Humming Your Way to Calm

humming your way to calm

Perhaps you had a mom who sang lullabies and hummed to you as a baby. Or maybe you remember humming to yourself as you skipped rocks at the lake with your cousins or while you rode bikes in your neighborhood. There’s something that mothers and small children are naturally attuned to that many of us forget when we get older. It has untold benefits and its basis is human sound:

The very simple act of humming.

Your Voice Is Unique

Just like a fingerprint, your voice is unique to you and no one else has the same exact voice print. Your voice comes from the vocal cords that create a vibration within your throat and nasal cavity. Because everyone is made a little differently, so too are your vocal cords and surrounding tissues. They also continue to change as you go from being a tiny human all the way to old age.

You have a unique pitch, tone, cadence, and accent in your voice. These qualities convey a lot of meaning in the words you say. In fact, by the words you speak, you convey your level of confidence, your emotional state, even personality traits.

Your voice is a tool to tell stories, share lived experiences, and commiserate about problems and...sing or hum! Because the voice is such a powerful tool, it can be likened to a musical instrument: it’s best to care for it well throughout your life so that it will always serve you when you need it.

quote about humming by unknown

What happens when you actually use your voice to hum or sing?

Humming and singing create a vibration within the vocal cords, the nasal cavity and reverberate to the rest of your body. These two activities engage the vocal cords to produce notes and tones that are disseminated throughout the body, producing a feeling of calmness and focus.

Humming or singing is actually a form of exercise. It doesn’t get the heart rate up per se (unless you’re nervous because you’re standing in front of a live audience to perform). But, because you need to have good posture, and use your diaphragm in tandem with your lungs, you engage a number of body muscles to create the vibration that is your voice. This leads to increased circulation due to the oxygen boost from the big breaths you take from the actual work of singing or humming.

humming vocal cords

There is a direct mind-body connection that happens, too. Because you can feel the vibrations happening, you become more present in your body. You’re more conscious of the breaths you take in order to hum or sing.

In fact, the act of humming slows down your breathing rate to about 4-6 breaths per minute, compared to when you’re not humming. Normal breathing rates are around 12-18 breaths per minute. Simultaneously, the vagus nerve relaxes too, as it’s right next to your vocal cords. It stretches from the brainstem to the digestive system and plays a critical role in signaling to the body that it’s okay to relax (this is known as the parasympathetic nerve response).

the many benefits of humming

Why? What is the benefit of humming?

First, let’s take a look at the benefits of singing. In a study at the University of Frankfurt, they looked at saliva samples of two different circumstances: those who participated in choir practice for one hour and those who sat and observed. The people who sang in the choir for that hour prior to having their samples taken for analysis showed that they had higher levels of immunoglobulin A (a kind of immune antibody) and lower levels of blood cortisol (a stress hormone). The people who did not participate in the choir practice, but were present for it, had positive effects as well, but not to the degree of the group that sang.

In effect, singing boosts the immune response and is measurable. Humming produces a similar effect. Using your voice promotes systemic healing. Because your rate of breathing is slower, the heart rate slows as well, and lowers blood pressure. All these events have a calming effect on the nervous system.

Other notable benefits of humming include pain relief, reduced occurrences of tinnitus, higher levels of endorphins, better EEG readings and cardiovascular health, and lowered blood pressure, among others. If you have sinus problems, such as sinusitis or are prone to getting sinus infections, the act of humming can help. The vibrations help to push air through the sinus cavity to massage and clean it.

Still, the list goes on. Humming improves sleep. It’s a form of exercise as outlined above, that enhances circulation and immune function. These are all markers for a more relaxed bodily state that promotes better sleep. What’s more, the act of repeatedly using the vocal cords strengthens them. This leads to a lower incidence of maladies such as sleep apnea.

Additionally, with improved circulation, more oxygen is floating around in the cells of the body. This extra oxygen goes to the brain and improves your ability to focus because this all-important organ is getting more fuel and needed nutrients.

Finally, there is the social element. Humming and singing lend themselves to being around others. Singing and humming together compounds the aforementioned benefits because humans are social creatures. The bonding that takes place over song cannot be overstated, resulting in better overall mental health.

Nitric Oxide and the wonders of humming

Humming and singing both cause the body to produce nitric oxide, or NO. This, in effect, slows brain waves down to a more relaxed, meditative state. This can help you reach a true “flow state.” You can even fall asleep humming to yourself!

Humming stimulates the vagus nerve, though the science behind it isn’t absolutely clear as to why. Perhaps it is because the vagus nerve is quite close, anatomically, to the vocal cords. Because humming already produces the benefits mentioned above, it makes sense that the vagus nerve would signal to the body and digestive system that “all is clear” and that the body can enter into a parasympathetic response.

Interestingly, the body produces NO at a rate of fiften times what it normally does when not humming. Few other activities give the body such a marked boost in NO.

nitrous oxide helps you reach a flow state

You’ve perhaps read that sleep is the best way to reduce stress. Interestingly, a 2023 study analyzing the heart rate variability (HRV) of participants in different activities (humming, physical activity, experiencing emotional stress, and sleep) found that the people who hummed had the lowest levels of cortisol in their bloodstreams, less than the group that used sleep to reduce stress.

NO in higher levels kills and inhibits growth of bacteria, parasites and other viruses in the lungs, including the ever-annoying coronavirus. It is a vasodilator. In other words, it prompts the pulmonary arteries and veins (which go to and from the lungs) to dilate, thereby allowing more blood volume to reach the lungs which naturally increases oxygen intake.

Bhramari pranayama

Bhramari pranayama is known as the “bee breath” in ancient cultures. “Bhramari” translates to “bee” from Sanskrit. It is a calming breathing practice, helping to settle the nervous system.

You make a bee-like sound with this breath practice. When you inhale, you breathe in through the nostrils and as you breathe out, you make a humming sound.

In addition to calming the nerves, other benefits arise from this practice, such as improving your throat and voice health. Because you invariably hum on the exhale, it quiets the mind, giving it something to do - to focus on - as you do the exercise.

How do you channel your inner honey bee?

bhramari pranayama

Informal humming

Humming can be as informal or as formal as you’d like. Before engaging in a humming practice, you might feel self-conscious or perhaps you dislike the sound of your voice. We’re here to tell you that your body LOVES the sound of your own voice - you use it to speak all the time, right? But also, no one has to see you. Practice when no one else can hear you, if that makes you most comfortable. Give yourself permission to sound as “bad” as you need to. Let go of the expectation that you should be “good” at this. There is no “good” or “bad” here: it just is. Just you and your voice.

If you’re wanting to engage in a more casual practice, you can hum anytime, day or night. It’s especially easy to hum while you’re driving, washing the dishes, in the shower, cooking, folding laundry, on a walk or run - any activity that doesn’t require your brain to be engaged in speaking, listening, reading or writing.

If you can remember to hum when you feel stressed, you’ll be sure to get a calming dose of nitric oxide. In tandem with the controlled breaths of humming, it will help you to be much calmer in short order.

humming breath bhramari pranayama

Formal humming

Now, if you want to turn this into a formal practice, ancient cultures lend their wisdom here:

  • Try to do this exercise on an empty stomach.
  • While sitting (not laying down), take a deep breath through the nose.
  • Slowly exhale through the mouth. Touch the tip of your tongue to the point where the back of your front teeth meet the gums. Close your lips so that they touch ever so slightly. Let out a gentle hum as you go.
  • While you’re exhaling, bring awareness to the vibrations in your throat, sinuses, and reverberations throughout the body.
    Repeat the inhale and exhale for a few minutes (or as long as you’re comfortable).
  • Build up to longer times as you become accustomed to this practice.

One small note: women who are pregnant should consult a doctor and an experienced yoga instructor before engaging in this formal practice. Also, be sure to sit and not lie down as that will interfere with proper posture and breathing technique.

Humming along with HUSO

Now that you know the benefits of humming, you can use this practice to add to the benefits of listening to HUSO. Once you are familiar with the programs, you can choose your favorite and hum along while sitting.

All of our programs are produced using the human voice. You are perfectly capable of humming along with these “organic” tones to create an even better systemic healing experience for yourself.

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About Cynthia Calhoun

Cynthia is freelance graphic and web designer for HUSO. She enjoys designing things of all kinds, content marketing, email marketing and more.