Ujjayi Breath - How and Why

For those of you new to yoga, you may be wondering what is this mysterious Ujjayi breath that yoga teachers keep talking about in class. Ujjayi (oo-jai) is commonly translated as “victorious breath” and is the most common pranayama technique used in a hatha yoga class.

Ujjayi for Beginners

*Sit in a comfortable position, with sit bones grounded and even weight on both sides. Relax your knees, jaw, and forehead. Lengthen the spine so that the ribs are above the hips and the chin is parallel to the earth.

*Breathe normally for several breath cycles and gently settle your focus on your breath.

*Start to balance the inhales and exhales to equal lengths using a count of four. Inhale, 2, 3, 4, exhale 2, 3, 4. Take several rounds of breath like this.

*Once equal length is established, Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth making a HAHHHH sound with your breath, as if you’re trying to fog up a mirror.

*Inhale through your nose and exhale, this time with your mouth closed but still making a HAHHHH sound at the back of the throat. Inhale and slightly restrict the back of the throat, making the ocean sound with your in-breath and exhale, maintaining the restriction.

*Enjoy the sound of your breath rolling in and out, like ocean waves on the beach, for as long as you like.

Why Ujjai?

Any form of deep breathing increases oxygen flow to the brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, making us calm and relaxed. During this relaxation, our blood pressure lowers and muscles start to relax.

Ujjayi breath increases the amount of oxygen in the blood and builds internal body heat through subtle core activation and the friction of the breath on the throat. It improves concentration during asana and creates a steady meditative rhythm, allowing you to remain in poses for longer periods of time. Additional benefits include pain relief from headaches, relief of sinus pressure, decrease in phlegm, and it strengthens the nervous and digestive systems. Deep breathing combined with delicious yoga poses? No wonder yoga makes us feel so good!

As you become familiar with tuning in to your breath and body through yoga and meditation, you will start to notice subtle changes in your breath throughout your practice as well as other parts of your life. Our breath serves as a mirror to our physical, mental, and emotional being. Do you feel your breath ‘hiccup’ during hip openers? Does the thought of the future or past make your breathing short? Does anything make your breathing actually stop? With breath awareness, a whole new world opens up for us to study and with breath control, we have much more access to our inner and outer experiences, processes, and states.

Ujjayi can be practiced anytime you like. The heat it creates in the body is perfect for keeping the body warm and supple during asana practice. However, due to its heating quality it may not be the best choice for a restorative or yin practice.

Life hack - you cannot cry or hyperventilate while you’re doing Ujjayi!

Thanks for reading!

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