so Alexander Technique lessons depend on the need of the individual student, but the basic learning process involves discovering the most efficient ways in which to use the human body.

Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy involves the use of essential oils (naturally extracted aromatic essences from plants) to balance and promote health of the body, mind, and spirit. Through this practice, one explores the physiological, psychological, and spiritual realm of the individual's response to aromatic extracts as well as to observe and enhance the individual's innate healing process. For instance, lavender essential oil is said to reduce anxiety. Aromatherapy is used as both a preventative approach as well as an active treatment during acute and chronic stages of illness.

Ayurveda
Practiced in India for over 5,000 years, Ayurveda is a practice that integrates the mind, body, and spirit in order to create balance within. Literally, Ayus means age or lifespan and Veda means wisdom or true knowledge. Recorded in ancient scriptures called Vedas, Ayurvedic treatments and recommendations are based on the following principle: While symptoms may collectively appear common to many, their cause is uniquely rooted in the individual's temperament, diet, lifestyle, genetics, and past actions. Health is directly impacted by the harmonious relationship between a person and his or her environment. For instance, three people may complain of a headache, but the cause and healing for each individual will be different. Ayurveda does not treat disease, but instead addresses the entire well-being of the person.

Chiropractic
Chiropractic is a health care profession that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, and the effects of these disorders on a person's general health. Chiropractic care is used most often to treat neuromusculoskeletal issues, including back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints, and headaches. The most common procedure performed by doctors of chiropractic is known as spinal manipulation (or chiropractic adjustment). The purpose of manipulation is to restore joint mobility by manually applying a controlled force into joints that have become restricted in their movement as a result of a tissue injury. Chiropractors have broad diagnostic skills and are also trained to recommend therapeutic and rehabilitative exercises, as well as to provide nutritional, dietary, and lifestyle counseling.

Counseling
Counseling (sometimes referred to as talk therapy) is a collaborative effort between the counselor and client, and can be in a one-on-one, family, or group setting. Professional counselors help clients identify goals and potential solutions to emotional problems, seek to improve communication and coping skills, strengthen self-esteem, and promote behavior change for optimal mental health. Through counseling, people can examine the behaviors, thoughts, and feelings that are causi
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