Therapy Talks

The Therapeutic Power of Song: 4 Ways To Learn Self-Compassion From Singing with Jill Samycia

December 21, 2022 Switch Research Season 1 Episode 51
Therapy Talks
The Therapeutic Power of Song: 4 Ways To Learn Self-Compassion From Singing with Jill Samycia
Show Notes Transcript
Welcome to Therapy Talks, a podcast dedicated to exploring the various ways in which we can improve our mental health and well-being. In this episode, Hailey Kanigan and guest Jill Samycia discuss the therapeutic benefits of singing as a form of self-expression and healing. From overcoming performance anxiety to finding your unique voice, Hailey and Jill delve into the ways in which singing can help us recognize and embrace our true selves, and provide a sense of pride and accomplishment. They'll also discuss how singing can be used as a therapeutic practice outside of traditional talk therapy, and explore the difference between a unique voice and a "perfect" voice. Tune in for a discussion on the transformative power of singing as a tool for mental health on this episode of Therapy Talks.

In This Episode:

  • Tips from Jill to help you find calm in the face of anxiety.
  • Hailey and Jill share their personal experiences with perfectionism in singing.
  • A glimpse into the experience of a vocal lesson by Jill.
  • Why trying something new can help you understand yourself better.
  • Christen Neff's ideas of self-compassion and common humanity. 
For over 15 years, Jill has been coaching students to unlock their unique vocal sound, express themselves more fully, and sing freely. She believes that singing should be joyful and offers a safe, non-judgmental space for students to explore their sound and connect with their innate creativity.

Jill's teaching approach is integrated: applying her classical and contemporary background and extensive knowledge of the fundamentals of singing to help students connect with their bodies, minds, and spirits. This whole-being approach has allowed her students to access their authentic voices, develop their vocal skills, and share their talents with the world.

Find Out More About Jill:
Instagram: @singwithjill

Learn More About Switch Research:
Instagram: @switchresearch

Disclaimer: Therapy Talks does NOT provide medical services or professional counseling, and it is NOT a substitute for professional medical care.

Hello everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Therapy Talks. I'm Haley, and before we introduce today's guest on the podcast, I wanted to remind you all of a wonderful platform that we are now just recently offering called Switch Live On Switch Live. Myself, I am going through the Emotions Journal where every day we're going through the different journaling prompts to break down and give you additional information to help you complete the journal effectively.

If you're looking for a variety of classes and workshops to take, make sure you check that. So today I'm gonna be talking to Jill, and Jill offers a business called Sing with Jill, and it's a wonderful opportunity for us to connect, to speak about her journey within mental health, how she supports different singers of all different variety of backgrounds, singing talents, and really demystifies this idea that you have to be good to be a singer.

You can show up however you would like, offer yourself self-compassion and create an expressional experience of your. Check us out and hope you enjoy this episode.

I'm not kidding you. Yesterday I was just telling my best friend today on the phone, I had this student that is in the later part of their years and. First five minutes just broke down sobbing. I don't, I'm not gonna say the name, but they were 62. And this is a person walking into the door, has had never had any singing experience in their life, has been, one has been told many times, not only from parents but from teachers to be quiet.

They don't sound good, don't sing. And that just over the many years of their beautiful life has just made them. Or feel small and we started singing. I can't even, I don't even remember the song cuz I was, it was it's a lot, it's a lot to be in the room with that. And I am, I feel so lucky.

It's unbelievable. Just, we just started, we started warming up and they were just starting to create sound just on a five note scale. Ah, and they were just, it just, the tears started to flow and it's really beautiful . Yeah. And that's such a powerful experience because as I notice in therapy and in the counseling and psychological spheres and doctrines, a lot of the shift that I see in wellbeing has gone away from the cognitive, the really, the thought based process to more of the feeling, expressing and body experiences.

And so it's so wonderful to show. Not necessarily, therapy might not be right or the right time for everyone in their lives, but there's other therapeutic practices such as singing and music that can provide such a wonderful release of information and experience for all of us. And it's so wonderful to hear from you with all of your experiences growing up and in your professional career, seeing these individuals who've been told for so long to be.

And not to sing. And I think it'd be great if you could also demystify this idea that you have to be a good singer to sing. It's really hard to wrap your head around when you're starting out not sounding perfect or or sounding like the singer that you normally sing with in the car.

Because I think that for a lot of people, that's where they sing. They'll sing softly, maybe with friends, maybe they've got family. Jam out once in a while, but I find a lot of people come in here and then, and I comfy my students, so I play the piano. And I start playing and they're singing on their own and they don't know what to do.

And of course they sound different. And I think for a lot of people they shut down. It's hard to, yeah, like just why don't we love the sound of our voice? I don't. It's a really hard one. I think that our ego is, plays a little bit of a part of that. And again, just being told certain things throughout our lives of your, you don't sound good, or siblings, even just like playful sibling banter.

I, I, it can just get in our head and make us. Soft and just hold, like that feeling of holding back, holding your voice back. But yeah, just getting comfortable. I think the first thing about people that wanna start singing and wanna start just thinking about their voice a little bit more and more creatively is that you are going to sound different.

And that's amazing. That's beautiful. There's no one that sounds like you and that's a really good and awesome. . , definitely. It makes me think of when I was teasing myself, which really highlights this as I was singing in the car one day and I was like, wow, like I think I sound so good. And so then when I stopped the car, I let the song play again and I sang into a voice note on my phone, and then I played it back.

And when I've played it back, it wasn't very good. It wasn't in June, it wasn't in pitch, and I really was hard on myself and critical, but then I was like, you know what? Why does it matter if it sounds good? If it felt good for me in that moment and it was a great release on my way home that day, that's okay.

But I think what happens is, We are very much human beings that are meant to be in groups and included and feel a sense of belonging. And so I think we've become very fearful of being outed or excluded or felt to be different. And so there's a lot of that pressure to be part of the norm and be what.

Sounds good to us, right? And so I think it's wonderful that you're highlighting this idea that we are all unique in our own expressions, and that's okay. And that should be welcomed and to step away from that self-criticism into a more compassionate, loving approach to ourselves. Yeah. And making a song sound different.

I don't want you to sound like Adele. I'm just, sorry. I'm choosing Adele because I think I'd sang like four Adele songs yesterday in lessons with students, but just no one wants that. Even students that I have going out and performing every week and they're doing covers, it's about making it different.

That shows you off and that makes the listener want to. Listen more and stay with you. And I use that analogy like you want them in the palm of your hand. You want, you're telling a story and your story is not like the singer that you're doing that cover of and the importance of that, the play, the just experimentation and joy.

So Jill, I hear that you do a lot of work in supporting individuals through their performance anxiety and moving away from perfectionism tendencies. So I'd love to hear some examples and experiences of that. Yeah, so I think the first kind of, first little tidbit is breath and finding that breath and whether people are meditators, whether people do yoga.

I work with a lot of. So there's a lot of breath work in that. And just understanding where that comes from where we actually need to get our breath from. And in singing the breath is the motor. . So that is where it all starts. But I am also a believer that's and by there sitting right in our gut and that though is where I feel we hold a lot of stuff

So for most people, this area is an area of. Feeling stuck and breathing for singing can just be overwhelming. You can go down the rabbit hole of like how to breathe properly and it gets a bit overwhelming. And let's all be honest too. People just wanna sing. They don't wanna do their warmups, they don't wanna do breathing exercises, they just wanna get to the song.

But I think the first thing that I really like to zone in on is finding that breath, harnessing that. Letting that ground. . And when you find that breath and I, there's, just something as simple as like putting your hand on your chest and putting your hand on your belly and taking some breaths in through the nose and just feeling that expansion and then going to making sound, whether it's just like on a big, open awe sound or even going to sing the first line of your song, there's something that changes there.

Because for most people, when we sing especially when we're put on the spot, we breathe. That kind of feeling of, yeah, it's just, it feels tight and there is no support there. There's not a lot of warmth there. And when people start to unlock that breath, that concept of just bringing the breath a little bit deeper, their sound changes.

They hear it immediately. And there's also that connection. But on the other side of it, it can bring up a lot of emotion. So it's a very delicate process and everybody's different. Some people wanna come in here and they like the first lesson. I know their whole life story, , like I have we're best friends.

And then there's other students that take a lot of time to find that and are still finding that. And. , it's different for everybody, but just that concept of breath. And then just getting used to hearing themselves really what we were talking about. Everybody sings in their car, but then when they take that singer away, it's just their voice.

And it sounds very different from what they were thinking that they were sounding like, but again, finding the magic in that. Pulling those training wheels, I don't Work with people where I put like the track on with the artist. I'm either playing for them or even I, I stress if the piano tracks are hard to follow along what I kind of work on my students with.

Download a karaoke track on YouTube and just start getting comfortable with hearing yourself. I think that is easiest place to start, and then it's just, everybody's different. But man, I've got people that, I'm not kidding. You probably would never even they even had a hard ti time singing in front of me.

But I have students that are in bands that are doing open mic nights every week, and it's just again, just keep t trugging, keep doing it. It's, it takes some time, but man is the reward. Amazing. And just to share, just to feel that energy when you're singing just with one person. Even on Zoom, it's, there's just something amazing about music and using your voice.

, definitely. And you really highlight that ability to be comfortable with ourselves. So often when we have a self-image, it's something that we've curated in our mind, and so when we actually hear our own voice or the way that we actually pre are truly portrayed from other people's points of view, it can be quite uncomfortable.

And so you're really highlighting that desire and that need to just do whatever you can. It doesn't have to be perfect. You can. Start small and work your way through it, but just getting yourself out there breathing into that lovely song and whatever it may be. I have a motto. It's strong and wrong. Like strong and wrong.

Like just go for it. What do you have to lose? If it feels good, why not do it? There's nobody, at least in my experience in here where we make a sound and it's not enjoyable. and I there, there's something there that w that can't be lost. , definitely. I think that's so wonderful that you're highlighting that.

So are there specific things that you do to support individuals for overcoming that fear of. Stage fright or like anxiety or fear? Are there certain things that you do from your profession as a vocalist and a singing coach? Yeah, there's lots of little tips and tricks. I, again, it's it's so dependent on the student and where they're at.

I find like something as simple as just like singing and using your voice at home so people have a really hard time and feel a lot of anxiety about neighbor. About singing and people just hearing them, even if it's your family. So it's about, there's this kind of simple little trick and all we do is sing into a straw.

I didn't even get a straw, but you literally grab a straw and you sing and you blow into the straw. So you're gonna you're gonna sing a passage, a five note scale.

You're engaging your breath, you're bringing the sound forward, and you're not being loud. And for a lot of people in the beginning when they're discovering and trying to find their voice, that concept of people hearing them is hard. So just getting comfortable with what they sound like.

You're when you're singing into a straw, you're engaging that breath. Again, sorry if I'm repeating myself, but you're getting that sound forward. All the kind of great things about singing that I want. You're relaxed and you're just starting to get comfortable with what you sound like cuz you can still hear yourself in your head.

So that's a really awesome trick. I usually bring that out in the first lesson. I do a lot of recording in my lessons. So I film or I just, I record through a mic filming his next level. Watching yourself sing and hearing it back. It can be a lot, but just, and sitting with them, guiding them through that and really enforcing.

Let's love the really great stuff, but let's also really love the stuff that maybe is wobbly, because I am here to teach you how to start to hear that. Get excited that you hear that, and I'm gonna tell you how to fix it. And by fixing it, just, it usually means, you've gotta support your breath a little bit more, or maybe work on pitch little techniques here and there, but getting comfortable with hearing your voice outside of your.

And listening, recording it to it in your phone. Let me tell you, it's not the best. It's not the best quality. Sound please don't ever judge anything by your voicemail message or by a voice memo that you've left yourself, because that's really not what it sounds like. . . So how would you help people from that emotional standpoint of being comfortable of hearing their own voice from an emotional standpoint?

Wow. . I don't know if this, please tell me if this doesn't answer the question, but I really like to stress picking songs that you connect to, like really sitting with the lyrics. And do they touch you? Do they make you feel something? Because I think in that journey you can get, you can at least start to get out of your head a bit and focus on the story.

But it, that, that process of just, again, letting go of that perfectionism and not, it not being perfect. It. It's really hard. It's really hard. But I think the song choices, we, a lot of us that have done music before, we come from a background of being in lessons as kids. I didn't have the, I had some really great teachers.

I had some teachers that were, that literally scared the, you know what outta me. And there was a lot of fear because you'd be going to this lesson and it would have to be perfect, whatever that. And even just like growing up that idea of perfectionism and do it and do it to a hundred percent and it better be perfect.

And that's ingrained in a lot of us. And in here I say that on the first lesson. I just say I'm if you want that kind of teacher, they are out there. I can help you find somebody else, but I'm not like that. I want you to come in here and I want you to show me what you were doing. as best as you can at home, because I know it's never the same.

There's always, there's there, there's always a feeling of freedom at home in your own personal space, but, . If it's not perfect, I'm excited because I can do my job and kind of guide you and give you some more tips to try for the next week or what? Like a fantastic fact. Why don't we just pick a new song?

Maybe you're not feeling it. There's nothing wrong with that. And some students are like, oh my God, but we have we haven't finished this other one. That's okay. , you're walking in every day, you're carrying this instrument with you. This is your instrument and your mood. The weather allergies, the list can go on.

You're expecting it to act a certain way every time to a hundred percent, and That is not possible. So yeah, there's yeah, there, there's a lot of stuff there. Sorry, you really give up such a wonderful, accepting, compassionate, understanding vibe and space to you, and so you're really highlighting for everyone just to know that it's okay not to have things go perfectly.

and it's okay for you to show up how you show up. And I, like I said earlier, this is our, one of our first, one of our few first episodes where we're not necessarily just having clinicians on from that specific health space. And so we really wanted to bridge into more different professionals for different ways and.

Make those links to mental health, because mental health is all encompassing. It's not just the standardized therapy or psychological modalities, it's how we express ourselves. And showing up for singing, for example, can be such a great opportunity to create self-acceptance and self-compassion and. . It really made me wanna pull from like the work of Kristen Neff and her.

She's all about the self-compassion. I call her the self-compassion queen jokingly, because she really talks about this idea of self-compassion in terms of self-kindness versus self-judgment. So just really allowing yourself some space to be kind to yourself instead of completely critical. Cuz when you say, for example, I haven't finished that song yet, that's a lot of self-judgment.

Instead of what is going well or what have you been doing? Absolutely. Just coming back to the joy, like what happened? Where did it go? Like, why can't we just do something for ourselves that just feels great and singing feels great. I know there might be the people out there that are not lovers of music and that's okay, but humming a tune.

There's just something that changes in us. The vibrations, again, the connection to breath, grounding. Just the and then, and the lightness of it all. I, I. I yeah, I just, that joy coming back to that joy there's been a lot of it that's been lost in people and I'm here to bring it back. Yes, definitely

And you really bring up again that other one of Kristen Ness. Other ideas over common humanity versus isolation. So often if you were singing, I presume, , you might be very much saying I'm the only one that sings this way and it isn't really good enough. And really self-critical. Instead of that common humanity approach of everyone sings and no matter what way that you sing in, that is wonderful and that we shouldn't isolate ourselves as something other than and just be part of the whole collective whole in our wonderful strengths and wonderful lemonade limitations.

And that's okay. We're all human in that experience. . Yeah, it's best . definitely talk about this for years. . Yeah, for sure. I'm just trying to reevaluate here. So we've done some wonderful discussions around anxiety and like performance anxiety and perfectionism and being kind to self.

I just, for the people that, that anxiety as well, that struggle with that, but still really wanna sing, go find a choir. Go find a buddy that you feel comfortable with and just, and make that time. Cuz I find I I forget I'm not from a massive choir background. I've done, I've taught some choirs, but I do more one-on-one with people that so I forget that sometimes.

But going just to sing with people and finding that connection and that likeness for music and that also really helps. I know that I've got a lot of. That are inquirers that go on a weekly basis and their confidence and yeah, just that again, it's still scary. It's still nervous, but again, I'm also from a standpoint of if it doesn't make you nervous and you're not a little bit scared, don't do it.

It, there's, again, there's something magical in that nervousness, that energy is also what makes singing and music , for sure. You're really highlighting that need to feel our feelings and to honor them and not avoid them, and really express them in a helpful way and use that energy towards producing something really beautiful.

Where do you think that comes from in terms of the culture of trying to have perfectionism within singing and music? For myself, it just this old regime of I was classically trained. I did piano up until grade 12, piano at Royal Conservatory, where you're literally, if you miss a rest, if people know what that is, , you're docked points and, the sleepless nights before those exams and just the pressure.

And I was brought up with that pressure feeling that. that pressure to Yeah, be perfect at everything. If you're gonna do something, you have to do it perfectly. And again, what does that even mean? I don't I'm still trying to figure it out myself. I go to weekly therapy for this as well. , I love therapy.

I, yeah I'm still trying to figure that out, but it's hard to break that because we're in a kind of a world of constantly compar. We're comparing it, you compare yourself to anything. Like I, I do a pottery class and I'm sitting there and my pottery is falling apart, and I'm like, why doesn't mine look like that?

And, but I'm here teaching and saying to you the opposite. So it's just that comparison and wanting it to be perfect the first time, but missing the joy in, in between, all the magic in between. I think the classical background, sorry to interrupt. The classical background has, there's something there about when you're studying for exams and if you're put in this kind of music program, whether your parents are putting it in you, most of the time it's parents putting people in these programs, putting their kids into the programs.

There's a pressure. , there's an extreme pressure and that's hard to let that go. , I can definitely relate cuz I think I did piano until Royal Conservatory tours grade four or five and the pressure became insurmountable. To be honest, I remember the waking up as a 12 year old and being like, oh my goodness, I don't think I can do this.

It's. Too much pressure, worse. And like there, you would remember, I remember just sitting in this room and be so quiet and then all you could hear was like the breath of the evaluator as you're playing a song and then you just get in your own head and you end up making a mistake and you're like, oh no, it's not one of those, nobody will know.

It's like they will know that you made that mistake. And I think you really speak to this idea that in our culture and society, we are really trying to be task orientated, trying to get things done and do it well and efficiently. So it creates this inherent pressure. And I think unfortunately with all the wonderfulness of capitalism and the ability for us to have things available to us, it also comes down to a bit of the survival of those who are strong and doing things really effectively.

And so when it comes to expressing ourselves in creative pursuits, we often get stuck into that mind. . We have to do things perfectly. We have to do things really well instead of just the enjoyment of that experience. Thank you. That was beautifully put. . . That's just kinda how I see it. Just because Yes, like some things we need to do appropriately, say math.

There is one answer and there isn't it's kinda a, but when it comes to something like music or creative pursuits such as pottery or our own self-image, I don't think we always have to do things perfectly. We're allowed to have some flaws and be accepting of that. Have the many different colors of experiences.

The colors. Yeah. The coming back to the colors and the joy. Yeah. , let's do that again For sure. You mentioned earlier that you might be open to singing for us. . Oh, I did, yes. Did I? . Oh, I thought it was a duet.

Oh wow. I, that's okay. Or just even some of the things that you would maybe do in lesson with someone so that all of us who maybe haven't ever taken a singing lesson would have a little bit of a glimpse into that experience. Let's do it. So just when I started was talking about the. and just putting a hand on your chest to calm it down.

Because the moments like my, I just did there. I was like nervous that was a little scary. And just trying to calm the breath down, feel grounded. And I take a couple deep breaths and I try to find my breath in my core, in my diaphragm. I close my mouth and breathe in, and then I find it after a couple times, , and then I start to sing.

Usually I have warm up students for about five to 10 minutes, and we're. Anywhere from massively technical warmups, or I can just do a little five note scale with you, and I start usually on that straw. And then we work on vowels, fun vowels, E A R O. Ooh. We sing on vowels, so the shape of our mouth is important.

So I usually guide people through, they're watching my mouth and we're going starting lower

and we're gonna climb up the scale. Ah, and then we're gonna move up the scale

all the while I'm sitting. But they're moving and. getting in touch with their body, shaking off the ability to shake off. Anything that's creeping in really trying to teach. Also just body scan, body awareness. What is it feeling like? If you need to take a second.

And just coming back to that breath. And then we work on repertoire. And yesterday I did my first ever live sing along on, on Instagram. . We had wine, which is not the best one you're singing, but it was awesome. And it, we we sang some Christmas carols. Yeah, that sounds so lovely. I know. It was really lovely.

It was really lovely. . So you would bring someone through like a warmup and teach them different ways to form their mouth to hit those different vowels? Yes. And then we work on their. And in, in that technical work where we were, what we were talking about in the warmup we would try to transfer some of that, those little kind of tips and tricks.

Again, thinking about the vowels that you're singing on. So I'll sing you a Christmas Carol. And I don't, this is a very unknown Christmas carol, so it's called, what are you doing? New Year's Eve. So maybe it's much too early in the game. We've got a word like, . We don't wanna get to the M too fast because again, we're singing on that vowel and that's where that beautiful sound is.

So just thinking about simple things like that can really make your sound. Sounds so much better. Just that concept of opening up the mouth and singing on the vowel. Usually people are like, what? That's amazing. So yeah, maybe it's much too early in the game. Ah, but I thought I asked you just the same.

What are you doing?

Oh, that's so lovely. That sounds so like warm and inviting. . Yeah. And I just felt like my own emotions being like, ah, that was so like soothing and decompressing. It was so nice last night. It was some people were commenting just saying it got them in the spirit and. Yeah, it was just Christmas.

I love Christmas. Don't get me wrong. Some people it's not for them. I get that. But there's just something magical and just again, that, that concept of bringing people together and singing, singing songs, it doesn't even have to be Christmas songs, just people being together and creating music. And creating that community of everyone coming together. Yes. And no judgment. No one cares. No one is oh my God, no one does. No one does that. So just like reminding yourself, if you're singing with people, everybody in that room is just enjoying it and feeling it and just trying to as best as you can.

Again, just coming back to that breath and closing your eyes for a second, and then continuing on when those nerves come in. Or maybe that inner voice is Nope. Just, take a deep breath and then start again because no one is there judging what you sound like. . . Yeah. Oh, that's so wonderful.

What are we missing, Jill, about you and what you offer and your experiences with mental health. What are we missing? What would you like everyone to know about you or something that we haven't quite touched on? I am a vocal coach based out of Vancouver, and I love teaching. It is my life's passion.

I was put. this earth to do it, and it just brings me immense joy. I will continue doing this till the day I die. and I just wanna share that with people, so come and check me out. I'm on all social media platforms at Sing with Jill and. and I just, yeah I, everybody can sing. I just, I wanna really stress that people can find that voice within them.

And it, again it's not supposed to sound like your favorite singers. I have struggled immensely with with past traumas and working through them, and I know. Yeah. Singing is the reason why I am the positive, jovial person that I am. This is me and music has definitely saved me.

Yeah. Yeah. What a beautiful sentiment. And I see how much you light up at the thought, and as you express this, . Yeah. It just feels right and I, I love sharing that. I love, sorry. Whoa, . I love sharing that with people. It's just it's the best. I look forward to seeing people, whether it's from a far over overseas, I work with people in the uk.

I, it just, even through a screen, I can still find that joy and I can still create that with somebody. And I think that's a pretty amazing. And there's been a lot of stuff that's happened over the past couple years that has been devastating. And thankfully I'm just, I'm so lucky. I'm so lucky to still be able to do this.

And I think, again, as I mentioned in the beginning, this is what people want. That feeling of connection, that feeling of fighting themselves, that healing and trying some, like again, trying something new. There's joy in that. Do something that scares you. There's joy in. Definitely. It's so wonderful talking to you and hearing how you're such a conduit for that wonderful energy, and I appreciate all that you do and the sentiment that you're sharing today of just being brave and trying something new and singing, and even if it doesn't sound quite right, that's okay.

So it's been such a pleasure getting to know you right back at you. Thank you so much for having me.