Feeling Stressed Out? Hum!

When we are experiencing stress or high anxiety, significant changes happen in our bodies and brains, which can leave us feeling uncomfortable in our own bodies. Breath practices can be a powerful way to modulate stress by helping to calm and sooth our agitated nervous system. One of my favorite breath practices is humming breath, also called bee’s breath in yoga. It’s as simple as it sounds. To practice humming breath, you start by taking a nice, full, easy inhalation, and then hum as you exhale. Hold the hum for as long as is comfortable and keep the tone fairly soft and low. Be careful not to force or strain your breath. This is a gentle breathing practice that allows a natural flow of breath. Here’s a quick video of how I do humming breath.

I like this breath for a few reasons. First of all, it’s fun and a little weird and there are steps to follow, so it keeps us anchored in the current moment. Being anchored in the here and now means it is a mindful breathing practice. In our fast-paced modern world, we need as much mindfulness as we can get! Second, humming breath extends the exhalation. Extending the length of our exhalations actually shifts the ratio of carbon dioxide to oxygen in our bodies, and this shift encourages our nervous system to calm. In addition, the vibrations produced as we hum seem to be naturally soothing. We even have some brain imaging research showing that this practice decreases activity in parts of our brain that process intense emotions. The vibrations may also soothe our vagus nerve, a very interesting, very large nerve that travels from our gut to our brain and helps to regulate our mood. All of this from humming—that’s pretty cool!

Play around with humming breath and see if it suits you. If you’ve never done a breath practice like this before, start with trying 5-7 humming breaths and work up gradually from there. Humming breath can be a great way to start a meditation session. Because it tends to be calming, it can also be a useful in-the-moment practice when you’re battling heavy traffic, getting ready to give an important presentation to colleagues, or facing some other stressful life situation. Feeling stressed out? Hum!

Happy breathing,

Dr. Jen