Nitric Oxide and Humming
The practice of humming comes very naturally to human beings. Children make all sorts of non-verbal sounds before they can actually talk, and both musical and non-musical individuals indulge in humming, often unconsciously. It is not possible to sustain a hum if you are in a bad mood! The action of humming lifts your spirits, relaxes your muscles and eases tensions. But humming has many more lesser known benefits associated with the practice of nasal, as opposed to mouth, breathing.
Breathing through the nose produces Nitric Oxide (NO) in the paranasal sinuses which is then carried into the lungs. The properties of NO are manifold and it is believed that nasal breathing could possibly provide us with a good form of defense against respiratory infections such as the current outbreak of coronavirus, or Covid-19.
This is because NO is a bronchial dilator, meaning that it opens up the nasal passages and bronchi in the lungs, facilitating the intake of oxygen. It is also a vasodilator, which means that oxygen can be carried more efficiently all around the body by the bloodstream. NO is known to be antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial, all of which help to support a healthy immune response. Gentle nasal breathing optimizes the levels of NO in the airways and the blood. If you have ever attended a Yoga class the chances are that you will have experienced some form of breath work, the most commonly taught being alternate nostril breathing. The act of humming significantly increases levels of NO, up to 15 to 20 times more than normal. This helps to open up the airways and to kill pathogens.
First Line of Defense
The nose is our first line of defense against all kinds of airborne pathogens or particles. It makes sense therefore to practice nasal breathing at all times, especially if you suffer from any congestion that inhibits your ability to do this. The paranasal sinuses, a group of four air-filled spaces that surround the nasal cavity, are responsible for the production of Nitric Oxide and humming stimulates the production even further. When we hum we also increase airflow in the sinuses. Other benefits we reap from humming are an increase in neurochemicals such as oxytocin, which promotes a calm and happy state of mind, and a reduction in stress levels. Reducing stress is major factor in boosting the immune system and promoting health and well-being.
Try it For Yourself
If you have a blocked nose you do need to try to address this before you start humming. Sometimes, dysfunctional breathing (habitually breathing through the mouth) can begin with an allergy and quickly become the norm. Try this simple exercise to clear your nasal passages;
Sit upright with shoulders relaxed and breathe gently and slowly through your nose. When you have established regular pattern, breathe out and gently pinch your nostrils together for a count of three, release, breathe in for a count of 2 and repeat. If your nose is completely blocked breathe in through pursed lips to begin with.
Breathe in and out again in a comfortable rhythm. On the next out breath, gently pinch the nostrils again and hold the breath for as long as possible before breathing in.
Get Ready to Hum
There are different perspectives on the most effective areas to focus when humming but for our purpose here let’s try this one to get you started. This is an exercise that can be used at any time to help boost immunity.
Relax your jaw and place the tip of your tongue lightly behind your front teeth, lips closed. Breathe in through your nose.
As you release the breath through the nose make a sustained hmmmmmmmmmm sound. There is no need to force the air out, a long, sustained exhale is best.
Breathe in gently through your nose and repeat as many times as you wish.
To increase the effect of the exercise you can gently massage around your eye sockets, nose and temples as you continue to hum.
You may feel vibrations and a “tickling” sensation as you make the sounds. This is good. And good for you for trying this! You are helping to increase airflow in your nasal passages, the production of beneficial Nitric Oxide and support a good immune system.