Hum Away Your Stress!
Hum Away Your Stress!
by Robert Wright, Jr., Ph.D., COFT
Did you know that the simple act of humming has many health benefits? Did you know that according to recent reports, up to 14% of Americans suffer from painful sinus conditions which can be helped by humming? Did you know that humming spikes the nitric oxide in your nose and nasal cavities and the vibrations decrease the sinus blockages and inflammation? Did you know that according to research studies, you can get the benefits of humming whether you’re humming your favorite tune or a single note such as “Om” or “Ah”?
According to a 2002 study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine researchers in Stockholm, Sweden discovered that nitric oxide levels in the sinuses were 15 times higher during humming than during normal breathing. Nitric oxide spiking helps to dilate your capillary beds and increase blood flow, thus humming dramatically increases the gas exchange in your nasal sinuses. This means that regular humming can help keep your sinuses healthy.
Humming has many benefits, some of which are obvious; others not so obvious. For example, when you hum, it helps to ground and center you. This helps promote clarity of thinking by clearing out the “cobwebs” of your mind. Additionally, when you hum, this reduces the number of thoughts you have floating around in your head at one time. This helps reduce “overthinking” and can help you improve your decision-making abilities.
The simple act of humming begins to dissolve your stress by ramping up your parasympathetic nervous system. When you stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, a Relaxation Response is generated. This results in a soothing or calming effect on your body and mind. One way to know this is happening is to notice how your breathing slows down when you hum. Normally you might take 15-17 breathes per minute but once you start to hum, you may take only 4 to 6 breathes per minute. This will make you feel better and your stress will begin to dissolve as your heart rate and blood pressure goes down.
When you hum, you may notice that the muscles in your face, jaws, neck and shoulders are more relaxed. You may also notice that your mood improves which means that you’ll most likely be less negative with an increased ability to focus on the positive: what’s going right in your environment. As neuroscientists Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Mark Waldman, Ph.D. have pointed out, the brain has a “negativity bias,” that is, our brains are primed to sniff out threats or perceived threats in our environment.
For some people, this can mean when there are no real threats, their ego can create perceived threats—otherwise known as unnecessary drama. If you hum regularly, you’ll automatically begin to reshape your brain’s fear mechanism—your amygdala, so that it only begins to respond to real instead of imagined threats. This means you can live with less tension, stress and anxiety because your body and mind won’t automatically be on “high alert” for danger each and every moment; only when it’s appropriate.
Since humming is good for you, here are some tips for increasing your well being:
Name That Tune: take up the habit of regularly humming favorite tunes that you enjoy. Consider making this an “automatic” habit since when you do so you’ll continually generate a Relaxation Response which increases your feelings of well being.
Hold That Note: consider regularly humming the singular words “Om,” “Um” or “Ah.” Doing so will help calm your mind and body and you’ll be following in the footsteps of the ancients who have used these singular tones to derive health benefits for millennia.
Get Training: there are many schools of Yoga which teach easy to learn forms of breathwork which include humming. The Art of Living Foundation gives many such courses. Consider a school that teaches Bhramari Pranayama which will “fine tune” your humming abilities.
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