This term we have been practicing Bhramari Pranayama or humming bee breath. It is a beautifully nourishing breathing practice that is also terrific for the sinuses. And I don't know about you, but my sinuses need as much support as I can give them this time of the year.
Bhramari is a safe and simple practice that calms the nervous system by lengthening the exhalation using sound. It also offers an opportunity to let go of the external stimuli for a few moments creating calm and quiet in the body and mind. It is also great for getting to sleep or back to sleep, and as a prelude to meditation.
Studies have shown that practices such as Bhramari (and chanting) can increase the production of Nitric Oxide (NO) which is produced by the sinuses. NO can regulate the tone of blood vessels facilitating the flow of blood and can kill bacteria and viruses*. A 2002 study showed that humming increases NO 15 fold compared to silent breathing.
There are several variations. Give each a try and choose the one that is most comfortable for you.
Sitting comfortably, either on a cushion or a blanket on the floor or on a chair. Take a breath in and as you exhale, make a humming sound for the length of your exhale. The sound vibration is excellent for the sinuses, mouth, throat, head and brain in general. You can repeat this for 3-6 breaths before having a break, feeling the effects of the practice and repeating or moving onto your next practice.
Preparing as above, but this time placing your thumbs on the tragus (the little bit of cartilage in front of each ear) and push it gently in to block the ears and resting the other fingers on the front of your head as in the image above. Keep the shoulders relaxed, inhale and as you exhale make the humming sound for the full length of the exhalation. The sound is amplified in your own body and your attention begins to draw inwards, a practice of pratyahara or sense withdrawal, the 5th limb of Patanjali's 8 Limbs of Yoga (you can learn more about the 8 Limbs in the Integrated class). Repeat for 3-6 breaths before releasing and sitting quietly, noticing what, if anything has changed.
Building on the above two stages, this next stage increases pratyahara by symbolically closing off all the senses (if you have done the Adrenal Healing Kriya with me you will be familiar with this mudra). We use the Shanmukha mudra to symbolically draw our attention inwards. Our thumbs rest on the tragus as above, the index fingers rest very gently on the eyelashes with the eyes closed, the middle fingers rest either side of the nose, the ring fingers rest of the top lip and the little fingers rest on the bottom lip (image below). Repeat for 3-6 breaths, observe, then repeat if wished. It is a nice prelude to meditation or sleep.
As we inhale and hum out, all our focus is internal. The sounds, the wonderful vibration and the deep sense of ease and quiet that comes from disengaging from all the external stimuli, even if it just for a minute.
Regardless of which variation you chose, give yourself a few minutes after the practice to feel it's effect.
Here is a bit more info if you want it.
5 Ways to Practice Bhramari by Timothy McCall from Yoga International
Bhramari Pranayama Bee Breath from Art or Living
*Breathe through the nose. Cited 21/11/2017