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Ujjayi breathing is a breathing technique in which both inhalation and exhalation are done through the nose. A breathing technique is called Pranayama in Yogic terms.
If you have ever found yourself in an ashtanga or vinyasa type of yoga class, you may have heard the teacher ask you to start or “turn on” your Ujjayi (ooh-JAH-yee) Breath. You may also have heard the teacher call or emphasize this breath through most of the class and maybe you have always wondered what it is and why it is important.
Where does Ujjayi come from?
In Sanskrit, Ujjayi means “victorious”, so the breath is sometimes referred to as the victorious breath, amongst other names. Ujjayi Breath is a great tool to create many things during practice including space, internal heat, energy, tranquility and flow but the list goes on.
- Slows the pace of the breath, which is said to improve longevity. Ujjayi tells us when we need to surrender into a resting posture, as the breath should remain as even and smooth in the postures as when we rest. It allows us to practice honesty in our practice, taking a step back to let go off our ego.
- Improves the flow of fresh prana (vital life force) through mind and body.
- Cleanses and refreshes the nadis (subtle energy channels of the body), enhancing concentration in the physical practice, allowing you to remain in poses for longer periods of time as well as self-aware and grounded.
- Enhances memory
- Bolsters the immune system
- Improves skin color and complexion
- Soothes and rejuvenates the nervous system
- Promotes sound sleep
- Fosters a profound sense of calm and relaxation in the mind and body. When listened to, your breath can be your true teacher, guiding you in a myriad of ways. The ancient yogis realized the intimate connection between the breath and the mind.
- Supports proper fluid balance in the tissues, cleansing the emotional body by releasing stagnant emotions held in the tissues.
How you can do it
Ujjayi or “ocean breath” is a closed mouth breathing exercise that mimics the sound of ocean waves. To practice this breath, close your mouth and take a long, slow, smooth breath in through your nose and down your throat. Keep inhaling until your lungs can’t hold any more air and then, only then, still keeping your mouth closed, exhale long, slow and smooth. The goal is to keep this breath throughout your entire practice, which is a practice in and of itself.
If you carry out a quick search on the internet you will find man videos and blogs teaching how to do Ujjayi Breath. There are slight difference between some of them, depending both on the level of the practitioners the article is aimed at and also the teachers themselves.
This article would be incomplete without a thorough explanation on how to carry out Ujjayi Breath, so I have done the legwork for you and here is a great video that explains the different steps you need to follow, as well as the feelings you will experience throughout the practice of Ujjayi Breath. PLEASE, if you are a beginner in this kind of breathing technique, practice first the breathing technique only, do not combine it with your asana practice. Then, once ready to incorporate Ujjayi to your yoga practice, I recommend you to start doing it under the supervision of your teacher.
Benefits of adding it to your yoga practice
As you flow through your practice use this breath to connect poses but also use this breath to help concentrate, balance and stabilize yourself during harder poses. As you learn to link your breath to movement you should start to find ease. Notice I didn’t say easy – but ease almost like a dance.
Tip: try and link any upward movements with inhales and exhales with downward motions.
Speaking specifically about yoga poses and flow, breath improves concentration allowing you to stay in poses longer and stronger as it carries oxygenated blood to tight muscles in the body creating more flexibility.
What makes it so beneficial?
Ujjayi is an important tool to have on and off your yoga mat. This controlled type of breath increases the oxygen in your blood, builds internal heat, creates and maintains energy all while clearing out toxins in your body. Ujjayi Breath triggers the parasympathetic nervous system and produces a calming effect by reducing stress and anxiety and slowing the heart rate down. This is what allows you to flow through a practice without hyperventilating. This type of breathing will also help in many other things besides yoga. For example, if your kid or your dog just pushed and broke into 1,000 pieces that beautiful vase you loved. Use Ujjayi Breath while you remember that you love your kid, or your dog, more than you loved that beautifully hand-printed vase…
This breathing technique is quite handy for other serious situations that happen off the mat.
For people who experience panic or anxiety attacks this exercise is a life saver.
Practicing this breath during an attack will dramatically reduce the symptoms first by distracting your thoughts but it will psychically calm your heart rate and shakiness and reduce anger and fear. In real life this can help strengthen relationships with family and friends and also help with better decision making in the intense moments life throws at you. Note the example above can be a joke compared to other stressful situations life puts us in.
I don’t want this article to end up with this gloomy feeling…
So…let’s put our Ujjayi Breath into practice right now. Relax your shoulders, raise your head, close your eyes, smile and think of something you love, or just about the movement of the ocean. Close your mouth and start inhaling deeply…
You just have to practice your Ujjayi Breath and become a master of it. This way you will almost always remain under control. Everyone of us swifts out of the path from time to time. Having tools like this one your toolbox will help you get back on track more easily.
Did you already know about this kind of breath technique? Have you put it into practice on/off the mat before? Do you wish you knew about it?
Let me know in the comments!
I genuinely care about you and want to know what’s going on in your life. Plus (and a big one) we can all learn from each other’s experiences.
The most loving gesture is sharing what we know without expecting a return!