Minding the Body

The guide to health and happiness

Hum a Happy Tune for Wellness

Humming may ease stress, boost happiness, and soothe sinuses.

humming girl
Try this: Hum your favorite song for the next 20 seconds. Now don't you feel better? In fact, there's no better way to calm your mind and boost your spirits than by humming a happy tune. Plus, evidence suggests that the simple act of humming may help keep your sinuses healthy.

Hum for sinus health
Research shows that humming can improve airflow between the sinuses and the nasal cavity. This, in turn, may help protect the health of your sinuses. Here's how: Humming creates turbulence in the air, which pushes it out more forcefully than quiet breathing. Researchers have studied this effect by measuring a gas produced in the sinuses, nitric oxide. In healthy individuals, humming dramatically increases the amount of nitric oxide released upon exhaling, which shows that air is moving out of the sinuses well. And that's important, because if air and mucus become trapped inside the sinuses, the result can be pain and infection.

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Quiet your buzzing brain
Humming also plays a role in certain meditation practices. For example, some yoga practitioners use a breathwork technique called brahmari, or "the bee." Essentially, this technique involves taking a series of slow, deep breaths through the nose with tightly sealed lips. On each exhalation, the person makes a humming sound similar to a bee buzzing. This technique is often recommended for calming the mind and relieving stress.

Make a joyful noise
In a survey by the Zoological Society of London, designed to spur interest in a hummingbird exhibit at the London Zoo, two-thirds of participants said that they hummed when they were happy. Popular times for humming were when listening to the radio, taking a shower, or going somewhere in a car or by foot. But you might want to contain yourself in an office or classroom, because about half of participants said they were annoyed by the sound of other people's cheery humming.

How Humming Keeps Us Humming Along Fine
Ethnomusicologist Joseph Jordania has theorized that the relaxed, happy feelings elicited by humming may be rooted deep in human evolutionary history. In Jordania's view, humming may once have served the same purpose as animal contact calls - sounds that let animals know that they are among members of their own group, no predators are around, and it's safe to let down their guard and go about their business. Today, humming may still communicate that all is well.

Or maybe it's the good vibrations - that is, the literal vibrations of the humming sound - which promote a sense of well-being. In a recent brain imaging study, the meditation chant "om," which ends on a humming sound, reduced activity in certain areas of the brain associated with depression. The researchers speculated that vibrations from om chanting may have stimulated the vagus nerve, which then sent out electrical signals that deactivated key areas of the brain.

For whatever reason, most of us enjoy humming the occasional tune. It's a seemingly frivolous activity that may turn out to have serious benefits.

Linda Wasmer Andrews, who loves justifications for goofing off, recently wrote here about doodling. Follow her on Twitter. Find her on Facebook. Visit her online.

 

Linda Wasmer Andrews is a health writer with a master's degree in health psychology.

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