Prana is the vital force that provides energy to our bodies and establishes a close link between the mind and consciousness.
The word “Pranayama” comes from a Sanskrit word and its literal translation is “extension of breath.” There are many forms of Pranayama, such as Bhramari Pranayama.
Here’s an overview of the benefits of Bhramari Pranayama, in particular its effects on the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system.
In this article we’ll explore:
- What is Bhramari Pranayama
- How to do Bhramari Pranayama
- Benefits of Bhramari Pranayama
- When to Use Bhramari Pranayama
What is Bhramari Pranayama
Bhramari Pranayama, or Bumblebee Breath, is a calming breath practice that can be performed anywhere. Bhramari is derived from the Sanskrit term for “bee” and is named after a type of black Indian bee, due to the bee-like buzzing sound produced during the exhale.
It’s a really simple breathwork practice that utilizes sound by humming on the exhalation.
This sound and exhale emphasis helps to downregulate the nervous system to create calm. T
he vibrational humming sound that this breathwork creates mimics the cosmic sound of “om,” which is a deeply sacred and meaningful syllable to yogis. So this practice is also believed to connect the practitioner with the entire cosmic universe.
Bhramari is one of several Pranayama techniques described in the 15th-century text, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Swatmarama. You will also sometimes see it spelled as Brahmari.Bhramari Pranayama is:
- A fun practice to do with kids
- A calming breath technique for anyone experiencing excess stress
- A feel-good breath technique for anyone experiencing respiratory congestion and a tremendous soothing breath technique for both the heart and the gut.
Bhramari Pranayama & Shanmukhi Mudra
Bhramari pranayama is often performed with the Shanmukhi Mudra, where the face is covered with carefully placed, spread fingers.
This mudra helps to withdraw the senses and to focus on a single point.
How to do Bhramari Pranayama: 6 Tips
For a simple Bhramari Pranayama practice, I like to sit and hum like a bumble bee, with one long continuous tone per exhale.
Bhramari pranayama is actually very simple and straightforward to practice, but there are a few tips and tricks you can try to make the practice more relaxing.
#1: Be Comfortable
Come into any position that feels comfortable for your body. You may wish to sit in a chair or on the floor. You may prefer to lie down on a couch or a bed.
Just find any position where you can allow your body to relax.
#2: Let Go & Soften
Once you’re comfortable, consciously release tension in your body. Soften the muscles of your abdomen. Relax your shoulders away from your ears. Unclench the muscles in your face. Let go of any tension you notice within your body.
#3: Focus on Your Inner Experience
Once you feel soft, either relax your gaze or close your eyes completely. Bring your awareness inside and draw your attention to your inner experience.
Observe how your body feels. Watch thoughts pass through your mind. Notice your breathing patterns.
#4: Breathe Slowly
Gradually slow the rhythm of your breath. Consciously take longer, fuller, deeper inhales and exhales. Strive to equalize the length of your inhales and your exhales.
On your next breath, draw air in through your nose. As you exhale, keep your mouth closed and release a humming sound.
Inhale deeply. Exhale, hum. Continue for a few rounds of breath.
#6: Feel Your Body
Once you’ve finished, restore your natural breath and observe the effects of your practice. Feel the vibrations of your hum echo throughout your body. Allow them to reach every crevice and corner to shake away any lingering tension or stress.
While practicing Bhramari breath, notice if you can feel the vibration of your humming in your face. You may notice a vibrating sensation in your jaw, cheekbones, teeth, or maybe even on the surface of your skin.
If you are having trouble feeling the vibration, try humming at a higher pitch. Practice balancing the effort of your hum so that it is strong enough to feel the vibration but gentle enough to feel calming and relaxing.
4 Benefits of Bhramari Pranayama
Pranayama, or breathwork, can be an incredibly powerful tool to calm the body and mind, and Bhramari Pranayama is scientifically proven to do just that.
#1: Downregulates The Nervous System
Bhramari pranayama is a very straightforward practice that emphasizes the exhalation breath. This simple emphasis immediately helps to downregulate the nervous system.
When we inhale, our sympathetic nervous system (or “fight-or-flight” response) is activated. When we exhale, our parasympathetic nervous system (or “rest-and-digest” response) is activated.
When we strive to find calm, we want to initiate our parasympathetic response, so emphasizing our exhalation during humming bee breath helps us to do just that.
#2: Increases Heart Rate Variability
Simply our heart rate naturally increases during inhalation and naturally decreases during exhalation. This is known as heart rate variability and it is a great indicator of overall health and wellness.
#3: Stimulates The Vagus Nerve
Furthermore, Bhramari Pranayama requires the vocal cords to vibrate. And because a branch of the vagus nerve innervates the vocal cords, vocalizations (such as humming) stimulate the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body and it is intimately related to the parasympathetic nervous system because it has many parasympathetic fibers. By stimulating the vagus nerve, we can help to initiate what is known as the relaxation response.
The relaxation response shifts our body into the parasympathetic nervous system so that we may rest, digest, feed, and breed—ultimately, moving us into states of deeper and deeper calm relaxation.
Restorative yoga offers another way to initiate the relaxation response.
#4: Stimulates The Production Of Nitric Oxide
One of the most exciting benefits coming from the vibration of Bhramari pranayama is how it stimulates the production of nitric oxide.
Nitric Oxide (NO) is produced in the paranasal sinuses. Bumble Bee breath regulation produces up to 15 times more Nitric Oxide gas in the sinuses of the skull. Nitric oxide gas from the nose and sinuses is inhaled with every breath and reaches the lungs in a more diluted form to enhance pulmonary oxygen uptake via local vasodilation.
Benefits Of Nitric Oxide:
The health benefits of nitric oxide produced through the Bumble Bee breath include:
- Calms the agitated mind
- Relaxes the nervous system
- Boosts immunity as NO kills viruses and bacteria
- Reduces blood pressure
- Regulates metabolism
- Regulates hormones/neurotransmitters
- Reduces inflammation
- Stimulates the vagus nerve
When to Use Bhramari Pranayama
I am someone that loves to learn through practice. But my journey into breathwork was guided by some influential people. One of those was BKS Iyengar.
According to BKS Iyengar, “the humming (murmuring) sound induces sleep and is good for persons suffering from insomnia.”
Bhramari Pranayama is also utilized for the practice of Pratyahara (Patanjali’s fifth limb of Sense Withdrawal) and therefore could be done before your morning or evening seated meditation.
I personally find that Bhramari (as with most pranayamas) is best practiced on an empty stomach.
While it can be practiced at any time of day, Bhramari is particularly potent in the early morning and late at night—when there are fewer distracting noises and our inner perception is most acute.
Bhramari pranayama is a quick and effective practice that is scientifically proven to help you calm your mind during normal, everyday moments of life and in times of stress.
Via a simple humming sound and an emphasis on your exhalation, humming bee breath can help you find peace of mind anytime, anywhere. It is always at your disposal, whenever you may need it.
If you want to learn more about the traditional origins of Bhramari Pranayama then I highly recommend the book Light on Pranayama by BKS Iyengar.