'Life is good, I wake up humming' - Rita Moreno
I love finding out that some of our most natural and primitive human behaviours are now being scientifically proven to help our wellbeing, especially in terms of nervous system healing. People often catch me humming when I'm relaxed and happy, and it's good to know that this subtle habit actually creates a positive feedback loop of calm and contentment...
Breathing and Humming
Humming activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body's "rest and digest" response. When we hum, we naturally take slow, deep breaths, which can help calm our nerves and lower our heart rate. Making a humming sound also soothes and tones the vagus nerve, creating nervous system stability and regulation. You might notice that the first time you try to do a long 'hum' it might be quite wobbly, but by the time you have done three or four, the note is usually stronger and clearer. This amazes me that I can literally hear the change in my body's regulation, every time. One description I read compared the vibrations of humming to an internal body massage - how gorgeous is that!?
When we hum, our brains also release endorphins, oxytocin, nitric oxide and melatonin, which all help with positive emotions, soothing the physical body by widening blood vessels, and supporting sleep.
Whilst these improvements are less immediately noticeable if we're humming on a dog walk or when doing the washing up, it's still good to know that healthy reactions are happening under the surface.
Clearing Sinuses and Airways
Humming can also help clear nasal passages and sinuses by increasing the circulation of air through them. The vibrations created by humming stimulate the cilia (tiny hair-like structures) in the nasal passages, helping to move mucus and other irritants out of the way. If you haven't yet read James Nestor's book Breath, I can't recommend it enough, and there is a big section on breathing through your nose as a conditioned habit, just like exercising and strengthening a muscle. Humming is a part of this too.
Ancient and Ritualistic Humming
Different iterations of humming and chanting have been an enduring part of many cultures and traditions for centuries, whether you think of chanting 'Om' in meditation, the call to prayer, or communal singing in worship. As well as physical benefits for our nervous systems and airways, humming is frequently linked with spiritual practice:
"chanting in many traditions is to promote healing, social connection, and go beyond mundane states of awareness by altering states of consciousness." - Perry & Polito
Whether you are 'spiritual' or not, I think it's fascinating that making musical sounds with our vocal chords has always been a part of human behaviour, across varied ages and cultures.
Next time you're feeling overwhelmed or stressed, try humming and see how long it takes your sound to settle into a clear, steady tone. This is also adjusting the tone of your nervous system through the vagus nerve.
Now that I know how good humming is for down-regulating my system, I also try and do it whenever it's a suitable moment! I hum or sing in the car, on a quiet walk, in the shower, or when I'm alone in the house. I like to think of it strengthening my voice as well, which is an added bonus.
Hopefully this blog post will have inspired you to do the same... I'd love to hear about all the places you've been humming ♡