March 12, 2019
Ujjayi breath, or as translated from Sanskrit the victorious breath, is the pranayama king when it comes to how we breathe as we move in yoga classes.
You might not know it, or might not know it's called this way, but chances are that if you’ve been to a yoga class, you have heard it or even got annoyed that people were breathing that loud! I know I have when I rocked up to my first Ashtanga class many moons ago and was wondering why my neighbour had to breathe so loud. Another thing I was wondering was why were we doing the same poses every time, before I realised that Ashtanga was a set sequence 🙈. But I'm getting off topic here.
Ujjayi breath is that audible, whispering, hissing, ocean sound that we hear in Ashtanga, in Vinyasa, and really in most active, dynamic yoga flow classes.
What’s that about?
Echoing from my first post on pranayama, we know that breathing is really important and interlinked with our emotional state.
Yet, as much as breathing is an automatic action, we can control and improve the quality of our breathing to influence and balance our emotional state. Be it to help focus our attention, quiet the mind, calm and relax our nervous system, and pull ourselves to the present moment.
Because of these benefits conscious, mindful breathing is at the core of a yoga class - in fact we say that breath is the bridge between the body and mind, the physical and the mental. And in yoga we unite the two by synchronising movement with the breath.
While sharing similar benefits to other pranayama techniques, Ujjayi breath has a warming effect on the throat, builds heat in the body, and its audible nature gives focus and rhythm to the practice helping to quiet the mind and draw the senses inward.
Find your Ujjayi breath:
Take a few moments to warm up your breathing - deep, long, even inhales and exhales. Activate abdominal breathing, let the breath rise from the base of the belly to your upper chest, and fall with the exhale from your chest to the belly. Expanding on the inhale, softening on the exhale.
When doing the Ujjayi breath we inhale and exhale through the nose gently restricting the breath at the back of the throat.
However, to find the Ujjayi sound and feel the contracting sensation it's helpful to first try exhaling through the mouth.
So take an inhale through the nose and breathe out through your mouth.
With your next few exhales imagine that you are fogging a mirror in front of you - you're restricting the air at the back of your throat to create that whispering, rustling 'haa' sound as you exhale.
Try saying the 'haa' and feeling the contraction both on the inhale and exhale.
When you get the sound and sensation going, keep the same task of fogging the mirror, but close your mouth and exhale through the nose. You should still hear the hissing sound and feel the soft vibration at the back of the throat.
And there you have it, your Ujjayi, victorious breath!
A few more tips:
- don't force it, the contraction of the throat should be slight and easy
- if your face gets tensed, you're probably trying too hard - relax the face, don't contract the facial muscles
- how loud is loud enough or too loud? - a good rule of thumb is that you and your neighbour in a class should be able to hear each other breathe. But it can also be a soft, internal sound that's only audible to you. That's the main bit - to feel and hear it yourself.
Recap on the benefits:
- good for thyroid and throat related problems
- balancing and calming breath to soothe the nervous system
- generates heat in the body
- regulates high blood pressure
- improves blood circulation
- the sound anchors your mind and gives rhythm to the practice
Try practising this at home and don't feel shy to do it in a yoga class! As I've heard it once described, let it be the soundtrack to your practice! It's pretty soothing!