As members of a choir start singing together, their heart beats rise and fall with their voices, new research shows.

The synchronicity of singers’ heart beats is similar to people practicing yoga together, lead researcher Bjorn Vickoff said in a press release.

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“Singing regulates activity in the so-called vagus nerve which is involved in our emotional life and our communication with others and which, for example, affects our vocal timbre. Songs with long phrases achieve the same effect as breathing exercises in yoga. In other words, through song we can exercise a certain control over mental states,” Vickhoff said.

Vickhoff and colleagues documented the phenomenon with fifteen 18-year-olds performing three different choral exercises: monotone humming, singing a well-known Swedish hymn and chanting a slow mantra. When the singers performed  the hymn and the mantra showed, their hearts shared similar rhythms, the researchers report in the journal Frontiers in Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience.

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“Our hypothesis is that song is a form of regular, controlled breathing, since breathing out exhaling occurs on the song phrases and breathing in inhaling between these,” Vickhoff said. ”We already know that choral singing synchronizes the singers’ muscular movements and neural activities in large parts of the body. Now we also know that this applies to the heart, to a large extent.”

And the researchers suspect that the impact could be far greater than physiological: they hope to research whether singing fosters group collaboration and solidarity.

“One need only think of football stadiums, work songs, hymn singing at school, festival processions, religious choirs or military parades,” Vickhoff said. “Research shows that synchronized rites contribute to group solidarity. We are now considering testing choral singing as a means of strengthening working relationships in schools.”

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