By Beth Vaughn, Yoga Teacher at Halos Clinic
There are ‘8 limbs’ to the practice of Yoga. 2 of which are asana (movement practice) and pranayama (breath practice). It’s an ancient practice that is said to bring many, physical, mental and spiritual benefits. However, if yoga is going to be incorporated into heath care, then there needs to be a shift towards a practice that is more evidence based- this means scientific research to find out which bits of yoga, bring which benefits and to whom.
One branch of yoga that’s really gaining interest from the scientific community is the practice of pranayama. There’s an ever growing body of evidence that practicing pranayama can decrease the heart rate, suggesting increased activation of the parasympathic or ‘rest and digest’ part of the nervous system, essentially showing it is a way to actively relax our bodies.
Studies into the effects of pranayama have been carried out over a wide range of topics, ranging from subjective stress and wellbeing , exercise tolerance in COPD patients and levels of depression . However, one article that caught my eye as a creative and original way to use pranayama, was on the effects of Bhramari pranayama or Humming Bee breath on tinnitus.
Tinnitus is a condition in which the person hears sound, which isn’t coming from the external environment, often, described as ringing in the ears.
Patients describe the condition as an annoyance and disturbance and in turn this correlates with increased levels of anxiety and depression. Currently, there is no single effective treatment for tinnitus so research continues to look for new ways to treat and manage the condition. One current treatment offered is sound therapy, for example ‘Masking Therapy’ which involves listing to external sounds to distract from the tinnitus , this research investigates if Bhramari breath could be used as a form of self administered sound therapy.
Bharmari Pranyama starts by finding a relaxed, supported posture, either laying supine or in seated and then bringing the minds attention to the space between the eyebrows (or third eye in yoga terms). With the eyes close the thumbs are placed over the tragus of the ears, the first finger gently rests on eye lids, middle finger touches the sides of the nose and then the index and pinkie rest just above and below the closed lips. Next, a sound is created by inhaling deeply through the nose and exhaling with a low-pitched humming sound. The result sounds very much like a bee buzzing to the person performing the breath and a sensation of vibration is experienced inside the head and over the face.
The study involved 84 participants, 21 of whom were taught how to perform Bhramari Pranayama and allocated this as their treatment. Bhramari was shown to reduce the reported loudness of tinnitus, how much tinnitus was affecting the lives of the patients and also reduced the anxiety and depression related to it.
The authors suggest that 2 elements of performing Bhramari are responsible for these results.
No. 1 – Its relaxing! The supported, comfortable posture in which we practice Bhramari suggests to our minds and bodies that its time to relax. On top of this, closing the eyes and focusing on the breathing shifts the nervous system towards its parasympathetic or ‘rest and digest state’. Over time this trains the nervous system, so instead of going into fight or flight mode at the onset of tinnitus attack it moves more towards its parasympathetic state, reducing the anxiety associated with an attack.
No2- The Sound! The sound produced by Bhramari distracts from tinnitus sound, and as it is self-administered the pitch of which can with in some degree be adjusted by the patient to suit them.
Another group in this study were given conventional masking therapy; the results suggest that Bhramari has a greater effect on Tinnitus than masking therapy in all the parameters tested.
Studies such as this one show that there is a place for yoga within health care, but studies of this kind are generally small, so much more research is needed to truly understand the benefits that yoga can bring into health care.
Beth teaches Yoga at Halos on a Saturday morning at 9.15am. On the 21st April she will be adding a second class to her morning here. Please contact reception for more information.
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