How to tackle singers’ common health problems

Kinesiologist Gary Albert Hughes explains how he takes a holistic approach to help singers enjoy optimum health.

The nutritional, physical and emotional needs of a singer are different from an office worker or an athlete, yet information to help singers manage their health is practically non-existent.

Singers use their bodies and minds in vastly different ways to other people and often need help specific to their needs.

My role as a kinesiologist is to give performers the tools to manage their physical and emotional health issues.
In my clinic I have helped people overcome serious and debilitating conditions such as stage fright, phobias, addictions, confidence, weight loss, low self-esteem and nerves. It helps that I understand many of the issues performers face – as I am a singer myself.

I trained as a singer at the Royal Academy of Music and as a classical musician at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. But by the age of 25 I was suffering with debilitating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), my adrenals were not functioning properly, three of my five liver detoxification pathways were not doing their job properly and my thyroid hormones were dramatically out of balance. This caused an array of health issues including daily headaches, bloating, constipation, fatigue, sleepless nights, anxiety and just a general feeling of not being very well.

As you can imagine it impacted my career as a performer. I had to cancel auditions, turn down contracts and lost some passion for being on stage. My doctor was unable to help. Other natural therapies I tried did help, but none of them were really getting to the underlying root cause.

So I took matters into my own hands. I began to research health, nutrition and holistic therapies to find out everything I could about how to cure myself. That is when I came across kinesiology. My first reaction was “kinesi-WHAT?” But as I read more and more about it, something resonated with me and I booked a session. The rest of the story is simple. My kinesiologist told me what was wrong with me in about 15 minutes, prescribed me the herbs and nutrients my body was saying it needed (through the language of muscle testing), fixed some imbalances in my nervous, skeletal and digestive system and sent me on my way. Three weeks later I was as right as rain. I had more energy, my tummy was flat, my acid reflux was gone and I could sleep. Almost all my symptoms had dropped away. I was so impressed by this non-invasive, drug free, powerful therapy that I decided to train to become a systematic kinesiologist with The Academy of Systematic Kinesiology and today enjoy helping performers in the same way I was helped.

So what are the classic problems singers come to my clinic with and how to I go about helping them? Well, it’s a tricky question because everyone is different and in kinesiology there are many ways to solve a problem. We use an amazing tool called “muscle testing” and it very reliably gives us the answers to questions we have about the client’s body systems. We work on the basis that the body is an electrical circuit. We know that the human body produces 10millivolts of electricity – enough to light a light bulb. These electrical signals can be weakened or strengthened by putting different stimuli in the circuit: nutrition, herbs, foods, thoughts, feelings and emotions. Because of this we can find out exactly what is stressing the system, where imbalances are and how to fix them. However, there are patterns that emerge, and here I will outline some of the most common problems and how I helped the client fix their issue.


The Problem

This is a singer’s worst nightmare. Acid reflux and other digestive issues are without doubt one of the main reasons singers come to my clinic. It is such a common issue, but for singers it obviously poses more of a challenge because it potentially messes with their income stream. The most important thing to know with acid reflux is that over the counter and prescription medications often used to treat the condition can actually make it worse. This is because acid reflux is mostly due to under acid not over acid. The human live body is very clever; when it is not producing enough acid it pushes it higher up into the stomach so it is able to do its job properly. It gets pushed so far up that it moves into the oesophagus to the vocal cords. Over the counter medicines actually stop the stomach producing acid, which is counter-productive. Actually what we need to do is improve the stomach’s ability to produce it, so it doesn’t have to push up.

The Fix

First of all we have to decipher what is actually causing the acid reflux. If the problem is not an acid imbalance then it’s useless treating an acid imbalance. In my experience digestive issues are mostly rooted in stress and anxiety. The stomach is known as the second brain and it is directly impacted by stress. Improving the condition usually requires some lifestyle changes such as introducing meditation and mindfulness, gentle exercise (which I like to call “relax-ercise”), or perhaps a change in schedule and timetable. But more about stress later.

It is very common for people to be low in hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes. I would typically test my client for enzyme and acid levels and then prescribe some effective nutritional supplements and herbs to rebalance them. It may be that certain foods need to be taken out of the diet – most typically wheat, gluten, milk and sugar. But again, I would test everything against the client’s body to determine exactly what things are depleting the body’s energy.

Digestion is intrinsically linked with the immune system. In fact it is said that the digestive system is 50% of the immune system. Some experts say up to 80%. Those suffering with digestive complaints are usually also experiencing low immune symptoms like frequent infections, colds and bugs. Fix the digestion, and your automatically fix the immune system.


The Problem

Neck and jaw tension is definitely as common as acid reflux. Interestingly I’ve noticed that almost everyone who suffers with it also suffers with some form of digestive issue like acid reflux or irritable IBS. In kinesiology, and the

Eastern medicine philosophy we work with, this makes complete sense because the neck and shoulder muscles are directly related to the digestive system. The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) is a hinge that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull, which are in front of each ear. It’s the lamb chop shaped muscle that travels from your ear down to your chin. In kinesiology this muscle is known as the gateway into the nervous system. Therefore it would make sense to link jaw tension with stress and digestive issues.

The Fix 

Tension in the neck and jaw directly impacts the singer’s voice as I am sure you are aware. I had a client last year who suffered chronic jaw and neck tension and regular weekly migraines as a result. She had suffered with this for more than 25 years. It had affected her work, her daily life, her relationships and most importantly her happiness. I used the Supraspinatus muscle to test, which in kinesiology relates to the brain function. Her muscles were responding brilliantly when I put calcium-magnesium and a blend of trace minerals into the circuit. Even though she reported drinking three litres of water a day, she said she still felt dehydrated. I tested her against some Omega 369 oils and Aloe Vera which are both very effective in helping the body absorb the water that you drink.

The most effective treatment for this kind of tension is a specialised form of lymphatic massage which I performed on the client’s TMJ and neck. It is not the most comfortable sensation for the client but the results are phenomenal.

She sat up from the treatment after an hour and a half and for the first time in years she could turn her head completely to the left and right. She burst into tears and hugged me. I almost cried myself. That was six months ago and she hasn’t suffered a single migraine since.

She sat up from the treatment after an hour and a half and for the first time in years she could turn her head completely to the left and right. She burst into tears and hugged me. I almost cried myself. That was six months ago and she hasn’t suffered a single migraine since.

This was a relatively simple case and what we call a “one hit wonder”. It is common for this to happen but generally people see dramatic results within three to six sessions.


The Problem

I believe that almost all physical health conditions are rooted in an emotional cause. We must not underestimate the power our emotions have over our organs and body systems. We all know that feelings of fear or nerves, for example, increase our heart rate, affect our breathing, cause us to sweat and results in butterflies in the tummy. These are physical reactions to an emotional cause. If we are under a constant state of stress and anxiety, over time the organs will start to work less effectively, causing a myriad of health problems. If there’s one thing we must all start to work on it is relieving stress from our lives.

Studies in neuroimmunology now show that low self-esteem and negative thought patterns weaken our immune system.

Stanford University Medical School released research by Dr Bruce Lipton, a renowned cell biologist, that states stress is the cause of at least 95% of all illness and disease. The remaining 5% is genetic. This is powerful stuff and shows us that we have a huge part to play in whether we get sick or not.

Working as a singer is fraught with opportunities for stress, anxiety, panic, fear, nerves, and crises of confidence.

Whether it’s auditions, rehearsals, performance, the after show party or those times when we are resting or out of work, singers are constantly being judged, both by others and themselves.

Almost every singer visiting my clinic reports some form of stress or anxiety which they feel holds them back in some way. Stress has a direct impact on the adrenals which is a result of our “flight or fight” mechanism constantly being fired up. We are not designed to have this mechanism switched on as much as we do. It is designed to kick in during times of great need such as sickness, threat or danger, not for our everyday activities. When our adrenals are over worked they may produce too much cortisol or adrenaline. This can affect many things from our sleep cycle, ability to wake up in the morning, energy levels, blood sugar levels, mood and focus.

Stress is a widespread problem and we must start to reduce it in our lives at all costs. Thankfully it is relatively simple, if you know how.

The Fix

The most important thing, as with all work in holistic practice, is to get to the root cause of the problem. At my clinic I run sessions that last between 90 to 120 minutes. This gives ample time to really delve into the depths of the client’s mind and subconscious. Through talking we pick up clues and start joining the dots. Over time one gets used to noticing the language a person uses, the eye positions, the physicality and other signals. I always trust that my clients’ innate wisdom has the answers to the questions we have. By asking simple questions like “what do you think might be causing this” or “if you were to guess what might elicit this reaction” we start to allow the subconscious to unravel. Seeing as we communicate from our subconscious 97% of the time, the answers are usually surprisingly easy to find. 

Once we have deciphered what might be the root cause of a certain stressor, the ultimate aim is to release it so it no longer causes a problem. I use a number of tools to do this. In kinesiology we call these tools Emotional Stress Release and they may consist of holding specific points around the head as the client talks through their stress. By touching and holding we are igniting various neurovascular points in the brain that deal with logical thinking, problem solving and stress reduction. Imagine a situation in which you might experience stress or confusion – perhaps a situation where you can’t find something such as your keys, wallet or bank card. A natural physical reaction might be to put your fingers or hand on your forehead in the “hmmm, where did I put that?” position. It’s not a coincidence that this physical action is universal to all humans. We are full of natural instincts that are designed to help us. In kinesiology we work with these natural instincts but harness them in practice to make them more powerful and specific. Negative emotions and stress are just trapped energy or electrical impulses. I aim to give these electrical impulses a new job to do, or a new direction to travel, so they no longer follow the negative pattern experienced by the client.

Other techniques I might use are eye rotation which we can communicate with and garner clues from the subconscious about where in the brain particular stressors are stored. I may bring in acupressure and acupuncture tapping which can have dramatic results in redirecting emotional energy. I would use these techniques in conjunction with herbal remedies, nutrition and other forms of balancing and “fixing”. Lifestyle changes certainly come into the equation and I may suggest meditation and mindfulness exercises, exercise and other calming activities for the mind and body.

I recently worked with an opera singer who was regularly losing her voice. She had a great technique and was very experienced in performing lead roles. She wasn’t suffering with colds, flu or laryngitis and an ear, nose and throat appointment showed nothing abnormal. Yet she continued to lose her voice. She reported waking up and just randomly having no voice.

With anything ears, eyes, nose or throat related the first port of call from a Chinese medicine perspective is to look at self worth, and how you feel, and how you are seen or heard in the world. I quickly discovered this particular client had a difficult relationship with her mother, also a successful opera singer. Communication between the two was fraught. Expectations were high and the pressure achieve constant. This, however, wasn’t the root of the problem.

After more probing it became clear that this client fundamentally did not feel heard or respected by her mother. She didn’t feel she could truly express who she was or how she felt to the one person who meant the most to her. She literally didn’t have a voice in the relationship. We addressed these issues by “reprogramming” the negative thought patterns the client had about herself and her mother and replacing them with more positive ones. We worked on some strategies for clearer and better communication using various herbal tinctures and remedies. Physically we treated the voice loss symptoms with a herbal blend of fenugreek and thyme and vitamin A in betacarotene form which are both very effective in drawing moisture to the areas of the body that need it. I also equipped her with a few meditation tools designed calm the nervous system and let her voice know that it was safe. Consequently communication between mother and daughter improved, my client regained her confidence, found the boldness to be honest about her feelings – and she hasn’t lost her voice since.

This is why my work as a systematic kinesiologist and holistic health practitioner is so rewarding – it empowers people to listen to their own bodies to find the answers they need. I believe that nobody need suffer with illness, stress, depression or physical discomfort of any kind. Our bodies are mechanisms for healing. We are designed to be healthy, energised, happy and peaceful. We just need to give ourselves the correct tools to do the job.

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Gary is a Therapist and Coach for performing artists. He specialises in treating singers so they can overcome nerves, performance anxiety and stage fright so that they can own their talent, do what they love while loving doing it. He is a certified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Emotional Freedom Coach. He has had a 20-year career as a professional singer in musical theatre, classical and pop music, overcame panic attacks and stage fright himself and has been treating singers with anxiety for 10 years.