Bhramarī Prānāyāma

Recently, I read an interesting article about bees in Slovenia. It was not about 101 of Apiculture or that beekeeping has grown in popularity in recent years or that raw honey and beeswax are much sought after products. It was about how that country has a time-honored tradition of using sounds of bees buzzing as a relaxation technique. Everyone from firefighters to school children participate in a practice of lying down in a room with cages filled with thousands of buzzing bees to alleviate anxiety and stress. (link to the article below)

Artist: Asha Parayanthal

How does this relate to yoga?

Stress and anxiety are frequently linked with short, tense upper-chest breathing. Relaxation, on the other hand, happens with slower and fuller breaths that begin from the diaphragm. This is where a prāṇāyāma, called Bhramarī, Bee Breath comes in. The practice is named for the humming sound that bees make. The practice lengthens the exhalation without unnecessary straining and, the sound is relaxing for a busy mind.

Bhramarī Prāṇāyāma

In Samskritham, Bhramarī means a type of bee and Prāṇāyāma means breathing technique. Here, the longer exhalation sounds like the humming sound of a bee. A simple breathing technique, it can be practiced anywhere to relieve stress and anxiety.

Contraindications

Bhramarī should not be practiced:

  1. in a supine position (lying down)
  2. by pregnant or menstruating women
  3. individuals with extremely high blood pressure, chest pain,
  4. individuals suffering from epilepsy, or an active ear infection. 

Time

As with most breathing techniques, Bhramarī is best practiced on an empty stomach. While it can be practiced at any time of day, bhramarī has been found to be effective early morning as it has the potential to be energizing and late at night to help you sleep.

Seat

Certain books recommend that the ideal seat, āsana is Padmāsana, Lotus Pose or Siddhāsana, Yogic Pose (Satyānanda Sarasvati). As always, finding the most comfortable seat, āsana, is crucial. Be honest with how your body is feeling at the time of this practice. Then, consciously decide if your seat will be either on the floor or in a chair. If you choose to sit on the floor, place supports under your pelvis by using a bolster or a blanket so that your hips and thighs tilt downward to help you lessen the pressure on your lumbar spine.

Please do not be embarrassed to choose a chair. You are not the first one and certainly won’t be the last. Those with injuries and back issues will certainly benefit without having to give up any of the yóga practices. Sit in the middle of the seat so that your thighs are at right angles with your feet flat on the floor. If your feet don’t touch the floor, rest them on a couple of yóga blocks. Try practicing in a chair and notice if your mind is able become quiet faster.

Technique

  1. Sit comfortably, shoulders relaxed, head and neck aligned with your spine, eyes closed.
  2. Take a few deep breaths, setting an intention to be present in your practice.
  3. Place your index fingers on the outer cartilage of your ears (tragus).
  4. Breathe in deeply through the nose and as you exhale gently press the cartilage with your index finger (or thumb) to shut off the ear to outside distractions.
  5. Make your exhale as a sound which resembles buzzing of a bee. Lips are gently closed with teeth slightly separated throughout the practice. This allows the vibration to  be heard and felt more distinctly in the brain. (Satyānanda Sarasvati)
  6. The sound can be low-pitched at first. Try a high-pitched variation when you are ready.
  7. Notice how the sound vibrates through your face, your tongue, teeth and sinuses. Be aware of its energizing effects on the brain. This is a very important part of your practice.
  8. Practice with ease, try not to force the breath by tensing up your jaw and facial muscles.
  9. Prolong the buzzing sound on exhalation as long as possible without gasping for an inhalation. If you feel physical distress or mental agitation, return to normal breathing.
  10. Practice seven rounds. One inhale one exhale constitutes one round.
  11. Let the humming fade into silence. Relax your fingers and pause, breathing quietly.
  12. Stay seated in silence for a few minutes listening to the silence following the sound. This is another important part of this practice especially for spiritual seekers.
  13. Why? It helps you train the senses turn inward, trains your mind to be an observer – an absolute requirement to hone your concentration.
Courtesy: Bihar School of Yòga

Silent Bhramarī

This modification may feel difficult at first, but a much needed step towards making the mind one pointed. In this variation to the above technique, the physical sound of humming is consciously withdrawn. This helps to hone your attention and experience subtle sounds and sensations, fostering your ability to turn inward.

  1. Begin with a few rounds of the above technique where you are producing the physical sound and experiencing the vibrations.
  2. After your fifth or sixth round, allow the physical sound to fade and gradually change to silent bhramarī.
  3. Here, you make an effort to imagine producing the humming sound on each exhalation. To be clear, you are not producing the physical humming sound.
  4. Pay close attention to notice whether you can still feel the vibrations coursing through your facial muscles, mouth and in your sinuses.
  5. Perform this silent technique for five to six rounds. Notice if anything has changed compared to the first techniques.

Another modification to Bhramarī is seen in the practice of Śunmukhi Mudra. Advanced practices include adding Bandhas, locks along with Kumbhaka, breath retention and suspension, which are not discussed in this blog. These are to be practiced only after mastering the above techniques first and must be learnt from an experienced teacher.

Benefits

Before listing the benefits, it is important to know that the power of Bhramarī to restore poise and to heal comes partly from its effects on the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Lengthening the exhalation comparative to inhalation activates the parasympathetic branch of the ANS. This lessens the ‘fight or flight’ impulse response of the nervous system. This calms the nerves, soothes the mind which helps you relax. However, for spiritual seekers, this prāṇāyāma is central for training the ears to turn inward.

A few thoughts on sound (rest can be googled) before we discuss therapeutic application. You already know that sound waves can travel through air, water, and solids. Our bodies being solid – sounds absolutely travel through the body. A higher-frequency wave has more energy than a lower-frequency wave. Whenever you make a sound as in singing, speaking or yelling, it tends to pulsate towards the head as well as down the torso to the toes. Even if you don’t sense it explicitly right away. The yogic belief is that sound vibrations, traveling through the body, pulsating at the cellular level generate healing effects.

Also, it is important to know that different pitches vibrate at different frequencies. What that means is that low pitched sounds vibrate slowly, while the high pitched sounds vibrate fast (thousand or more times per second) and travel quickly. How does this translate to yóga?

As a part of Chikitsa, Yóga Therapy, Bhramarī has been recommended for a few common ailments. Here are a few examples.

  1. When someone complains of insomnia, a recommendation to practice low-pitch Bhramarī perhaps with Śunmukhi mudra to help relax the mind and nervous system.
  2. Practice of the silent version of Bhramarī can be used at work in the comfort of your office space to relieve stress and tension.
  3. Low-pitch Bhramarī helps to quiet the mind for those who suffer from nervousness and restlessness. The sound of Bhramarī can drown out the endless chatter and mental loops that fuel mental and emotional distress.
  4. Personally, I’ve found it helpful to use this breath in its high-pitched variation during seasonal changes to overcome nasal congestion and for sinus health.

The above are a few examples and suggestions. It is essential that you test out the different variations for yourself and observe how your body responds. One size does not fit all. Please scan the short list of benefits of Bhramarī below.

  • Calms the nerves and quiets the mind
  • Speeds up healing process and hence can be practiced after surgeries or sickness
  • Strengthens and improves the voice and eliminates throat ailments
  • Relieves insomnia and promotes sound sleep
  • Relieve tension, anger and anxiety. It is a very effective breathing technique for people suffering from hypertension as it calms down the agitated mind.
  • Helps alleviate migraines by slowing down the onset or reducing the span of the pain
  • Improves concentration and memory
  • Relieves stress and hence helps to reduce blood pressure
  • Heightened awareness, ability to attend easily, stay focused on tasks
  • Gives a starting point to those whose minds are too ‘busy’ to meditate

Practice Bhramarī Prāṇāyāma and enjoy its benefits.

Artist: Asha Parayanthal

Take a moment to read about the state of apiculture and bee extinction. ‘Believe it or not, you have a bee to thank for every three bites of food you eat’; to know more please refer to the link listed below.

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References

Satyānanda, Svāmi. 1966, 1973. Āsana Prāṇāyāma Mudra Bandha. Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, Bihar, India.

Muktibodhānanda, Svāmi. 1993. Hata Yoga Pradipika. Yoga Publications Trust. Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, Bihar, India.

Rama, Swami., Ballentine, Rudolf. M.D. 1978. Science of Breath. Himalayan Institute, Honesdale, PA

Sarasvati, Niranjanānanda Svāmi. 2009. Prāṇā and Prāṇāyāma. Yoga Publications Trust, Bihar School of  Yoga, Munger, India.

Stephens, Mark. 2010. Teaching Yoga: Essential Foundations and Techniques. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley California.

Weintraub, Amy. 2004. Yoga for Depression: A Compassionate Guide to Relieve Suffering Through Yoga. Broadway Books.

Sausys, Antonio. 2014. Yoga for grief relief: Simple Practices for Transforming Your Grieving Mind and Body. New Harbinger Publications.

Article By Martina Zoldos 30th July 2020,

https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200729-how-slovenians-use-bees-to-relax

Saving Bees – Greenpeace, USA.

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