This is part of Nourish’s Yoga Practise Guide Library. We were inspired to make these guides to support your own yoga practise and as a resource for teachers who want to make their classes more accessible. We were also pretty tired of all the generic teaching instructions and guides floating around the internet that aren’t inclusive, accessible or adaptable in any way.
If you would like more guidance on making this practice accessible, we have missed something, or you have any questions drop us a comment –– we love hearing from you and really do mean it when we say yoga is for everybody!
What is Bhramari?
Bhramari is a pranayama (breathing) practice that involves gently humming on the exhale. Bhramari can be a particularly soothing practice, as the combination of the long exhale and gentle vibrations from humming can be physiologically relaxing.
Bhramarī means female bee in Sanskrit, and the translated name of the practice is humming-bee breath or buzzing bee breath. The name not only refers to the humming noise you make but also the vibrations created in your throat from humming and the resulting resonance experienced throughout the body.
Bhramari is not only a lovely pranayama practice but the combination of breath and voice, (and any singer will tell you about the importance of how breathing affects vocal expression), makes it a great transition practice if you are looking to work with voice more directly, such as for chanting or feeling more in touch with your vocal expression in general. Finding a more embodied experience of the breath (and the physical experience of humming is a large part of the practice) can help us feel connected to and more trusting of our voices and our ability to speak up and feel heard.
Nourish’s upcoming Pranayama and Voice short course (which is also a module on our flexible delivery 300-hour Advanced Teacher Training) takes a deep dive into the historical and physiological components of Pranayama. Throughout the weeks, we deepen our knowledge of different pranayama practices and then transition into exploring the connection between breath and voice. We would love for you to join us for this course, led by Harriet and Simran. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.
Bhramari, the Parasympathetic Nervous System, and the Vagus Nerve
Similar to three-part pranayama, Bhramari is a pranayama practice that effectively engages the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. This review paper of six clinical studies conducted on Bhramari, testing for various physiological effects, found that the effects on the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest-and-digest state, was one of the most significant elements of the practice.
Taking a deeper dive into the vagus nerve, a key nerve of the autonomic nervous system and in particular, the parasympathetic branch, shines an interesting light on the physiological mechanisms of Bhramari. The vagus nerve is characterised by its meandering sprawl; as the longest nerve in the body, it starts in the brain stem and innervates everything from the heart and lungs to most organs of the digestive system, potentially even reaching the female reproductive organs.
The vagus nerve innervates most of the muscles of our voice box (larynx) and throat (pharynx), as well as our ears. For this reason humming and singing is thought to stimulate the vagus nerve, increasing relaxation and relieving anxiety (although empirical evidence is hard to come by), which would certainly explain why Bhramari can have such a soothing effect. Interestingly, some (very small) studies on chanting OM have noted that the brain wave pattern during the chanting is similar to that of vagal nerve stimulation.
At Nourish, we are always interested in the scientific veracity of practices, however, we also always treat the science critically — recognising the limitations of both individual clinical studies and stressing that although scientific explanations are often insightful, in the context of yoga, they should never replace your own (or your students’) observed experience of a practice. You may well find Bhramari or chanting deeply relaxing and enjoy the vibrations you are generating, or you may not. Finding and adapting practices that support your own unique wellbeing is the priority.
Bhramari Suggestions and Variations
- Set up for your pranayama practice by finding a comfortable seated position. This could be in a chair, on cushions or bolsters on the floor, or kneeling. Let the spine lengthen and the shoulders soften. Rest your hands on your lap and either let the eyes close or your gaze be soft.
- Take a comfortable inhale and exhale.
- On your next exhale, keeping the mouth closed, start to hum gently. It doesn’t need to be a specific pitch or volume, whatever feels most natural for you.
- Let your inhale come naturally (this will create a brief pause in your humming). On each exhale, resume your humming.
- Practice for as long as is comfortable for you.
Hand Variations to explore with Seated Bhramari
This mudra is often taught as an accompaniment to Bhramari to encourage you to turn your senses inwards and observe the internal vibrations.
Bring your hands towards your head and gently press your thumbs onto your tragus (the little nub of cartilage at the opening of your ear canal) to close off your ears, don’t press too hard — just lightly will do. Let your other fingers rest softly on the top of your head.
Begin your Bhramari practice. Notice how closing your ears off affects the quality of the sound (it will likely be louder and have a slightly different resonance) and your overall experience of the practice.
Like version 1, bring your hands to your head and gently close off your ear canals. But this time, bring your index fingers to rest on your forehead, place your middle and ring finger very gently over your closed eyelids, and let your pinky fingers rest in a comfortable position on the lower face.
Begin your Bhramari practice. Again, notice how this hand position shifts your experience of the practice.
Free-placement of Hands
In this variation as you practice you move your hands around various areas of the body to become aware of the vibrations in that region. Some areas of the body may have a strong resonance for you, and in others, you may not be able to notice much of or any vibration at all. Notice where you feel most comfortable or connected to your voice and body as you hum.
You can explore placing the hands anywhere, but here are some options:
- The lower abdomen
- The upper abdomen
- The lower back
- Sides of the ribcage
- The upper chest
- The throat (very gently)
- The cheeks
- The crown of the head
Take at least two rounds of Bhramari in each hand placement, as your experience with it may change over time.
This is a lovely restorative and grounding variation of Bhramari.
- Lie down and come to constructive rest, with the feet planted on the ground approximately hip-width apart and the knees knocked in to rest against each other. You can support your head with a cushion if you like.
- Let your eyes be soft or completely closed.
- Rest your hands on your tummy.
- Take a gentle inhale and exhale.
- On your next exhale start to hum, as you would in the seated variation.
When Do I Practice Bhramari?
Bhramari is a lovely practice to integrate with an existing pranayama practice. It makes an excellent transition practice into meditation, as once you cease humming, you can keep your awareness turned inwards to any lingering feelings of resonance in the body.
As Bhramari is largely accessible, it can be practised as a standalone practice at any time of day, particularly when you are looking for a calming and grounding practice.
If you want to build Bhramari into an asana practice or class, it suits restorative and Yin styles really well, as not only is it calming but the sensory experience of the vibrations suits these slower and more introspective practices. You can also use Bhramari to help wind down from the more dynamic elements of a vinyasa or flow practice.
If you are looking to develop your chanting or voice practices, you can explore humming (with or without the other elements of the pranayama practice) for a minute a day as a way to connect more to your voice.
It is also a fun practice to explore with kids and young people.
When Shouldn’t I Practice or Teach it?
Bhramari is a pretty safe and accessible practice for many people. However, like other pranayama practices, as you are influencing the breath and therefore the nervous system, it’s important to be tuned in to adverse reactions as you practice. If the practice makes you feel anxious, particularly the Shanmukhi mudra variations, then either forego the mudra or the entire practice.
It’s worth noting that for some people who may not enjoy pranayama generally, as the focus on the breath can heighten anxiety, Bhramari may be a pleasant surprise. As the practice focuses on humming, and the modulation of the breath is a byproduct of this, they may find it a more suitable practice.
If you have tinnitus approach Bhramari with a touch of caution. Although some people with tinnitus enjoy the practice a lot, others find it quite unpleasant. Start with one or two gentle rounds and see how it feels, if you choose to progress with the practice you may choose to avoid closing your ears off.
People who are neurodiverse or anyone who has different sensory needs may also want to take a different approach to Bhramari. Again, gentler versions, such as a soft hum or the reclined variation, might be enjoyable, however, they also may want to avoid the practice entirely. If you or your student/s are neurodiverse and have an intuitive feeling that the practice isn’t a good fit — for example if you or they are highly sensitive to sounds or humming noises in particular, or if the sensation of the internal vibrations doesn’t sound like it will be pleasant — skip the practice entirely, there are many different yoga practices and styles to explore. If you or your student/s are open to it, try a couple of rounds of Bhramari and see how it goes, either stopping or continuing as needed.
If you are teaching neurodiverse students check in with them before you practice. You can enquire whether they have practised Bhramari before and if they like it, and if they aren’t familiar with the practice, explain it and perhaps demonstrate a couple of rounds if they are open to that. If you go ahead and teach Bhramari, make the practice completely invitational. You can also make it more of a collaborative process whereby you practice two or three rounds at a time and check to see how your student/s are going. Alternatively, you may choose to avoid it as a practice entirely — be adaptable in your teaching style, and take your cues from your students.
If you are feeling a little frazzled, start with a few rounds of three-part breath before settling into Bhramari.
How Do I Adapt Bhramari To Make it Accessible? What Are Some Common Difficulties?
- Although it is often traditionally taught with the Shanmukhi mudra, there are plenty of reasons why this mudra is not for everyone. Closing off the ears can make people feel anxious, and not everybody is comfortable with touching their face. The version with the mudra is just one variation, and resting your hands in the lap or on another area of the body may help you connect better to the practice.
- Self-consciousness around using your voice is also another common experience with Bhramari. Humming, be that to yourself or in a yoga studio full of practitioners, can make you feel insecure. It is a personal choice whether you feel practising Bhramari, even though you feel anxious, is the best course as it may help you chip away at your self-consciousness, or if not practising at all is better for you.
- If you are sensitive to sounds, you may not enjoy the practice; alternatively, a gentle hum may feel quite soothing. Again it’s up to you to decide if this practice is right for you.
- Resist overextending the exhale; the intention is not to hum for as long as possible in a single breath. Instead, let your hums/exhale be as long as is comfortable for you and let the inhale come naturally before taking another round of humming.
How Do I Teach Bhramari To A Mixed Ability Class?
- Explain and demonstrate the practice first. This is not only helpful for teaching students but may also be reassuring for students who feel anxious about the practice.
- Check in with the needs of your students. Mention to students that if they have tinnitus, are neurodiverse, or experience anxiety they may enjoy the practice or have a mixed or adverse reaction to it. Encourage them to make an intuitive call on whether the practice feels right for them, let them know they don’t have to practice at all or can try out a few rounds and are welcome to stop if needed. It’s important to note that your students are not obliged to share their medical or personal histories with you, encourage all your students to make a personal call on whether a practice is for them.
- Acknowledge that pranayama practices are not for everyone. Encourage your students to be present with how the practice is making them feel in general that day, and if it’s not feeling right for them, they are welcome to stop practising.
- Decide how many rounds (breaths) before you begin. This will save you having to shout over your student’s hums when it’s time to finish and lets them come to a natural rest at the end of a breath. Six breaths is a nice place to start.