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.
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