Humming may be one of the simplest, most natural things a person can do, yet the benefits are surprisingly far reaching. Whether humming your favorite tune or humming the sound “Om,” the activity could help your heart, your stress level and your sinuses, working to reduce your risk for heart attack, stroke and sinusitis.
Humming for the heart
Studies suggest that humming produces a positive effect on both heart rate and blood pressure, as can some chanting and breathing exercises, but the effects seem to occur only where there is vocalization and vibration. Simply chanting a mantra or prayer in one’s head doesn’t produce the same benefits.
Around one in three people in the United States have high blood pressure, and many don’t know it. This condition is called the “silent killer,” because it oftentimes leads to kidney, heart and brain damage before a person knows that she or he has it. Humming may not be a cure-all for hypertension, but a study that involved participants humming the sound “O-U-Mmma” experienced a significant drop in blood pressure, particularly the diastolic pressure after only five minutes. There was a slight, but noticeable, decrease in heart rate as well. The activity was part of a yoga breathing exercise called Bhramari pranayama. The participants were instructed to mimic a sound like a humming wasp to ensure that the inner walls of their nostrils and their laryngeal walls vibrated with the noise.
Humming to reduce stress
Humming can fight stress and bring a sense of calm. The increased oxygenation of the blood causes feelings of relaxation. Registered Nurse Erin Yasinski says that humming produces this benefit in addition to stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the system that triggers the relaxation response. This response is the opposite of the fight-or-flight response initiated by the sympathetic nervous system. The relaxation response causes muscles to relax, the heart rate to slow and blood pressure to decrease. It can even aid digestion.
Some people notice the muscles in their face, jaws and shoulders relaxing while they hum. Thoughts slow down, and people may experience an increased ability to focus. It can reduce anxiety and dispel agitation. Humming may also release tension held in the abdomen, leading to a soft, relaxed belly instead of a stomach churning with anxiety.
Humming for sinusitis
Sinusitis is a painful condition characterized by inflammation in the area around the nose. Up to 14 percent of people in the United States suffer from sinus diseases that can cause congestion and headaches as well as pain in the inflamed areas. When a person hums, the vibrations can decrease blockages in the sinuses. The action may also lead to an increase in nitric oxide flow. Sufficient nitric oxide flow is important for optimal sinus function, because it helps improve blood flow by dilating the capillary beds.
In one study, participants experienced an increase in gas exchange in their sinuses from 4 percent to 98 percent. Humming is believed to lengthen a person’s exhalations, which in turns slows breathing and gives the body more time to extract oxygen from the air it takes in.
There doesn’t seem to be any difference between humming a tune and humming a single note when it comes to the health benefits. However, humming does require making noise that others could find irritating, so for best results, it’s probably wise to save the humming for times when one is alone.
Sources for this article include: