The 8 Limbs of Yoga is integral to deepening your yoga journey and is the centrepiece of a truly yogic lifestyle. One of the key breathing techniques of Pranayama, the fourth limb of yoga, is the Ujjayi breath. Performed properly, Ujjayi can be both energizing yet calming to the mind and body.
If you have never heard of Ujjayi pranayama, here’s a simple low-down on what it is and how to apply it to transform your practice.
What is Ujjayi Breathing
Ujjayi (which means “victory over”) breathing is breathing technique used during a yoga practice. The sound of Ujjayi is created by constricting the throat to create resistance to the air passage. The ujjayi breath is long and smooth, with inhalations and exhalations sounding like Darth Vader, ocean waves, or someone in deep sleep.
Ujjayi breath can be done anywhere but is most regularly done during the asana practice as Ujjayi creates heat in the body to prepare it for the asanas. Also, using Ujjayi breath helps us to bring our attention inwards and creating a keen awareness of our present moment instead of being distracted from our surroundings.
In many yoga practices including Ashtanga and Vinyasa, Ujjayi breath is engaged throughout the practice to enhance the connection to our mind, body and soul during yoga and transform our practice.
When you can be fully immersed in synchronising movement with breath, it naturally calms down the ‘monkey mind’ and helps you work towards mastering your conscious mind.
Some of the benefits of Ujjayi you may enjoy include:
- Increasing presence and self-awareness for meditation or asana practices
- Building of internal body heat
- Increasing oxygen flow to the blood
- Creating energy
- Freeing the flow of prana
- Relieving tension and anxiety
Ujjayi Breath and Asana Practice
Many of us would never have learnt Ujjayi breath before being introduced to yoga, nor would we know how to use this breathing technique throughout the practice. It may feel weird and awkward when you first hear fellow yogis making loud breathing noises, and it is not uncommon to feel self-conscious when first practising Ujjayi breath – you’re not alone!
There’s always a first time to everything, and for your yoga journey to progress, you’ll need to do it afraid. Daring to try and having the patience to practise consistently is key to transforming your practice.
How to Perform Ujjayi Breath Step-by-Step
Sit in a comfortable seated position with your sitting bones grounded and knees no higher than the hips. Relax your body; Rest your palms on your lap and prepare yourself for your practice.
Practising with Mouth Breathing
- Start breathing deeply through your mouth, feeling the inhalation and exhalation in your windpipe
- Do this a few times
- Take one more inhale, and on the next exhalation, gently constricting the back of your throat and exhale as though you are steaming up a mirror while making a “hahhh” sound
- On the next inhale, breathe in making the same sound with your throat constricted
- Practise with this mouth breathing for 10 times (5 sets of inhales and exhales)
Practising the Full Ujjayi Breathing Exercise
- Once you are comfortable controlling your inhalations and exhalations with your throat constricted, close your mouth and start breathing only through your nose
- Similar to the mouth-breathing technique, keep the back of the throat contracted. Your breath will now sound like ocean waves crashing on a beach
- During both inhales and exhales, your breath should be deeper and longer than usual. The breath should be continuous and smooth, the length of breath the same for the inhales and exhales.
- Do this for 2 minutes, focusing only on your breath
Here’s one of my favourite videos of how Ujjayi breathing should be performed:
Applying Ujjayi Breath to Transform your Yoga Practice
When you are familiar with Ujjayi breathing, start using it for your yoga practice, synchronising each movement with each breath. Inhale with Ujjayi as you open up your front body and exhale with Ujjayi as you contract and fold forward.
Allow your breath to be your rhythm, as you turn your regular asana practice into a moving meditation.
Ujjayi breathing is particularly helpful for rigorous forms of yoga, especially Ashtanga or Vinyasa yoga as the extra oxygen and deep breathing provides you fuel to empower your practice. Maintain Ujjayi breath throughout your practice and release the breath only after the practice is complete and you are in Savasana.
See also: Yoga Breathing as Fuel for Your Practice
I hope this post has been useful for those of you who are looking to integrate pranayama techniques in your yoga or meditation practice. Let me know if this has helped you on your journey!