How to Use Bhramari Pranayama | Humming Bee Breath

Curious about how to do Bhramari Pranayama or humming bee breathing in Yoga? We outline the steps, variations, and benefits of Bhramari.

Bhramari Pranayama cover image with art and illustration - annotated

Overview


'Bhramari' is derived from the Sanskrit word Bhramara - the term for the black bumblebee or the Carpenter Bee found in the Indian sub-continent. The pranayama is called Bhramari due to the bee-like humming sound made while exhaling the breath.


Bhramari Pranayama is one of the eight Hatha Yoga breathing techniques. It is called Bee Breath or the Humming Bee Breath in English. Bhramari has also been thoroughly explained in well-known pranayama books by B.K.S. Iyengar, Swami Nirjananda Saraswati, and others.


Bhramari, at heart, is a Nāda Pranayama - a sound-based breathing technique. It's similar to Pranava breathing in which you inhale quickly and chant 'AUM' on the exhale. Here are some of the ways in which the pranayama could be used in a yoga routine -

  1. To calm the mind and clear negative emotions (Hatha Yoga)

  2. Turn inwards by blocking external stimuli and detach the mind (Pratyahara)

  3. To link the mind to the breath (Preparation for meditation)

  4. Awaken Kundalini Energy (Tantra Yoga)

  5. To dissolve into the "unstruck" sound (Nāda Yoga)

As you can see, Bhramari pranayama has straightforward applications as well as esoteric uses in various schools of yoga. In this post, we will discuss Bhramari in the context of Hatha Yoga.


What is Bhramari Pranayama


Bhramari pranayama is a yoga breathing technique to calm the mind and release negative emotions. It involves a short inhale followed by a long exhale while making a humming or buzzing sound. Bhramari is done in a cross-legged pranayama posture while closing the ears. The thumb, index, or middle fingers are used to press down the tragus (protruding part of the ear) to block external sound.

Inhale quickly, make humming noise like a wasp and exhale slowly with same noise to create a wave of ecstasy in the mind. - Bhramari in Hatha Yoga Pradipika (summarized).

Bhramari Pranayama has tremendous potential because it acts on the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Moreover, it is safe and beginner-friendly. You don't need any experience with yoga to try it. The simplicity and potency of Bhramari make it an excellent entry point into pranayama.


So, let's hope this post becomes one of those things that make you go ‘hmmm’ – literally!


Bhramari Pranayama Step-by-Step


1. Spread your yoga mat and get into a meditation asana. Siddhasana and Padmasana are ideal, but any cross-legged sitting position is acceptable.


2. Close your eyes and plug your ears with the index or middle finger to keep out external sounds. Bring your awareness to the eyebrow center (Ajna Chakra).


3. This is the base position – you are ready to begin.


4. Inhale deeply and exhale in a slow and controlled manner while making a very soft murmuring or humming sound.


5. Make the humming sound for the entire duration of the exhalation. The sound should be steady and even. It might not be so at first, but you get there with practice.


6. You should feel a vibration in your jaw, especially the tongue, teeth, and nasal cavities.


7. Try to visualize the sound vibrating in your eyebrow center (Ajna Chakra) and energizing it.


8. This is one round of Bhramari Pranayama.


9. You can do six to ten rounds of Bhramari without a break when you start.


10. Keep your eyes closed and breathe normally for a minute after you conclude. Use your awareness to scan your body to notice how you feel.


P.S - This would also be a great time to try some 'AUM' chanting or mantra meditation.



How many times should you do Bhramari breathing?


For most people, 10 rounds are sufficient to get the benefits of Bhramari pranayama. Beginners should build their practice gradually and as per their skill level. Advanced yogis may do Bhramari for 15 minutes without a break. Additionally, it can also be done for 10 minutes before a meditation session to bring awareness inward.


Contraindications


Bhramari pranayama is one of the safest yoga practices. It can be done by pregnant women, children, and practitioners of all ages. It is contraindicated in an active ear infection. Even then, you can do it once the infection has healed. Please note, bee breathing should only be practiced while lying down to provide relief in sleeping disorders.


Bhramari Pranayama Benefits


1. Lowers Blood Pressure and Heart Rate


A study [1] showed that Bhramari improves the resting heart rate by causing parasympathetic activity to outweigh the sympathetic activity. Other studies show that even 5 to 10 minutes of Bhramari pranayama can lower blood pressure and heart rate, leading to less stress and anxiety.


2. Improves the functioning of the lungs


A study [2] published in the International Journal of Yoga linked the regular practice of Bhramari pranayama (with AUM chanting) to an increase in lung volume and breathing efficiency. It also states that this pranayama (or any deep breathing exercise) improves lung health and quality of life.


3. Clears nasal passages and alleviates Sinusitis symptoms


The regular practice of Bhramari pranayama was effective as a complementary treatment in chronic sinusitis [3]. The study also states that yoga helped lower anxiety and depression in the patients. Another study indicates that humming during Bhramari prevents allergens and microbes from establishing themselves in the sinuses.


Another study [4] also links Nada Pranayama like Bhramari to better airflow in the nasal passage. Researchers noted that humming creates vibrations in the nasal cavity and the area between the sinuses. It acts as a sonic cleanser by forcing the air to move back and forth. This mechanism encourages good ventilation and drains the sinuses.


4. Improves cognitive function


One randomized control trial [5] showed that regular practice of Bhramari pranayama shortens the response time and improves reflexes in adolescents. It suggests that Bhramari can help improve cognitive function for better academic performance. Another study [6] also noted that Bhramari breathing enhanced response inhibition and cognitive control among participants.


5. Improves concentration and provides relief in headaches


Anecdotally, Bhramari has always been a 'go-to' breathing technique to mitigate migraines, attain instant relief from agitation/anger, and improve concentration. There are no studies on these benefits, but they are mentioned in modern yoga texts. Plus, the techniques are widely used by yogis to prepare the mind for meditation.

Takeaway: From the existing studies, it can be concluded that Bhramari pranayama creates parasympathetic predominance, lowers blood pressure and heart rate, improves cognition, and reduces stress and anxiety. It is also helpful in sinusitis and tinnitus.

Shanmukhi Mudra: The Hand Gesture Used in Bhramari

man doing Shanmukhi mudra with Bhramari Pranayama

There are three ways to do Bhramari Pranayama. The first one is the practice explained above. The second is Bhramari with Shanmukhi Mudra, and the third is Silent Bhramari - the same as the first but without the sound (you make the sound in your mind).


Shanmukhi is a yoga mudra frequently used before meditation to draw the senses inward. It is also used during a variation of Bhramari pranayama to enhance its effect, especially the vibrations causing by humming.


Shan means 'six', and mukhi means 'gates.' The name refers to 'closing the six gates of the face.' The gates are the two nostrils, two eyes, and two ears. Shanmukhi mudra is done by placing the palms on the face and applying gentle pressure to the eyes/nostrils. You close the ears with the thumbs to block external stimuli and draw your awareness inwards.


How to do the Shanmukhi Mudra?

  1. Place your palms on your face. The thumbs are placed on the tragus - the protruding part of the external ear at the edge of the cheek. Don’t insert the thumb in the ear channel. Place it on the tragus and press down to block hearing.

  2. Place both index fingers on the eyelids. You need to press down on the eyeballs (gently) with your index fingers. Don’t use force as it can have undesirable consequences.

  3. Place both index fingers to the side of the nose. The tips of the index fingers can be used to partially block the nostrils to prolong inhalation and exhalation (optional).

  4. Place the ring fingers between the lips and the nostrils. The pinky fingers are placed below the lips. This hand configuration is called Shanmukhi Mudra.

Beginners should not add Shanmukhi until they master the pranayama. Mastery equals a steady humming sound for the entire duration of exhalation. In addition, avoid the mudra if you are claustrophobic or suffer from depression or anxiety. You can wrap a towel around the head, covering the ears and eyes as an alternative.

Takeaway: Shanmukhi mudra amplifies the vibrations of Bhramari Pranyama and balances internal/external awareness. When done correctly, you may feel the low-pitched buzzing sounds emerge from your throat and course through the entire body.

5 Tips to Deepen Your Bhramari Breathing

Art illustration of lungs with leaves in green background

DO experiment with the volume and pitch of humming (including silent humming) once you are familiar with the pranayama. Notice the effects of different intensities and how that makes you feel. Pregnant women should skip this.


DON'T clench the teeth or tighten the jaw at any point. Bhramari pranayama is always done with the teeth slightly apart and the lips touching each other. This is essential to feel/hear the vibrations more openly.


DO Bhramari with Shanmukhi mudra if you plan to follow it up with meditation. It heightens awareness, stimulates Ajna, and increases internal perception. Plus, it creates the ideal state for deep reflection (dhyana).


DON'T attempt Bhramari pranayama when you are tired i.e. right after a strenuous postural yoga session. Wait for a few minutes and allow your breathing to return to normal. Moreover, don’t do it while lying down unless it is to alleviate insomnia.


DO the pranayama in a quiet room, preferably at dawn. A silent environment enhances the potency of Bhramari pranayama and allows you to experience the vibrations at a subtle level.


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References

  1. Kuppusamy, Maheshkumar et al. “Immediate Effects of Bhramari Pranayama on Resting Cardiovascular Parameters in Healthy Adolescents.” Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR, Volume 10, Issue 5(2016): CC17-9. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2016/19202.7894

  2. Mooventhan, A, and Vitthal Khode. “Effect of Bhramari pranayama and OM chanting on pulmonary function in healthy individuals: A prospective randomized control trial.” International Journal of Yoga, Volume 7, Issue 2 (2014): 104-10. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.133875

  3. Abishek, K et al. “The Efficacy of Yogic Breathing Exercise Bhramari Pranayama in Relieving Symptoms of Chronic Rhinosinusitis.” International journal of yoga vol. 12,2 (2019): 120-123. doi:10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_32_18

  4. Srivastava S, et al. “Interventional Effect of Bhramari Pranayama on Mental Health among College Students”, International Journal of Psychology, Volume 4, Issue 2, No. 87, ISSN:2349-3429 (p), DIP:18.01.044/2017402, IBSN:978-1-365-71287-6

  5. Kuppusamy, et al. "Effect of Bhramari pranayama practice on simple reaction time in healthy adolescents – a randomized control trial" International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 2020, pp. 20190244. https://doi.org/10.1515/ijamh-2019-0244