Ujjayi breath is the ‘yogi breath’ – the one that you should ideally learn and practice during your yoga class. Use this breathing technique when you hold poses in Hatha yoga and allow the flow of your breath to lead the movements in Vinyasa yoga.
Ujjayi breath literally means ‘breath of victory’. When done properly, it should be both energizing and calming. It balances the nervous system and has many health benefits related to its regular and consistent practice. When practicing Ujjayi breath, you should as well activate your Bandhas (locks): Mula Bandha (slightly lift your pelvic floor) and Uddyiana Bandha (cinch your waist in). Lift the soft palate at the back of your mouth to lengthen the back of your neck and slightly bring the chin towards the chest. You shoulders should be relaxed and your spine straight. Keep all those points active and then start practising your ‘breath of victory’. Once you are familiar with it and used to practicing sitting down, then start practising it during movements and poses holds, it will significantly improve your posture, your focus and the effects of the asanas (pose).
The breath should be both long (dirga) and smooth (suksma). The sound of the breath comes from the constriction of your throat to create some resistance to the passage of air. Listening to this sound can make you think of the sound of ocean waves rolling in and out – or Darth Vader if like me you’re a Star War fan… but then Darth Vader pushes way too much, we want to be more gentle than him!
As you tone your pelvic floor and cinch your waist in while practising this deep breathing technique, you allow the air to reach new places into your lungs. On the inhale, your lungs will expand to the side of your waist, to your back, all the way to your clavicule – depending on the pose that you are practising. It will as well gently massage your internal organs and bring a lot more oxygen and Prana in (life force energy).
As we everything in life, you need to practice to get it. To start with, too much effort might be put into creating a sound, hence requiring force when actually it is relaxation that is needed. The action of Ujjayi breath is to naturally lengthen the breath. There is a gentle effort required to produce the pleasing sound but too much creates a grasping quality and grating sound. Don’t give up, it’s just about finding the trick and then work with what you have to feel more and more confident!
If you can, practise everyday for a few minutes. Find a good spot, find your good posture, close your eyes and listen to the sound of your ‘breath of victory’ for 5 minutes; I can tell you it is going to make you feel different – no, not stressed because you don’t get it ok?! But courageous and happy with yourself for making the effort to sit with yourself and do something good for you! Be kind, be patient, be gentle…
Place your hand in front of your mouth and imagine that it is a mirror. Inhale through your nose, then exhale and fog the ‘mirror’. Repeat 3 times, relax your hand on your knee then close your mouth but keep fogging with your mouth closed. Keep the constriction at the back of your throat on both inhales and exhales.
Repeat and allow the breath to gently and naturally lengthen. Try to find as much ease as possible and observe a slight suspension of the breath after the inhale and after the exhale. Keep your Bandhas on and your spine straight. Listen to the soothing sound of your own breathing and keep your mind focused. Release after at least 5 to 8 rounds but stay seated and observe the natural rhythm of your breath… then get on with your day and observe the sensations in your body and your mind!