An Update to Ujjayi Breath
I originally had meant to post this weeks ago when I first recieved it from my Yogini, but life events came up and pushed posting this quite a bit. It was when I was watching, or re watching(again), the show Chuck on Netflix when I came across an episode where Morgan defeated a laser grid using his Yogi skills and Ujjayi breath that I remembered to post!
So to you my readers I give you from my personal Yogini, Ujjayi Pranyama for beginner’s!
Simply put, Ud, when attached to verbs and nouns means upward or superiority in rank, it also means expanding, conveying the sense of pre-emenence and power. Jaya means conquest, victory, triumph or success. Ujjayi is the process in which the lungs are fully expanded and the chest puffed out like a proud conqueror.
Prana means life-force or personal energy. Yama means distribution of that force or energy.
Prana is the basis of everything. It can be consciously directed to heal and strengthen the body. The breath becomes the Yogi’s key to health, strength, and vitality. Without breath there is no life. This is why, in English, we translate this Sanskrit Ujjayi Pranayama to “Victorious breath”.
We also sometimes hear this victorious breath referred to as “Ocean breath”. As the waves form the beach, so too does the breath form the Yoga practice. Your inner waves set the rhythm. The murmuring of your breath becomes the murmuring of your inner ocean while waves of inhalation flood your inner coast. The rhythmic sound of Ujjayi Pranayama might sound like waves rolling into the shore, which can be wonderful imagery during your practice!
While I joke around about Ujjayi being Darth Vader breath, in fact, it is not at all. Darth Vader wore a life support system that had a respirator and a microphone. We certainly aren’t trying to achieve that! However, the muscles we use in our throat during Ujjayi Pranayama are the same ones we use when practicing our best “Luke, I am your father”. So go ahead and practice that for a moment, and let’s get to it.
- 1. Sitting in a comfortable position, preferably Padmasana (lotus pose) or Siddhasana (easy seated pose), keep the back erect and rigid, spine tall and strong. Stretch the arms out in front of you, then relax the back of the wrists onto your knees. Here you can perform Jnana Mudra (seal of knowledge) by gently resting the thumb to the index finger. However, this is not necessary to practice Ujjayi.
- 2. Close your eyes and look inward.
- 3. Exhale completely.
- 4. Take the palm of one hand up to your mouth. Imagine your hand is a mirror and that you are going to “fog” up with your breath with your mouth open. When you do this it produces a clean “hollow” sound kind of like “haaaaaaaaaaa” (think Darth Vader). It feels warm against your skin.
The tricky part is making the same sound on the inhale. You can hold up a hand in front of your mouth and another at the back of your neck—two mirrors. Try to fog them both up—the exhale fogs up the front mirror, the inhale the back.
Once you are adept at fogging up the “mirrors”, create the same sound and sensation—by breathing through your nose only.
Breathe in a balanced manner in through the nose and out through the nose. The inhale and exhale are equal and the quality of sound is even.
Breathing in this way causes a slight constriction of the throat. The glottis partially closes just like when you whisper speech. As the air goes in and out it causes a slight “rubbing” sensation of the throat.
Now that you have the feel for the Ujjayi sound, it’s important to add diaphragmatic breathing.
Exhale completely by drawing your abdomen towards your spine. Inhale by gently releasing the abdomen. As it goes out it will automatically draw air in. Start the breath (inhale) as low as you can—the pelvic floor, and fill your entire torso full. The exhale empties the breath from the top down.
Now add chest breathing.
As you inhale, try to fill your chest. Notice how all four sides of your torso expand in opposite directions. You can feel this if you place your hands on the sides of your ribs. As you exhale the air from the chest, all four sides draw in.
Put the two together.
Exhale by drawing in your abdomen towards your spine. Inhale by releasing your abdomen. Air comes in. Begin the Ujjayi at this time. Direct the air towards your sternum, as this will expand your chest. As you continue to inhale fill the air all the way to the top of the chest and notice how it widens.
Exhale by relaxing and drawing the abdomen in. Breathe the air out slowly and rhythmically finishing the Ujjayi breath.
It is important the abdominals are relaxed and soft above your bellybutton, yet firm (not hard) below it. This allows your diaphragm to move freely.
The breath is never forced or done using strain. Both are a sign that you are “pushing” too hard and are moving from a place of ego instead of taking care of yourself.
Work to reduce the amount of effort the Ujjayi takes. It is a strong, deep breath done in a relaxed, even delicate manner.
Begin with practicing 10 victorious breaths in the morning and night. Increase as you become more comfortable with this style of breathing.
The Upanishads (sacred ancient teachings Yoga derives from) specify that the inhalation should be like drinking water through the stem of a blue water lily—unbroken as though you were drinking through a straw—as if your breath were liquid. The exhalation is compared to the flow of oil—smooth and uniform as when you poor oil from a ladle.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika says the breath is felt “from the throat to the heart.”
Ujjayi can be a specific practice but it happens spontaneously when concentration deepens. This is the only pranyama technique that is appropriate to use throughout all area of you yoga practice.
As you become very well rehearsed, to an advanced practitioner of Ujjayi Pranyama, you can begin adding other pranayma techniques as well. Until then, may the force be with you!