भ्रामरी, bhrāmarī

Bhramari is one of the well-known pranayamas (also called bhramari-kumbhaka), which can be used both independently and as a practice leading to nadanusandhana.

The name of pranayama is associated with a sound similar to the buzzing of a bee, created during the practice. Mind and prana are gradually absorbed in this sound, fluctuations and worries disappear, consciousness is purified and revealed, as well as energy (shakti). Bhramari is also the Goddess name meaning this pranayama, like others, is related to awakening of Kundalini-shakti. This practice can also be referred to as laya-yoga because dissolution of mind takes place.

This is how bhramari-pranayama is described in “Hatha-yoga pradipika”:

atha bhrāmarī
vegādghoṣaṃ pūrakaṃ bhṛṅga-nādaṃ bhṛṅgī-nādaṃ recakaṃ manda-mandam । 
yogīndrāṇamevamabhyāsa-yogāc citte jātā kācidānanda-līlā ॥ 68॥

Take a quick inhale, making a noise [like] a drone buzzing, and then exhale slowly with a sound [like] a bee buzzing.Through the practice of [this pranayama sadhaka] truly becomes the lord of yogins, and the game of bliss arises in [his] consciousness. (2.68)

“Gheranda Samhita” describes the application of a simplified variation of shanmukhi-mudra in bhramari practice and mentions that this practice, after the perception of various internal sounds, leads the practitioner to the most subtle, non-percussive sound, anahata-nada, and then to samadhi:

atha bhrāmarīkumbhakaḥ |
ardharātre gate yogī jantūnāṃ śabdavarjite | 
karṇau pidhāya hastābhyāṃ kuryātpūrakakumbhakam || 78||

Bhramari kumbhaka.
After midnight, avoiding the sounds of all living beings, jammed his ears with his hands, the yogi should inhale and perform kumbhaka.(5.78)

evaṃ nānāvidho nādo jāyate nityamabhyasāt |
anāhatasya śabdasya tasya śabdasya yo dhvaniḥ || 81||

Thus, through constant practice, various sounds arise, [up to] the sound of anahata (non-percussive sound). This sound has dhwani (subtle vibration, resonance). (5.81)

dhvanerantargataṃ jyotirjyotirantargataṃ manaḥ |
tanmano* vilayaṃ yāti tadviṣṇoḥ paramaṃ padam |
evaṃ bhrāmarīsaṃsiddhiḥ samādhisiddhimāpnuyāt || 82||

Light is hidden inside this dhwani, light absorbs the mind. When the mind dissolves (in the light), that transcendental supreme vishnu state arises. Thus, by perfecting in bhramari, [the yogi] attains success in samadhi. (5.82)

Performing shanmukhi-mudra (in a simplified version, when only the ears are closed, or in full version – see yoni-mudra) helps to disconnect senses from external irritants and direct attention inward to concentrate on the sound.

A sound of a buzzing or humming bee can be made either exclusively during exhalation, both on inhalation and exhalation, or may not be made at all. If sadhaka doesn’t create sound, then he listens to the sounds and vibrations of his body. This version of bhramari is closer to nadanusandhana, and not everyone can practice it because of anxieties of mind and prana. Therefore, it is better to start the practice with a buzzing sound, so that attention is fully occupied with it, and the mind can easily immerse itself in it.

During the practice, consciousness calms down and gradually dissolves into sound, breathing slows down, duration of pauses between inhalations and exhalations increase. During kumbhaka (or breaks in practice), one should keep listening to sound and vibrations in mind and body, gradually moving to the subtle levels that lead to kevala-kumbhaka and perception of anahata-nada.

Bhramari as a goddess

Goddess Bhramari is one of Shakti Devi forms, mention of her is found in “Devi-mahatmyam”:

yadāruṇākhyastrailokye mahābādhāṃ kariṣyati || 52
tadāhaṃ bhrāmaraṃ rūpaṃ kṛtvāsaṅkhyeyaṣaṭpadam |
trailokyasya hitārthāya vadhiṣyāmi mahāsuram || 53
bhrāmarīti ca māṃ lokāstadā stoṣyanti sarvataḥ |

When the [asura] named Aruna will cause great turmoil in the three worlds,
Then I, taking the form of a swarm of countless bees,
For the sake of the three worlds, I will destroy [that] great asura.
"Bhramari" – [under this name] I will be praised by all people

The Goddess appearance is described in greater particularity in “Devi Bhagavata Purana”, where it is narrated how Asur Aruna, after performing severe austerities, received a blessing from Brahma: he will not face death "either in battle from a weapon, of metal or not, or from the hand of a man or a woman, or from a biped or a quadrupedal, or from a creature of mixed species."

Bhramari Devi bhramari.jpg

After obtaining this gift, Aruna invaded heaven with an army of daityas and attacked the devas living there. Devas who lost their position went to Kailash, for help of Shiva, from whom they received advice to worship the Goddess.

Devi, who appeared in response to the perfect worship, released innumerable streams of black bees from her body and hands, which destroyed daityas and Aruna, since bees did not fit into any of the categories described by the asur, asking for a gift from Brahma.

Thus, Bhramari acts as the ugra (frightening, formidable) form of the Goddess, and on the inner level represents the power of annihilation of obscurations which asuras personify.

Shakti-pith dedicated to Bhramari

In India, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, there is a shakti-pith associated with this form of the Goddess – Ma Bhramaramba Shrisailam Shakti-pith. It is believed that part of Sati's neck fell into this place. The temple dedicated to Bhramari is located nearby to one of the 12 jyotirlingams – Mallikarjuna. Shakti-pith and jyotirlingam are located away from the bustling cities in the quiet Nalamala forest, the temple complex is quite ancient and very beautiful, it is an important place for pilgrimage. Bhramari Devi is considered the Shakti (consort) of Shiva Mallikarjuna. There is a legend according to which Devi took the form of a bee to honor Shiva.