The Importance of Whistling

When you whistle, you breathe out slowly. This calms the nervous system.

Breathing out is soothing and cooling. It is detoxifying and creates space for more oxygen to enter the lungs on the next inhalation. Activating the diaphragm by controlling the breath stimulates the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system- the parachute that will gently deliver anyone from an anxious descent.

Mantra, or repetition of seed syllables like OM, HUM, RAM, etc, is also soothing to the nervous system for the same reason. Humming, the vibration and control of the breath, gives the mind and nerves something to refer to when they are jangled, something steady and comfortable.

From the Sutras:

Sthiram sukham asanam: Asana is a steady and comfortable pose. Pranayama: breath control.

Both of these, in this order, lead to meditation, relaxed stillness, focus and ananda, samadhi, satchitananda: ever-conscious, ever-new bliss.

These – meditation, relaxed stillness, focus – are things missing from a hypo-manic episode. It feels pretty good, blissful, even, sometimes, and even revelatory to be so open hearted. Combined with sleeplessness, lack of appetite, moodiness, consistent multi-tasking and forgetfulness, however, this adrenaline-based side dish of bliss isn’t sustainable.


FullMoon Balance, TwoStars; photo credit Brooke West

Whistling provides an accessible alternative to the classic, more esoteric Yogic breathing techniques. Sometimes taking a breath is the key to slowing hypo-mania in manic-depression. I notice that when I am amped up, I am simultaneously and repeatedly holding my breath and breathing very shallowly, just into my collarbones and not my belly. By brain is thirsty, literally, for oxygen. My central nervous system would eventually kill for breath.

n. noun
  1. A mood disorder that is milder than mania and marked by symptoms of elevated or agitated mood, especially as a component of bipolar disorder.

This morning I was whistling along to Victoria Williams. Her album, Loose, is a fave. My mood is elevated. It’s spring and, like Victoria sings on “Waterfalls,” I like all of the seasons but springtime is best.

It’s even better when I whistle.

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