Updated: Aug 21, 2022
Named after the sound the Indian black bumblebee makes, bhramari pranayama has been practiced by yogis for centuries as a way to calm the mind and nervous system to prepare for meditation.
Similar to chanting, the practice involves both concentrated breath work (pranayama) and sound vibrations. There is growing Western scientific research supporting the healing benefits associated with both of these areas that have long been accepted in Eastern traditions. The research is still in its infancy but that is changing as more is learned about how bhramari pranayama can reduce anxiety, particularly in teens and covid patients, and improve sleep. It may also reduce blood pressure and hypertension (there are conflicting results on this) and possibly play a role in boosting immunity, improving vascular dysfunction, tinnitus, and metabolic disturbances such as insulin resistance, among others. If you are interested in more background regarding the scientific theories, see the links below.
Fortunately, you don't need to wait for the science to catch up - you can experience it for yourself! Most do feel at least a sense of calm afterwards. We've provided several step-by-step guides and variations to experiment with and see what works best for you.
Tip: the best way to amplify the inner resonance created by the humming is to lightly push the targus, the little flap before the ear opening, gently in with your fingers to block sound entering. Play with different amounts of pressure until you feel the resonance. Try adjusting the tone of your humming, higher or lower, to see if you can feel the vibration at different points from the base of your spine to the crown of your head.
After a round of humming, pay close attention to each of your senses, as well as your breath and heart rate, to see if you notice any changes. How do you feel? The benefits build over time, so try making this a part of your daily practice.
(As mentioned below, you should refrain from bee breathing while you have an ear infection. Also, if you have serious heart or lung issues that could be worsened by long, sustained breathing, you should consult your health care provider first. )
How to practice humming bee breath
BHRAMARI – HUMMING BEE BREATH
From Yoga Vidya Gurukul, recognized by the Government of India as the
"Leading Yoga Institution in India":
Inhale slowly and deeply through the nose. On exhalation make the sound of ‘m’, as in the third letter of ‘aum’, like the humming sound of a bee. Exhale slowly and do not strain. The sound should be smooth, even and controlled. The exhalation will naturally be longer than the inhalation. Continue. If that is comfortable block the ears with the fingers to increase the vibrations through the body. One can block the ears by placing the thumbs in the ears and elbows pointing out, arms by the sides of the head and fingers around the head or by blocking the ears with the index fingers and elbows pointing down, arms in from of the chest.
If bhramari exhalation is comfortable one can start inhalation with an ‘m’ sound. It is higher and more difficult to create but very beneficial and comes with practice. Again the sound should be slow and controlled, without strain. Ujjayi is a good alternative to the bhramari inhalation and can be substituted, or bhramari exhalation can be practiced with a normal inhalation.
Reduces mental tension, anxiety, anger, stress
Helps relieve insomnia, especially when done before bed
Strengthens the throat and voice, useful for any throat problems
Lowers high blood pressure
For healing of body tissue after an operation; useful post-natally
Useful to practice post-natally when soothing a baby
Allows more introspection
Useful preparation for meditation
Can be helpful during labour
Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, inducing muscular relaxation
Good for the thyroid
Increases psychic sensitivity and awareness of subtle sound vibrations which is useful for Nada Meditation
Precautions & Contra-Indications
Severe ear infections
Yoga International: 5 Ways to Practice Bhramari
Explore the science of humming bee breath:
Some of the physiological processes being investigated involve the role of nitric oxide (NO) in the nasal passages:
NO has an integrated relationship with the brain and neurons generally acting as a retrograde neurotransmitter as well as modulating brain blood flow (Picon-Pages et al., 2019). NO also has a critical role in healthy cardiovascular functioning being noted as preventing cardiovascular diseases, including by helping regulate blood pressure to healthy levels (Naseem, 2005). Respiration is also directly affected by NO as it increases arterial oxygen tension thereby facilitating necessary gaseous exchange between cells (Dzik, 2011). Additional functions of NO also include adaptive immune system outcomes and possible advantageous cognitive effects. Regarding NO and the nose however, it is endogenously occurring in large concentrations in the paranasal sinuses, particularly the maxillary sinus (Lundberg & Weitzberg, 1999). Although air in this part of the sinuses is usually static, humming creates gaseous exchange between this static air and respiratored air bringing more of this NO into the breath (Eby, 2006; Lundberg & Weitzberg, 1999; Weitzberg & Lundberg, 2002). Source: A systematic review of the effects of Bhramari pranayama on the central and autonomic nervous system (Vashista, 2022)
One theory is that the resonance of the humming helps with NO uptake, which then leads to further benefits. Other theories include the possibility that the resonance may affect the hypothalamus and vagus nerve, which control our response to stress, and may also affect our beta, gamma, and theta brain waves.
For those wanting more of the science and research, here are some links to get started:
Effects of Bhramari Pranayama on health – A systematic review (Kuppusamy et al., 2018)
What is Pranayama? (WebMD)
A general discussion on the benefits of pranayama, including bee breathing).
Humming Greatly Increases Nasal Nitric Oxide (Weitzberg & Lundberg, 2002)
Breathe through the nose! Modern research confirms the wisdom of the yoga tradition (Weitzberg, YogaMediations.com)
Characterization of the Role of Nitric Oxide and Its Clinical Applications (Levine et al., 2012)
Note: this is geared toward cardiologists, but has an interesting overview of the discovery of NO, and if you skim through the first third of the article, you get to the clinical applications discussing role of NO in many vascular, metabolic and inflammatory diseases.
Efficacy of bhramari pranayama on stress among female students (Kumari & Singh)
Bee photo credit: Øyvind Holmstad