If you’ve ever practiced any type of Vinyasa yoga such as Ashtanga, then chances are you’ve heard the word ujjayi breathing. What is ujjayi breathing and why is there such emphasis placed on moving with the breath in yoga practice? Ujjayi (translated from Sanskrit as victorious), is an ancient yogic breathing technique that helps calm the mind and body. Since the breath is our life energy (prana), the in- and out-breath is what nourishes and cleanses the body and mind. The quality of the breath tells us something about our physical and emotional state – whether we are relaxed, tense, stressed or balanced.
How to Practice Ujjayi Breathing
1. Breathe in deeply through your nose and exhale out your mouth. When you breathe out of your mouth, imagine you are trying to fog up a mirror. Use the whisper muscles in the back of your throat to make a deep “haaa” sound.
2. Continue Step 1 but now when you exhale, close your mouth half way through the exhale. The first half of the exhale will leave through your mouth and the second half of the exhale will leave through your nose. As the exhale transitions to your nose, try to keep the whisper muscles in your throat activated. Imagine you’re fogging up a mirror with the breath from your nose.
3. Keep your mouth closed the entire time as you continue to breathe in and out through your nose with the throat muscles constricted. Usually, it is easier to make the “Darth Vader” sound on the exhale, but overtime you will be able to make the sound with equal volume on the inhale. When first learning Ujjayi, don’t worry if your breath sounds forced or even silent. With practice, your Ujjayi breath will start to sound like the waves in the ocean.
“If you are running at a certain pace, there is a tendency to open your mouth because breathing through your nostrils may not be sufficient. But you never ever breathe through your mouth during asanas. This is not an aerobic exercise – asanas are about building internal strength of the organs and the whole system”. ~ Sadhguru
Once Ujjayi breathing is learned in a seated position (such as easy pose), the next step is to retain the same quality of breathing throughout your asana practice. During your practice, try to keep the same length and evenness of the breath in and out (through the nose) as much as possible. Once you find your Ujjayi breath in a pose you feel comfortable with, try to maintain that same quality of breathing throughout your yoga practice. While controlling the breath we can control the mind and this is a very important part of yoga practice. Overall peace in the body can come only when the mind is calm and stable.
Caution: When practicing Ujjayi breathing, be careful not to tighten your throat. Do not attempt this breathing exercise if you have a respiratory condition, like asthma or emphysema. Stop if you become faint or dizzy. Remember to always work within your own range and abilities. If you have any medical conditions, talk with your doctor first before beginning any yoga practice.
Practicing yoga is not always about getting a workout. People practice different types of yoga to benefit in various ways. For example, restorative yoga can help your body relax and open up; and there are yoga breathing techniques you can practice which can help to clear your mind and focus the brain. If you set aside a small amount of time during each day to practice yoga, you can benefit from it even more in your everyday life. But how can one fit a yoga practice into a busy life?
When you think of a yoga practice, what comes to your mind? Yoga mats, yoga pants, yoga blocks, or perhaps a yoga studio? You don’t necessarily need all of these things for your personal yoga practice. It depends on what kind of yoga you want to practice and if you have the space. need yoga props, or want to practice in a yoga studio.
The first thing to think about is where in your day can you set aside 10 to 20 minutes for practice? Is it at home before you leave for work or after the kids have left for school? Is it on a tea or lunch break? Is it at the end of your work day on your way home? Try to figure out when the most suitable time for your yoga is, and how much time you can dedicate to your practice, even if it is only 10 minutes.
Preparing for your daily yoga practice
Once you have decided when your yoga practice will be, you then need to make some preparations so that when it comes to doing your yoga practice there will be nothing to distract you. The time of the day you find most convenient will tell you where you are likely to set aside the time for your practice. Here are some ideas:
If you have chosen to practice in the morning you may want to do a short Sun Salutation Sequence before your morning shower. You can prepare by keeping your mat near the bathroom. You may even want to light a candle to create a relaxing environment and sense of meditation. It may be a good idea to have a clock or use a timer on your smartphone to track the time.
If you decide to take a few moments before going inside to work, why not sit in your car for 5 minutes and take some time to go through a few yoga breathing exercises? There is no need for any movement. Just sit up straight in your car seat and do some deep yoga breathing. It will help you prepare for the day, and calm down any adrenaline or stress so that you are ready to enter your workplace feeling clear-headed and ready for anything!
If you have a gym membership, maybe you could stop on your way home from work every day even if it’s just a short practice. Take half an hour to an hour, change your clothes and unwind with a sequence that helps you after a hard day at work.
Create a dedicated spot in your home to practice your yoga
It might be a good idea to create an area in your home that is like a retreat; a place you can go to whenever you want to practice your yoga, rest or meditate. Here are some things to consider in designing your very own yoga retreat in your home:
Light some scented candles or incense to help you to create a meditative state of mind
Perhaps you have a window with an inspiring view
Create your own collection of music to suit the different types of yoga you like to practice at different times of the day
What about lighting? Do you prefer bright lights or dim lights?
Do you live in a small space? If so, can you store your mat flat under your bed so that you don’t have to have it laid out in the way, and you don’t have to unroll it every time you want to use it
Stretching the muscles before any exercise (including yoga) is key to a safe experience, and yet the ankles are often ignored; interesting, considering an ankle sprain is the most common type of sports injury. Many yoga poses can help protect the ankles, increasing strength, balance and flexibility so sprains are less likely to occur. Here are 4 yoga poses for the ankles:
Mountain pose is a standing pose that strengthens the ankles, knees and thighs, while also reducing flat feet. To get into the pose, start with your feet close together, your heels just barely apart. Lift your toes and spread them out onto the floor, distributing your weight evenly on the inner and outer sections of your feet. Drop your tailbone toward the floor, slide your shoulder blades down your back, and let your arms hang strongly by your sides with your palms facing forward. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute.
Lotus pose is a sitting pose that stretches both the ankles and the knees. If you have tight hips, you may wish to prepare for the pose by bringing your knee up toward your armpit and rotating it around a few times. Start sitting evenly on your sit bones with your legs out in front of you. Place your left foot on top of your right thigh, and your right foot on top of your left thigh, keeping your heels close to your abdomen and the soles of your feet facing upward. The knees should touch the floor (use yoga blocks, yoga bolsters, or pillows under the knees if necessary to take any strain off the knee joints. Hold the pose for a few seconds. After you have tried the pose a few times, hold for one minute.
*Modify this pose as seen in the picture. Careful as not to put pressure or strain on the knees especially if you have any knee problems.
Also called a yogic squat, garland pose stretches the ankles while also toning the abdomen. To get into the pose, squat down on the floor with your feet about hip-width apart. Your feet should face outward at about a 45-degree angle. If you can't keep your heels pressed to the floor, put a folded mat or blanket under them. Your knees should face the same direction as your ankles to prevent possible injury. Press your hands together in prayer position as you press your elbows into your knees and lift your heart upward. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute.
Hero pose is a sitting pose that stretches and strengthens the ankles. Start in a kneeling position with your feet a little more than hip distance apart and the tops of your feet pressing down on the floor. Sit down on the floor between your feet and slide your shoulders down your back. If you can't comfortably sit on the floor, place a yoga block under your buttocks (as seen in the picture) for support. Sit up straight, with your sternum lifted, and rest your hands on top of your thighs. Hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute. You may eventually wish to hold the pose for as long as five minutes.
Hatha Yoga is mainly practiced for health and vitality. Hatha Yoga was introduced in the 15th century by Yogi Swatmarama. Hatha yoga focuses on the purification of the physical being which leads to the purification of the mind or vital energy. The exploration of these physical-spiritual connections and body centered practices led to the creation of Hatha Yoga. Today in the West, hatha yoga has become wildly popular as a purely physical exercise regimen divorced of its original purpose.
Whatever the historical details, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (an Indian yoga teacher, ayurvedic healer and scholar) has become the undisputed father of modern-day hatha yoga. Krishnamacharya’s first lessons in yoga were from his father and his grandmother and passed on through generations of practice.
Hatha Yoga follows in that vein and thus successfully transcends being particularly grounded in any one religion. This exploration of these physical and spiritual connections and body centered practices led to the creation of Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga has been included in the life style of these traditions. Hatha Yoga classes tend, among other things, to emphasize physical mastery.
Hatha also means a force or determined effort, and yoga, of course, translates as yoke or joining together. The very name hatha yoga, a combination of “ha,” meaning sun, and “tha,” meaning moon, denotes the union of opposites. Through the practice of yoga an individual can gain information about physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.
Hatha Yoga represents opposing energies: hot and cold, fire and water following the theme of ying and yang, male and female, positive and negative. Hatha yoga attempts to balance the mind and body. The balancing of the mind and body is brought about via physical exercises (also known as asanas), controlled breathing (pranayama) and relaxation or meditation.
Pranayama refers to breath control in yoga. In this yoga is defined as a means of binding or controlling the breath and the mind using the syllable “Om”. In this case yoga has extremes, practices of fasting, breath control, and postures to transcend the body, and not cultivate it. Asana body postures that are contemplative in nature and are designed to align the body and bring about the optimum situation for relaxation.
Traditional yoga is a holistic yogic path and is becoming wildly popular.
Yoga is one of the best aerobic exercises that can be done on a regular basis. It is beneficial for to the body, mind and soul. Although some men prefer sweaty, energetic workouts, yoga can be very challenging and can provide a holistic workout along with innumerable health benefits. Apart from enhancing fitness levels, yoga also increases stamina levels and is a great exercise regimen for men of all ages and all fitness levels. To help men build a stronger base for their gym exercises, decrease stiffness and increase stamina, the yoga poses mentioned below can go a long way.
Standing Forward Fold
Uttanasana, or Standing Forward Fold, opens the back of the legs, the hips and the back. Men can easily modify this pose by keeping the hands on the thighs, calves or ankles or use blocks to shorten the distance.
In addition to stretching muscles, Standing Forward Fold lowers blood pressure, eases headaches, improves circulation and helps you sleep better.
This posture stretches men where they need it most—the hips and shoulders. On top of opening these tight areas, Virabhadrasana is a strengthening posture. It builds the muscle of the thighs along with the areas around the knees, which means more stability and protection for sensitive joints during high impact sports.
Chair pose works the quads, ankles, butt and shoulders, while also opening the chest—helping to develop greater stability. It’s also useful for improving flat feet and stimulating the abdominal organs.
Downward Facing Dog
Downward Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana, brings the attention to those tight areas in men; the hamstrings, calves, arms, shoulders, back, hips and more. And while it stretches the body, Down Dog also strengthens the arms and legs.
This pose also strengthens the heart as it improves circulation, reduces stress and helps high blood pressure.
Low Cobra Pose
Cobra pose can help to open the chest and strengthen the back and arms. This posture will help anyone who sits behind a desk all day by opening the abdomen and hip flexors.
*For men who also enjoy more strenuous forms of exercise, Upward Facing Dog is another great way to warm up and get the muscles stretched and blood flowing before expecting the body to go all out.
Boat Pose (modified)
Boat pose, or Navasana, will not only strengthen the core, but it also strengthens the hips flexors and spine. This posture is particularly beneficial to men for what it does to stimulate the prostate gland and reduce tension in the pelvic region.
Baddha Konasana increases blood flow to the pelvis, kidneys, prostate and bladder. It’s also a good way to draw attention to mula bandha, the root lock, which brings awareness and more energy to the area around the hips.
This posture is can be quite challenging, but you can ease yourself into it as your hips open more and more. Since it’s a powerful way to open the glutes, hamstrings, abductors and hip flexors, Half Pigeon can help men when they take part in physical activities. Once the tension is released in the hips, men will feel the benefit in the lower back and other areas of the body.
It’s not unusual for men to experience tight muscles throughout the torso, so Bridge pose can help open the upper body and release tight muscles. Whether most men realize it or not, tightness in this area makes for shallow breathing and can make other physical activities more challenging.
Over time, practicing bridge pose will create more space in the chest and make for easier, fuller breathing.
Reclining Hand to Big Toe
This posture opens the lower back to get energy moving more freely, and when it does, it also stimulates the prostate gland and improves digestion. *Try using a yoga strap to make the pose easier especially if you’re not quite flexible.
Now it’s time to really relax. As the asana suggests, you simply lay on your back, eyes closed with your hands at your sides or on your chest. Breathe normally and let your worries dissipate as you exhale.
Yoga can be very challenging and mastering these yoga poses will help strengthen and stretch the muscles, prevent workout injuries and improve posture and overall balance.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a very old way of life that came from India that encourages personal health, spirituality and wellness. It doesn’t clash with any religion but does have an influence on our spiritual path. Hatha based or alignment Yoga has been around for approximately 5000 years. More and more medical practitioners and therapists are using Yoga as a remedy for many kinds of poor health conditions. The rewards of Yoga practice are numerous and consist of increased strength and flexibility, cardiovascular vigor, healing injuries, produces mental clarity and emotional balance.
To begin practice you need discipline, concentration and attentive breathing. The effect of serious Yoga practice is a union of mind, body and spirit. No matter your age, knowledge, body shape, or physical skills,you can implement a Yoga program.
Is yoga a religion?
Yoga is a philosophy, not a religion, though it does have a spiritual component. You do not need to be religious to practice. It has been practiced by individuals of widely differing beliefs. In order to practice, you only need to believe in the possibility that we can transform ourselves, that there is always more to learn, and that there is a better way to approach life than the old habits that tie us down. At the heart is the openness to see we have not yet tapped into our highest potential as human beings. Yoga seeks to put us in touch with our spiritual core; that which who we truly are.
How is yoga different from stretching?
The aim of yoga is body awareness, and internalization of the awareness. In the very beginning, yoga was not about the body, asanas were practiced only as a tool of moving meditation.
Today, asanas, flexibility, stretching and technique seems much more important in the practice, but one should never forget the true purpose of yoga. Yoga is more than a stretching, its ideal for your mind, body, and spirit.
Should I practice Yoga?
Anyone can practice yoga; from athletes to runners, the flexible, the not so flexible, young, old and everyone in-between. Yoga requires the perfect positioning of your body; as you hold the poses you develop physical strength and stabilize your emotional and mental condition. This does not happen overnight, but when you practice daily you will begin to see results and any health problems you may have had will soon dissipate.
If your long term goal is to reclaim your energy, health and dynamism, then yoga is for you. Yoga exercise is a perfectly balanced program that can be started by anyone from age 8 to 80. Your practice can be made more challenging as you progress or take it easy on days which you are fatigued.
Why do I hear people saying “Om”?
OM is said to be the sound of the universe. It is a symbol of our connection to all living things and beings. It is a way to seal in the lessons of the yoga class. It is however, quite new to some students, and you not required to participate.
Why should I practice yoga?
There are so many benefits of practicing yoga. Here are just a few:
Yoga is a practice that is a physical exercise, helping improve toning, stamina, posture, strength, balance and flexibility, as well as a discipline that helps you de-stress, relax, feel healthier and more energetic.
No matter why you are interested in getting started with a Yoga practice, you will certainly gain self-control, understand the breathing techniques and the physical exercise you get while practicing Yoga.
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