If you have been practicing yoga for very long, you may have heard a yoga teacher say, “if you practice Ujjayi breathing…”
So, what exactly is Ujjayi (oo-jy [rhymes with “pie”]-ee) breathing? Is it helpful, or just weird??
First, our breath is an involuntary response. Which means, God breathed life into each of us (Genesis 2:7), and until our life on earth is to be over, we will continue to breath-whether we think about it or not. Just like our heart beating… Which is different then voluntary responses of the body. All voluntary activities involve the brain. Our brain sends out motor impulses that control movement. These motor signals are initiated by thought and most also involve a response to sensory stimuli. For example, people use sight and sense of position to help them coordinate the action of walking. So, Ujjayi breath is a diaphragmatic breath technique.
Ujjayi is the Sanskrit word for victorious or oceanic breath. It is called oceanic, because you are inhaling and exhaling through your nose, with a small constriction at the back of your throat-creating an oceanic sound. Much like a whisper…
Reasons to practice this technique are:
-Slow and smooth out the rhythm of their breath. (Remember our Parasympathetic and Sympathetic Nervous systems… when our breath is smooth and rhythmic, this helps us stay in or return to a state of “rest and digest” verses “fight or flight.”
-You are basically allowing your breath to help bring about a sense of calm.
-To help focus awareness on your breath, and keep your mind from wandering.
-Note: It also internally heats your body. So, if you are trying to warm up your muscles this will be helpful. If you are feeling like you are overheating, then this would be a time to relax the slight constriction at the back of your throat.
How Ujjayi works: both the inhalation and exhalation are both done through the nose. The “ocean sound” is created by moving the glottis as air passes in and out. As the throat passage is narrowed so, too, is the airway, the passage of air through which creates a “rushing” sound. The length and speed of the breath is controlled by the diaphragm.The inhalations and exhalations are equal in duration, and are controlled in a manner that causes no distress to the practitioner.
How to add Ujjayi Breath to your yoga practice: To get you started. First, inhale through your nose, and exhale slowly through your mouth. You can place your hand over your mouth, as if you are trying to fog up a mirror as you exhale.) Just as if you are trying to fog a mirror, direct the out-going breath slowly across the back of your throat with a drawn-out “HA” sound. Repeat 3-5 times. Now, begin to inhale and exhale through your nose, direct your breath again slowly across the back of your throat. This should create a soft sound, as if you were whispering.
My personal thoughts on Ujjayi Breath. I think that Ujjayi breath is helpful. I also think that if you are new to yoga, or struggle with holding your breath, then just focus on not holding your breath!! When you feel like you are ready give it a go. Then as you practice, pay attention to whether this technique helps you continue to remember to breath, or if it is adding stress to your practice. If trying to remember to constrict the back of your throat creates tension in your mind or body-then just focus on smooth inhales and exhales. Smooth and even breath are going to calm your nervous system and allow you to move through your practice with your breath. Ujjayi Breath is like the the bonus points on a test that you already have a 100% on. A bonus… maybe it is a good time to work for the bonus points, maybe not. Your choice.