Bhramari Pranayama: humming like a bumble bee

Bhramari Pranayama, or Bee Breath, is a humming breath practice. It's named after the black bumble bee in India.

Bhramari Pranayama Bumble Bee Breath

Bhramari Pranayama, or Bee Breath, is a humming breath practice. It’s named after the black bumble bee in India – in Sanskrit bhramara means “big black bee”. 

Bhramari is one of several Pranayama techniques described in the 15th century text, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swami Swatmarama.

Over the last few years it has become one of my favorite techniques to use for meditation. The humming helps with sense withdrawal (Pratyhara) and concentration (Dharana). 

You will also see it spelt as Brahmari sometimes. I have taken the spelling used in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

Bhramari pranayama is:

  • a fun practice to do with kids
  • a calming breath technique for anyone experiencing excess stress
  • a feel-good breath technique for anyone experiencing respiratory congestion
  • and a tremendous soothing breath technique for both the heart and the gut.

In this article we will look in more detail at some of the benefits of Bhramari Pranayama, in particular its effects on the vagus nerve and parasympathetic nervous system. Plus a couple of different ways to practice it.

How to do Bhramari Pranayama – simple practice

For a simple Bhramari Pranayama practice I like to sit and hum like a bumble bee, with one long continuous tone per exhale. I direct lower tone hums to lower chakras – feeling the vibrations in lower parts of my body. And direct higher tone hums to higher chakras – feeling vibrations in the upper parts of my body.

Exhale slowly making the sound of the female bee. This is Bhramari which fills the mind of the yogi with bliss.

-Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Yogi Hari). 

Try it in class

Bumble Bee Breath for kids

I first learned about Bumble Bee Breath during my one-year attempt at teaching kids’ yoga in 2011. When teaching yoga to children it’s useful and playful to incorporate animals – not only in postures but for different ways to bring awareness to the breath moving through the body. Kids like to practice breathing like a snake (Sitkari Breath, also found in Hatha Yoga Pradipika) and like a bear (Diaphragmatic Belly Breathing).

Bumble Bee Breath quickly became my favourite – I loved how alive the cells of my body felt after humming (and spreading the humming vibrations beyond my throat, heart and lungs into all cells of my body). But even as I enjoyed this fun and playful breath technique I didn’t add it to my own practice or in my teaching yoga to adults. It wasn’t until I learnt about Vagus Nerve Stimulation and how humming is one of the ways we can activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), that I really began to utilize this breathing technique in my own practice and in my teaching of others.

Bhramari Pranayama stimulates the vagus nerves and activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System

The vagus nerves are the two 10th cranial nerves (CNX) of the Parasympathetic Nervous System. They are the longest pair of cranial nerves and play an important role in heartbeat regulation, breath rate and depth management, and the optimal working order of the digestive tract. Stimulating the vagus nerves through humming, singing, chanting, coughing, swallowing, laughing, and other methods such as deep diaphragmatic breathing and bearing down to defecate activates the Rest, Digest and Restore part of our Autonomic Nervous System which is the PNS.

Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous system (PNS) helps to:

  • Stimulate saliva production (great for digestion)
  • Decrease heartbeat (great for calming)
  • Control smooth muscles in the lungs (great for mucus secretion)
  • Stimulate smooth muscles of stomach (great for digestion)
  • Stimulate bile production (great for breaking down fat)
  • Contract the bladder and relax the anus (great for elimination)

The vagus nerves “wander” from their origin in the medulla of the brain stem behind the ears, down the throat, into the heart and lungs, through the diaphragm, and into the organs of digestion, assimilation and elimination.

When you practice Bhramari Pranayama you can actually feel the humming vibration traveling the paths of these two wandering nerves (vagus means “wander” in Latin). 

From my personal experience I have used Bhramari Pranayama for: 

  • ear and throat issues – I have utilized the simplest version of this breath technique with a head cold to help with clearing)
  • heart and lung issues – I found the simple version to be soothing and calming when I had Desert Fever last year. Trapped dust in my alveoli caused tremendous pain in my lung/heart area
  • and digestive issues – I find especially for constipation – humming and vibrating lower tones really helps to get things moving!

The hum of bees is the voice of the garden.

Elizabeth Lawrence

Although I enjoy the simple version of Bhramari Breath, every now and then I practice the full expression with Shanmukhi Mudra as BKS Iyengar mentions in his Light on Pranayama. In Shanmukhi Mudra the fingers are lightly placed over the ears, eyes, nose and mouth helping you to withdraw from your senses. Shanmukhi means 6 Faces or Gates and Mudra means Seal.

How to do Bhramari Pranayama with Shanmukhi Mudra

  1. Sit comfortably in a simple cross-legged seated position, Lotus/Half-Lotus, or Hero Pose. You can even practice this sitting upright in a chair with your feet firmly planted on the floor.
  2. Begin to withdraw your mind from the external world around you (Pratyhara) by becoming aware of the breath moving in and out of your nostrils, up and down your nasal passageways, filling and emptying your lungs.
  3. For the first step of Shanmukhi Mudra, BKS Iyengar says: “Raise the hands to the face and the elbows to the level of the shoulders. Place the thumb-tips in the ear holes to keep out the external sounds.” It’s important that you don’t stick your fingers or thumbs into the ear canal, just press gently on the tragus, (the small cartilaginous protrusion of the outer ear near the gateway of the ear canal) to keep out external sounds.
  4. Feel free to stay with just thumbs closing off external sound at the ears or continue on to the full expression of Shanmukhi Mudra.
  5. For the full mudra, place your index fingers gently over closed eyelids; middle fingers to nostrils to apply gentle pressure (narrowing them to encourage longer slower, deeper breaths); ring fingers placing downward pressure to the upper lip, and pinky fingers applying upward pressure to lower lip to close your mouth. Shanmukhi Mudra has now been applied to the 6 gates (faces) of perception (ears, eyes, nose and mouth).
  6. Inhale through the nose with a soft sound. Yogi Hari writes, “making a reverberating sound of a male bee” and BKS Iyengar simply says Ujjayi Breath.
  7. Then deeply exhale “with a humming or murmuring sound” (Iyengar). Bhramari Pranayama is the exhale hum, the sound of the female bee.
  8. Practice Bhramari Pranayama for six rounds and then sit quietly in stillness, noticing the effects. You can then repeat for another six rounds. I like to practice three rounds of six before I sit for meditation.
  9. You can experiment with low, middle or high tones. Use only one tone per exhale and notice where you feel the vibrations in your body. Note that “humming” doesn’t mean to hum a tune; when you practice Bhramari Pranayama you hum one long consistent and continuous tone per exhale.

When should you practice Bhramari?

BKS Iyengar, in Light on Pranayama, says the best time to perform Bhramari Pranayama “is in the silence and quiet of night.” He also states that it can “be done in two stages, one lying, one sitting.”

According to Iyengar, “the humming (murmuring) sound induces sleep and is good for persons suffering from insomnia.” Bhramari Pranayama is also utilized for the practice of Pratyahara (Patanjali’s fifth limb of Sense Withdrawal) and therefore could be done before your morning or evening seated meditation.

Personally, I like to practice the simplest version of Bumble Bee Breath (simply humming for vagus nerve stimulation) at times of body/mind stress or distress.

Life is good. I wake up humming.

Rita Moreno

Bhramari Pranayama as a Heart Awareness Breath

One last gem I would like to share about Bhramari Pranayama is that this breath technique is also known as a Heart Clearing or Heart Cleansing Breath. I find it definitely to be a Heart Awareness Breath. Placing my hands on my heart and humming immediately brings my awareness into my heart space.

Humming, feeling the vibrations, I love to sit with my heart – the pericardium (the protector of the heart), all four chambers of the heart that pump blood and oxygen to the cells of my body, and to the back of my heart closest to my spine, where, according to Qi Gong, the deepest cave of the heart exists. 

No longer am I in my head, no longer am I in the past or future, but into the fullness of my heart I land and reside.

Sources cited:

  • Hari, Yogi. Hatha Yoga Pradipika: Light on Hatha Yoga. Miramar, FL: Nada Productions, Inc., 2005.
  • Iyengar, BKS. Light on Pranayama: The Yogic Art of Breathing. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2019.

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Jennilee TonerJennilee has the best job in the world…travelling the world and teaching four of her passions: yoga, human anatomy, injury prevention, and mythology of the asanas.