Under my byline

Humming for health

Posted in Health by Rrishi on 8 July 2007

Generate your own good vibrations

Would you like to hear the paramedic humming “Another One Bites the Dust” as he gives your mother CPR? Unlikely as it sounds, that Queen song may save her life. Perhaps you would prefer him to hum the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive”? That would work as well.

Both songs have parts that are exactly 100 beats a minute (“Ha-ah-ah-ah, stayin’ aliiiiive”), which is the ideal frequency for pumping the chest in CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) for a heart attack victim. The idea comes from Dr Alson Inaba, a paediatric emergency physician at the Kapi’olani Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

You can hum yourself to health too, in less dire situations. Chronic sinusitis is a common condition that affects people with respiratory problems, usually those who suffer from asthma or allergies. The sinuses, mucus-lined cavities in the skull around the nose, get infected and inflamed, blocking the nose and causing painful headaches.

Humming helps prevent sinusitis, as researchers Jon Lundberg and Eddie Weitzberg of Stockholm’s Karolinska Hospital discovered in a study, published in 2002. Healthy sinuses have high concentrations of nitric oxide (NO). Humming, by dilating capillaries and increasing the blood flow to the region, can raise NO levels 15 times, compared to normal quiet breathing. Humming boosts the exchange of air between the sinuses and the nasal passageways (from 4 per cent during normal exhalation to 98 per cent while humming), which means bacteria will not accumulate in the stale air trapped in the sinuses.

Breathing also becomes more efficient when you hum, because exhalation is slower than normal. This means more oxygen can be extracted from the air in your lungs, and your heart rate comes down too.

This calming effect is prized by yoga practitioners, who use Brahmari pranayam (Bumblebee breath) as part of their treatment of stress, anxiety, depression and so on. Apparently it clears the voice as well, so is favoured by professional singers.

Sound is all around us all day long, most of it noise — irrelevant junk. A very small proportion of what we hear is particularly enjoyable. Humming, we can generate our own sound, our own good vibes, wherever we are.

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