Humming has measurable physiological effects that can be healing and health-promoting
Making a simple, self-created sound for just five minutes might help to reduce blood pressure and stress, and keep nasal passages and sinuses healthy.
Humming requires no musical ability. It’s a sound that everyone with a voice can make. It’s something babies do. It’s something elderly people do.
Yet, the benefits of humming go beyond just the fun of humming a favorite tune. Research suggests that humming can be an important, portable self-help tool that can be used to reduce stress, relax, perhaps improve the health of nasal and sinus passages, and more.
The Basics of Humming
Sit up straight, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths, then hum from your mouth up through your nose with your lips closed. You can hum for 10 seconds and longer. For an extended session, you can hum for five minutes followed by five minutes of silence to ground yourself afterward.
Jonathan Goldman, an authority on sound healing, has worked with all sorts of sounds for 40 years. He and his wife, Andi Goldman, a licensed psychotherapist, have worked in the field of sound healing for the past 20 years. They’d been looking for an accessible form of sound healing for the masses. When they considered the simple act of humming and looked at the research on its benefits, they were amazed by what they found and compiled the information in their book “The Humming Effect: Sound Healing for Health and Happiness.”
Key Points to Know About Humming
There are two ways that sound affects the body:
- Through psycho-acoustics: through hearing or listening, which affects the nervous system.
- Through vibro-acoustics: by making the sound, and the sound literally vibrates the body—all the way down to the cellular level.
“Humming is, from my perspective, the most powerful vibro-acoustic sound we can make,” Jonathan Goldman said.
Keep in mind that there are many pitches of hums, and each person is a unique vibratory being. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. As a unique vibratory being, play with the pitch, and hum in the manner that seems best suited to you, the Goldmans recommend.
In addition, to reap the most benefits from humming, Jonathan Goldman says that silence is mandatory. After you hum for five minutes, then go into stillness and silence for a few minutes.
“Silence is the yin to the yang of sound. Silence is the place where the sound can create the shifts and changes on a vibrational level, on a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual level,” he said.
The following lines of research point to several important health benefits of humming, including reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and stress, and increased levels of nitric oxide, which plays an important role in keeping the nasal cavity and sinuses healthy.
Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
In a 2010 study, participants practiced a specific type of humming combined with deep breathing—a yogic practice called bhramari pranayama—for five minutes. The slow-paced humming caused both the systolic and diastolic blood pressures of participants to decrease significantly, accompanied by a slight decrease in their heart rates.
The authors concluded that this type of humming induced “parasympathetic dominance” on the cardiovascular system, which is beneficial, as the parasympathetic nervous system is sometimes thought of as the system that erases stress and puts the body back into a state of balance. Five minutes seems to be the minimum time necessary for sound to create this beneficial effect on the body.
The Goldmans have experienced this reduction in blood pressure and heartbeat.
“Andi and I have found that if we’re about to go into a meeting or do some task that may be challenging and we find that we’re nervous, all that’s necessary is for us to spend a couple of minutes taking some nice deep breaths and humming,” Jonathan Goldman said. “Our heartbeat and blood pressure most usually will drop quite amazingly—to about the level that pharmaceuticals might achieve.”
Chanting ‘Om’ Can Reduce the Stress Response
A study in the International Journal of Yoga in 2011 found that when participants of the study chanted “Om”—which is often considered to be essentially the same sound as humming—there was deactivation of the limbic system.
The limbic system is the part of the brain that regulates autonomic and hormonal functions, particularly in response to the intense emotions of fear or anger. When the limbic system is activated, we often experience the “fight or flight” phenomenon. When the limbic system is deactivated, we experience a reduction in stress and enhanced calmness.
More Nitric Oxide in the Nasal Passages
Additional research on humming shows that it greatly increases nitric oxide in a localized area of the body—the nasal passages. Nitric oxide is a neural transmitter fundamental to health and well-being. It plays many important roles in the body: It enhances the immune system, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system. In particular, it causes vasodilation, or widening of the blood vessels, which increases blood flow and decreases blood pressure. Nitric oxide production in nasal passages is part of the defense system against bacterial and viral infections, and nitric oxide plays a significant role in developing the innate immune response to many bacterial and viral infections.
A study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine shows that humming causes a 15-fold increase in nasal nitric oxide levels compared with quiet exhalation. The authors explained that this effect is likely due to increased contribution of nitric oxide from the paranasal sinuses, which are small, hollow, mucus-lined spaces around the nose. Humming causes the air to oscillate, which, in turn, seems to increase the exchange of air between the sinuses and the nasal cavity.
Humming May Keep the Sinuses Healthy
Sinusitis is a common but painful condition that affects more than 16 percent of the U.S. population. It occurs when the paranasal sinuses become inflamed, causing symptoms such as headaches, pain, and nasal congestion. A reduced nitric oxide production may increase susceptibility to sinus infections.
Research suggests humming may help to keep sinuses healthy. A 2008 research article by Jon O. Lundberg of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, explained:
“A more provocative view on humming is that it might by itself help to prevent or resolve sinusitis. The mechanism would simply be that humming speeds up the gas exchange in the sinuses enormously so that fresh air can enter, thereby preventing the pathological processes associated with reduced oxygen levels.”
In other words, humming can improve ventilation in the sinuses. During silent nasal breathing, the time it takes to exchange all sinus gases is between five and 30 minutes. With humming, this occurs in one single exhalation, they wrote.
So, the next time you have a stuffy nose or congested sinuses, the Goldmans suggest trying humming to create the maximum amount of nitric oxide. Simply take a few deep breaths, hum for four or five times, and sit in silence for three minutes. You can repeat this one more time if desired.
They also recommend not to strain yourself and not to hum extra loudly or for an extra-long time. Just hum at a tone that is comfortable, most likely at the volume and tone of the sound of your voice when you’re in a normal conversation.
Can Projected Humming Benefit Other Areas in the Body?
A hum is a sound that creates a vibration in the body. If you have any question about that, do a soft hum and press your fingers lightly in your ears. You will feel the vibration in your nasal cavity.
Research by John Beaulieu found that sound—vibration—stimulates cells in a petri dish to release nitric oxide. Furthermore, in a 2003 review article on sound therapy-induced relaxation, Beaulieu and his colleagues explained that nitric oxide is responsible for the health effects of music in inducing positive emotions and relaxing effects in the body.
Putting this information together, the Goldmans believe that it’s not only possible but relatively easy, with the use of intent and a slight variation of pitch, to project a humming sound to different parts of the body, such as other parts of the skull and the chest. By causing different parts of the body to feel that vibration, is it possible to cause those parts to release nitric oxide and open up blood flow in those areas? The Goldmans believe so, as some others do, and think that humming can act as an internal sonic (vibrational) massage that benefits how we feel.
Try experimenting with different humming tones and see if you notice the feeling resonating more or less in different parts of the body.
“As we have delved deeper and deeper into the subject, we have seen, time and again, the evidence: humming can improve not only your health but also the quality of your life, contributing greatly to your happiness,” the Goldmans write in their book.
Melissa Diane Smith is a holistic nutrition counselor and journalist who has been writing about health topics for more than 25 years. She is the author of several nutrition books, including “Syndrome X,” “Going Against the Grain,” “Gluten Free Throughout the Year,” and “Going Against GMOs.”