Remember when you were a kid, and you didn’t like what someone had to say? You’d stick your fingers in your ears and yell something like, “I’m not listening! I’m not listening!”
Well, imagine doing that, except you’re an adult and you’re calmly shutting out the entire world.
Bhramari is a pranayama technique that works to not only bring your focus within, but–unlike when you were having a childhood fit–it also dramatically relaxes you. It’s ideal when you’re ready to take a break from listening to all the chaotic drama happening around you.
Like so many practices in the yogic tradition, this one comes with an engaging backstory that also teaches a spiritual lesson.
Also known as Humming Bee Breath, it’s named after Bhramari, the Hindu goddess of bees. As an incarnation of the Goddess Shakti, she has all kinds of buzzing creatures clinging to her body.
A spiritual text called the Devi Bhagavata Puranatells her tale. It starts with the demon Arunasur, who garnered favor with Lord Brahma with years of dedicated (but selfish) fasting. Lord Brahma granted Arunasur protection from all animals walking on two and four legs.
Not surprisingly, this made Arunasur feel invincible. He decided to overthrow the gods. This demon was tough. Even Shiva couldn’t beat him. That’s when this goddess appeared, using her force to summon a swarm of six-legged insect friends. In the style of Africanized bees, these insects tore the demon to shreds, and all was well in the heavens.
Consider tapping into this same, internal power to transcend the stress (or demons, perhaps) of your day with this breathwork.
Based on that violent spiritual tale, you may think that this breath is as relaxing as that childhood temper tantrum. But it actually does the opposite.
This pranayama is particularly effective in relaxing the nervous system. By practicing it regularly, you’ll see reduced anger, anxiety, and blood pressure. You can alleviate tension caused by headaches, and you will be able to sleep better.
Pregnant women are also encouraged to adopt this pranayama routine as part of a gentle yoga practice. It’s even been reported to help during childbirth.
Ready for a real buzz? Start by sitting in a comfortable, cross-legged position. Of course, that’s easier for some people than others. You may want to grab a blanket. Fold it a few times so that you can tuck it under your sitz bones and allow your pelvis to tilt forward a little. This should help to reduce a natural slouch.
In fact, even if you feel comfortable when seated, it’s a good idea to elevate your hips with a blanket or cushion so that they are slightly higher than your feet. This helps with blood flow, making it less likely that your feet will fall asleep as you practice Bhramari and other breathwork.
Are your knees super high? Take two blocks (or stacks of books, if you’re practicing at home), and use them to prop up your knees.
Maybe cross-legged sitting doesn’t feel good for another reason. You can do this breathwork seated on a chair, or you could sit in a hero’s pose instead. The point is, sit comfortably so you can focus on your breath and not an ache somewhere in your body.
Whichever way you’re sitting, have a straight spine and relaxed shoulders. Before you begin, take a mental inventory of how you are feeling. Check in with your natural breath, as well as your mental state. It’s important not to get lost in all the reasons you feel a certain way. No judgment here. Just take stock of your baseline before you begin your practice.
Next, you’ll want to try what is called shanmukhi mudra. Take both hands and bring your palms toward your face. Place your pinkie fingers lightly by the sides of your mouth. Your ring fingers go gently underneath your nostrils. Your middle fingers are placed by the sides of your nostrils, and your index fingers rest on your eyelids to close your eyes.
Finally, use your thumbs to close your ears. If you are a teacher, you’ll want to complete instruction before having your students close their ears!
Keep in mind, this mudra might be uncomfortable for you if, for example, you are claustrophobic.
Some teachers simply have students close their eyes and put their index fingers in their ears. Others have students close their eyes and have their hands on their knees in gyan mudra. These are fine alternatives.
However, adding the gentle touch to your practice helps with softening. You can also use your fingertips to notice subtle changes that come from this breathwork.
To begin the practice, inhale deeply and steadily for four seconds through your nose. Then, you can use your middle fingers to slightly close your nostrils and exhale through your mouth.
When you exhale, make a light hum that sounds like a bee. Extend the exhale for eight to 10 seconds.
One inhale and one exhale equal one round. Try to do between 11 and 21 rounds a day.
As you are performing this pranayama, take note of how the sound vibrations feel in your head and body. It’s almost as if you are humming softly to yourself. How does that feel on in sinuses? Can you feel it on your tongue or teeth?
When you are finished with the rounds, keep your eyes closed and bring your palms down to your knees. Return to your normal breath.
Again, take a moment to conduct a little inventory of yourself now. How has the pranayama changed your normal breathing? Has your mental energy changed? Noticing the impacts of the practice is important as you understand how you can conquer your own demons in your life.
Like the goddess herself, you have an army of swarming helpers–metaphorically speaking, of course–around you at all times. When you are challenged by the world around you, there’s no need to freak out like a child. Instead, you can always escape into the buzz of your own breath.