Do you maintain a steady rhythmic breath from the time you rise with the sun until the moon lulls you to sleep? Do you ever pause to really fill your lungs and take a nice deep breath during your hectic days? The truth is, many of us take breathing for granted and aren’t even conscious of the way in which we breathe.
Just like physical activity, breathing is a practice. The first time your yoga teacher tells you to begin your practice with Ujjayi Breathing, may be the first time during the day that you are actually aware of your own breath. This awareness allows you to come into your body and leave the never-ending thoughts of your chattering mind.
Ujjayi Breath (pronounced oo-jai) is a method of controlling the flow of prana (energy) in and out of your body. The word “Ujjayi” means “to be victorious”, therefore it is often introduced as “Victorious Breath”. This method of breathing is used to calm the mind, warm the body, and bring your awareness into the present moment.
It is often described as an “oceanic sound”, a “hissing sound”, or even, on a more comical note, “Darth Vader breath”. Although Ujjayi is primarily used in Ashtanga and Vinyasa classes to keep the awareness in the present moment, it can be taken off of your mat and practiced daily at work or at home.
Let’s give it a try:
Find a comfortable seat. This can be sitting in a chair or seated on the floor or ground. Wherever you choose to sit, make sure you are comfortable, both of your sit bones are in contact with the surface upon which you are seated and your spine is nice and long as the crown of your head extends skyward.
If you find your knees are higher than your hips, you are putting undue pressure on your lower back which is very straining. Place a blanket or a block (or several) under your bottom until your hips are level with or above your knees. You should be comfortable.
Rest your palms on your legs. Keep your chest lifted and softly relax your shoulders.
Close your eyes and spend a few moments here, taking a few normal breaths that begin to slow and deepen as you calm your mind and relax your body.
Now let’s practice.
Take a nice deep inhale through your nose, completely filling your lungs. Feel your diaphragm pull down and your belly button expand outward as air fills all the nooks and crannies in your chest.
Feel your belly button draw in toward your spine as you press all of the air out of your lungs. Let your bottom jaw relax as your mouth gently opens and constrict the back of your throat while making a “HAAAH” sound.
Repeat this inhale and exhale sequence several times until it becomes familiar.
Now let’s move on to full Ujjayi Breathing:
Inhale through your nose with the back of your throat slightly constricted. This should create a “SAAAH” sound.
Keeping your lips sealed, apply the same constriction in the back of your throat as you exhale the breath out through your nose. This should create the same “HAAAH” sound as when you exhaled through your mouth.
Ujjayi Breath continues in and out through your nose, slowing the breath down, and creating that “oceanic sound”, or whichever “sound description” you prefer!
Think of Ujjayi Breathing as a tool for regaining yourself when you feel irritated, agitated, or nervous. Even though we are constantly on the go, we have time for five full rounds of breath.
Notice how your body and mind soften as your last exhale empties your lungs. If you want a moment to relax and get out of your head, this breath is for you.
If you have more questions on Ujjayi Breathing, ask your local yoga teacher or connect with us in the comments below!