In a fast-paced world full of digital distraction and endless demands on our time and energy, more and more people are living with chronic stress and anxiety.
The causes of mental health issues are varied and complex — and it’s important to note that self help techniques aren’t a quick fix, and don’t work for everyone.
But if you feel stressed or anxious, bhramari pranayama is a powerful, yet simple, breathing technique that you can use any time. Translated from Sanskrit as ‘bumblebee breath’, bhramari weaves breathwork, meditation and vocal sounds together to quickly change your state of mind and calm the nervous system.
Actually, using your voice to shift into steadiness can help to balance the effects of stress. A 2010 study found that exposure to calming sounds from nature or your environment improves your body's stress responses and speeds up the activation of your parasympathetic nervous system (the ‘rest and digest’ mode).
In this article, we'll look at what bhramari is and how to practice it. Then we'll delve into the benefits of using this breathing technique as both a preventative measure for stress and anxiety, and as a way to manage overwhelming feelings in the moment.
What Exactly Is Bumblebee Breath?
Bumblebee breath is a calming practice involving quiet, steady inhales, and a steady humming sound on each exhale.
Here’s how you do it:
1. Find a comfortable seated position.
- You could choose to sit on the floor or on a chair. If you sit on the floor it’s best if your hips are a little higher than your knees to protect the joints from rotating too much — so sit on a cushion or yoga block (or two). If you sit on a chair, make sure your feet can rest comfortably on the ground and the edge of the chair just touches the backs of your knees.
2. Close your eyes and take a few moments to settle in.
- Observe the breath. Notice any sensations you feel and watch the thoughts that drift in and out of your conscious mind.
3. Place your index fingers on your ears and press gently to close them.
- Your thumbs can rest on your chin or jaw. Take a deep, steady inhale.
4. On the exhale, make a loud humming sound with your voice — but keep your mouth closed as you do so.
5. Repeat for three to five breaths.
- Focus the awareness on the humming sound with each exhale, and experiment with different pitches to find a pitch (high or low) that feels most calming and grounding for you.
No warm up is needed before bhramari. It’s a wonderful technique to include at the beginning of your yoga or meditation practice, or as a standalone practice.
Even better, there are no contraindications — bumblebee breath is, as far as is currently known, safe for everyone regardless of differences in physical or mental health.
It’s also great for changing your state of being if you’re in the midst of a stressful situation or feeling anxious. It’s not the easiest practice to do while you’re out and about or at work (your colleagues might think you’re a little strange…) but if you can take yourself somewhere quiet for a few minutes, you can use bhramari to settle and recanter yourself.
The Benefits of Bhramari
We’ve already touched on the key benefits of this pranayama practice as a tool to manage and reduce stress and anxiety. Many more benefits have been reported in yogic literature — from lowering blood pressure to building confidence. Not all of those reports have been backed up by research, but here’s a list of known benefits with links to solid evidence when it’s available.
- Lowers blood pressure
- Eases headaches
- Reduces anxiety, tension and overwhelming emotions including anger
- Supports good heart health
- Improves concentration and memory; this cognitive study found that bhramari changes brain waves for days after practice, and this study found that cognitive function was improved by the practice
- Increases self-esteem, optimism and overall confidence — perhaps because of a sense of being more grounded in your own body
- Settles the mind chatter in preparation for meditation or yoga practice
In 2017, a systematic review of 25 bhramari research studies. The results were significant, showing that many of the claims made in classic yoga texts are now supported by modern science.
More research is needed, but in the meantime, try this practice for yourself.
Because it feels good. Really — it does.
The Strength of Bhramari
Sitting quietly and steadying yourself is, in itself, a powerful thing to do.
Add to that the experience of meditative sound, of internalizing your voice and feeling the vibrations of that sound through your whole body, and you get the sense, somehow, that you are exactly where you need to be.
Pranayama practices evoke different physical and emotional responses in different people. This means it’s impossible to tell you how you’ll feel when you try bhramari — and there’s no right or wrong response.
But generally speaking, bumblebee breath feels like coming home to your body.
It brings you back to your centre and reminds you that you are a complete being; that you have a huge capacity for calm.
The experience of closing the ears and humming helps to withdraw the senses from external stimulus and return you to yourself, focusing the mind and cutting out the distractions that make you feel frazzled.
This practice helps you understand — experientially — that you can feel steady, and that you carry powerful tools for peace and stress relief everywhere you go.
Because your breath and your voice are always with you. So why not use them to help yourself?