The Joy of Humming

On a weekend yoga study retreat which my friend Liz Murtha and I taught recently, we were asked about the benefits of humming. As with many of the techniques in our yoga therapy ‘toolbox’, humming has healing potential at both a physical and at a psychological level.

Blocked noses and sinuses are a trial for many people. Chronic sinus conditions can often be caused by hard-to-treat fungal infections and the treatments available can be challenging in themselves. Humming is therefore worth a try if you have this problem, since it can work in two ways at once.

Firstly, if you can set up a gentle vibration in your head, that can loosen mucus and the air flutter in your nose will enhance this clearing mechanism. Secondly, once your sinuses start to clear, they can release a purifying gas, nitric oxide, which can combat fungi, even in very low concentrations harmless to the lining of your nose,. Here, persistence is the key. If the congestion is severe, you will need to hum for about an hour altogether each day (Eby, 2006).

If you are even slightly musical, this need not be a chore, but please consider your family and co-workers. Before portable radio sets and later devices made broadcast or recorded music so ubiquitous, people used to sing and hum while they worked, I know this from older people whom I met and worked with 50 years ago.

On the psychological side, an intense form of humming called Bhrāmarī or ‘bee’ breath, has been part of yoga for at least 500 years. The author of the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, Srī Svātmārāma, wrote “By this practice, immense bliss is experienced by the best of yogis.” (Chapter II, verse 68, translated from Sanskrit by A.G. Mohan). In my current online Breath4Health class, one student recently reported a ‘blissful’ effect after only two minutes!

Svātmārāma’s positive view of humming was echoed by Linda Wasmer Andrews in Psychology Today (2011). Also, Andrews made reference to a study using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to detect the neurological effects of humming the sound OM while in a scanner (Kalyani et al 2011). In simple terms, the researches were able to detect in many brain areas the neurological correlates of feeling de-stressed, whereas making a hissing sound showed no such effect.

Humming can be done to help pass the time doing daily chores; also, I have experienced that on bus, train and plane journeys it’s possible to hum softly without other passengers noticing. In conclusion, there seems to be nothing to lose and lots to gain from humming for a while each day.

Posted 2 May 2023


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