The secret health benefits of humming

October 28, 2022

From touching grass to icing your genitals, there’s been plenty of talk on how seemingly insignificant things can lead to life-changing benefits. Apparently, one of these unsung practices is humming, reports Vice News.

According to the current affairs channel, experts have linked humming to several health benefits—including easing stress, improving mood, detoxifying the body, fighting diseases, and helping with gut issues.

“When a person first hears that the simple act of humming has various benefits, it sounds way too simple, almost ridiculous,” Brian Lai, a breathwork specialist based in Hong Kong, told Vice. “But when we take a look under the hood of the human body, we can begin to understand why it has been used for centuries, and why the science is finally beginning to catch up.”

Of course, humming—or exhaling through your nose while creating a vibration that sounds like a buzzing bee in the back of your throat—is not a new practice. According to Philippines-based yoga teacher Joshua David Webb, it’s part of the yogic tradition of pranayama, or the practice of regulating the breath.

Humming, in particular, is called bhramari pranayama (“bhramari” is derived from the Sanskrit word for bee), and yogis have long used the practice to wind down and relax the nervous system. As Webb put it, it’s like taking your foot off the gas pedal and telling your body it’s OK—you’re not being chased by a cheetah right now.

It works, Lai explained, because humming causes turbulence in the nasal cavity, which increases the release of a powerful molecule known as nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, meaning it helps blood flow more easily through the body.

“If there’s better blood flow, you have reduced blood pressure, and because of that, it also relaxes the nervous system. When you relax the nervous system, your agitated mind is also calmed down,” said Faisal Tabusalla, a functional breathing instructor and movement coach also based in the Philippines.

Nitric oxide is also a bronchodilator, which means it makes breathing easier by relaxing the muscles in the lungs and widening the airways. It also has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-fungal properties, so it’s crucial to the body’s immune response.

“There are other ways to increase nitric oxide in the body, such as diet and supplementation, but humming is simple, fast, and accessible to everyone,” said Lai. Regular nose breathing also releases nitric oxide in the body, but one study (albeit from 2002), showed that humming increases the release of the chemical by up to 15 times. Another study (from 2003) showed a sevenfold increase.

You cannot get nitric oxide as efficiently when you breathe through your mouth, which many people subconsciously do.

Humming affects many other bodily functions because it stimulates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system. It transmits information to and from the brain to numerous organs in the body, and therefore affects things like sensory and motor functions, mood, digestion, and heart rate.

“Because the vagus nerve travels through the pharynx and larynx in the throat, humming creates a vibration that stimulates it and improves the [function of the vagus nerve],” said Lai.

Humming also can help cleanse and detoxify the body by allowing more airflow in the lymphatic system (aka the body’s sewer system), which is responsible for absorbing fatty acids in the stomach and helping the body defend against infection, among other important functions.

Lai said that for healthy individuals, there is hardly any reason not to hum, unless it’s distracting or a person has specific health issues that humming might trigger or exacerbate (in which case they should consult their doctor first). Beyond that, the great thing about humming is that it doesn’t really require any special skill—most people can do it right now.

“You can actually just say the word ‘hum’ and then you can prolong that hum,” said Tabusalla.

That means inhaling through your nose, with your mouth closed, and exhaling through your nose while making a sustained hummm sound, feeling the vibration around your nasal and lip area, until the tone naturally runs out.

Tabusalla recommended repeating this for five to 10 minutes, two to four times a day. You can make a mindfulness practice out of it and dedicate the time exclusively to humming, or do it while doing other tasks.

Research contact: @VICE