Ujjayi Pranayama aka Ujjayi breathing is a breathing technique employed in a variety of Yoga practices. About Yoga, it is sometimes called “the ocean breath”. Unlike some other forms of pranayama, the ujjayi breath is typically done in association with asana practice in some styles of yoga as exercise, such as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
It’s compared to the sound of the wind through the trees or the waves coming to shore.
The mechanics of Ujjayi breath
With Ujjayi breath you take all the air through the nose with the lips fixed – no breath passes the lips. This additionally fabricates heat in the body. The lips tenderly close and albeit the breath is going through the nostrils the accentuation is in your throat.
You create a constriction in the throat as if breathing in and out of a thin straw. Whilst maintaining a closed mouth position be mindful of held tension in the teeth, jaw, throat, and/or necklet it goes. You can feel the breath stroke the back of your throat as you inhale and exhale. This comes hand in hand with the audibility of the breath, compared often to the sound of waves, Darth Vader, and my husband in deep sleep.
The tone, the audibility are smooth and steady, continuous uninterrupted cycles of inhales and exhales, often you cannot tell the difference in sound between the exchange of in and out-breath cycles.
“Ujjayi” comes from the Sanskrit prefix “ud” (उद्) added to it anJiroot “ji” (जि): “ujji” (उज्जि), meaning “to be victorious”. Ujjayi (उज्जायी), thus means “one who is victorious”. Ujjayi breath means “victorious breath”.
A Beginners’ Guide to Ujjayi Breath
We tend to instruct students who are beginners to breathe with their mouths open to get used to the physical sensation at their throats and the sound of breath.
- Sit in a comfortable seat, where your sit bones are grounded and bear even weight on both sides. Knees no higher than hips. Stacking head over the neck, neck over shoulders, 4 corners of ribs stacking 4 corners of hips. Perceive equal length in both sides of your body, spine feels lifted and tall. Chin is parallel to the earth.
- Rest one hand on your lap/ thigh, Palm facing up or down and the other hand at the same height and in front of your mouth, palm facing towards you.
- With your mouth open exhale into your palm, imagining you are steaming up a mirror/ glass and feeling the warm breath on your palm. On your next inhale keep the hand where it is, breathe in making that same sound. Practice this for up to 10 cycles (4 count in, 4 count out, x10). Notice if you find the inhale or exhale more difficult.
- When you feel comfortable here move on to close your mouth on the inhale but open your mouth on the exhale. See if you can maintain the sound even with the lips are sealed. Next, inhale with mouth open and exhale with mouth closed, keeping sensation in your throat and the sound of breath the same. Do each for 5-10 cycles.
- When you feel you want to move on from here, relax your hand and begin Ujjayi Pranayama. You might time yourself with a stopwatch for 2 minutes or chose how many cycles of breath you want to aim for (feel free to use the metronome here).
- Again notice where resistance lies in the breath. Maybe you find the audibility awkward, equalizing the volume of breath on both inhale and exhale difficultly, or you notice the discrepancy of ease between in-breath and out-breath. Notice where you need to focus and what you need to practice on. I recommend that my students shorten the longer breath to meet the shorter breath if they are unable to stretch the breath evenly on both sides. You don’t want to feel out of breath or gasping at any point. There is absolutely NO RETENTION, it’s like a continuous sea of waves, no holding, totally fluid and seamless. Equanimous.
According to Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who taught the creators of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, and others, Ujjayi Pranayama is a balancing and calming breath which increases oxygenation and builds internal body heat.
Ujjayi breathing may be used continuously throughout Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and is frequently used in Power Yoga and Vinyasa, or Flow Yoga. This breathing technique enables the practitioner to maintain a rhythm to his or her practice, take in enough oxygen, and help build energy to maintain the practice, while clearing toxins out of the bodily system.
This breath is especially important during the transition into and out of asanas (postures), as it helps practitioners to stay present, self-aware, and grounded in the practice, which lends it a meditative quality.
Ujjayi Breath is also known as Ujjayi Pranayama. Ujjayi sometimes referred to as “cobra breathing”, is also a helpful way for the yogi or yogini to keep the vital life force, prana, circulating throughout the body rather than escaping from it. It is said to be similar to the breathing of a newborn baby before the prana begins to flow out into the world’s attractions.
When to use Ujjayi breath and When not to?
You can practice Ujjayi breath any time you wish. You don’t have to be on your yoga mat. But if you are on your yoga mat, acknowledge that the breath creates heat in the body. If you are doing a Yin or Restorative yoga class you may not want to add this element of heat to the body. Instead, you might want to maintain a soft and fluid breath without sound. There also might be times in your practice where adding heat is inappropriate (e.g some pregnant practitioners find Ujjayi breath to heating to maintain for an entire practice) or were breathing in and out of the nose is impossible (e.g. blocked sinuses).