Humming bee breath: boost your focus and contentment

'The great yogis, by constantly practising this, experience indescribable happiness in their hearts. This is bhramari' Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Who wouldn't be drawn to something that holds such promise? Or that has such an intriguing name - the humming bee breath.

In everyday life bhramari is great for boosting concentration during the working day, and for turning inwards in order to work and act from the heart. It is also effective in reducing anxiety and insomnia.

Bhramari pranayama is an accessible, safe breathing technique that enables anyone to experience the transition from our external to our internal world, an essential part of yoga. Pratyahara is the word used to denote the turning inwards of the senses that enables this to take place. Bhramari immediately calms, releases mental tension and leaves a pleasant feeling of harmonious simplicity, clarity and contentment.

As part of a yoga practice, some minutes of bhramari after asana (posture practice) will carry you naturally into meditation.

Here are three versions of the technique for you to try and choose from. The first is perfect for beginners. I find each to be progressively more powerful in terms of internalisation. For each version, breathe comfortably through the nose, for up to 10 breaths in and out. Begin with 5 breaths in and out.

Each breath must be steady and of even quality throughout. The inhalations are silent and we make a buzzing sound  - mmmm - on the exhalations, hence the name. The eyes are closed. The use of sound naturally extends the exhalations, which in turn lengthens inhalations. Over time, this increases and strengthens our breathing capacity.

For tips on how to find a comfortable seated position in which the spine remains straight please see this post. Practice in a quiet environment, indoors or outdoors. Early morning or in the evening are the best times, although I find bhramari works well during the day too, as long as you have quiet. Begin by sitting for a few moments and watching your natural breathing.

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Use your index fingers to cover the ear-holes by pressing gently on the tragi (the little flaps of cartilage) at the entrance to the ears. (Do not put your fingers into your ears!). This is the simplest/beginners' technique.

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This technique uses sanmukhi mudra (a mudra is a hand gesture). Use the thumbs this time to close the ears as above. Place the index and middle fingers over the eyelids (to keep out the light), the ring fingers at the sides of the nostrils (to slightly narrow the nostrils for steady, subtle breathing) and the little fingers on the upper lips. Elbows are level with the shoulders.

If, like me, you have small hands you may find it is more comfortable to modify the finger placement slightly, using different fingers to cover the designated areas. B.K.S Iyengar also suggests using a cloth or bandage wrapped around the head for the same effect, should it be difficult to keep holding the hand position. I was once at a workshop where we were all bandaged up like this - quite a sight.

Please note that if you have claustrophobia this version may feel too 'closed'.

3.

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In this last version the thumbs close the ears again, and the fingers are placed on the frontal part of the skull. This version is sometimes suggested as a preparation for sanmukhi mudra. Personally, it gives me the greatest sense of the vibration of sound and internalisation.

At the end of your practice release your hand position and remain sitting for a few moments to absorb its energetic effects. When you are ready, stand up slowly.

As with all pranayama, bhramari can be progressed further, for example by focusing on ajna chakra (the third eye) or increasing the practice time. This should be introduced in person by a teacher when the practitioner is ready. Kumbhakas (retentions or holding the breath) are rarely used.

I hope you like it. It's always fun to try for the first time (and often produces laughter in a class).

Feel free to share this post with anyone interested in the benefits of bhramari or in the subtle practices of yoga. There is nothing like merging our external and internal worlds and experiencing the hugely positive impact this has on everyday life.

Photos: bellanova photography

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