“As breath stills our mind, our energies are free to unhook from the senses and bend inward.” ― B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life
There is no doubt about the profound connection between the breath and the mind. Breath is vital. Breath is life. It’s the one thing that we could absolutely not live without, and yet we rarely take the time to observe and acknowledge all of its exquisiteness. Stop reading and take one deep inhale and one deep exhale. Now take a few more and notice the wave of equanimity wash over you. The breath is magic.
There’s a multitude of breathing techniques used in yoga and meditation. We’ll focus on ujjayi breath since it’s a word you’ve most likely heard countless times in your yoga classes but never quite been able to figure out how it’s done and what it really means.
Ujjayi (pronounced oo-jai) breath is a form of Pranayama (breath work) and can be translated to “Victorious Breath.” It’s often referred to today as “Oceanic Breath” or “Darth Vader Breath.” Regardless of what you prefer to call it, it can take your yoga practice to the next level. Ujjayi is considered a diaphragmatic breath technique because the qualities of the breath are disciplined by the diaphragm.
The ‘Oceanic Breath’
It may be beneficial to think about your ujjayi breath like rolling ocean waves. The breath is to be long, fluid, and smooth. Your inhales are full and robust. Expand the belly out as the diaphragm lowers, fill the lungs, and breathe the ribs wide. Visualize a beautiful blue ocean wave swelling and beginning to crest. Take note of the natural pause at the top of the inhale and savor this swift moment of stillness. When you begin to exhale and the diaphragm begins to rise imagine an ocean wave rising and rolling over itself, tumbling into the vast sea and gently settling back in to where it began. Allow these breaths and visualizations to cycle over and over until you no longer need to use your imagination and can fully focus on your ujjayi breath.
How It Works
Before you begin remember to relax. Don’t overthink the process. Ujjayi breathing is designed to lengthen and smooth out the breath for you. Less thinking; more breathing.
It’s good to start in a comfortable seated position. Sit up tall and gently close the eyes. On your inhales fill the lower belly then the rib cage and lungs and up to the throat. You can practice ujjayi breath by taking a deep inhale and imagining fogging up a mirror on your exhale. It helps to make the sound “haaaah” slowly as you exhale.
After a few breaths like this, seal the lips and try again. The key is to gently constricting the back of the throat so the air passage becomes smaller and the breath drags up and down the throat. It takes some practice, so be patient with yourself.
“Ujjayi Pranayama is a balancing and calming breath which increases oxygenation and builds internal body heat.” —Krishnamacharya
Effects of Ujjayi Pranayama
- Calms the mind and body
- Helps focus the mind and keeps your awareness on the present moment
- Balances the Cardio-respiratory System helping to carry oxygen to your muscles and organs and removing waste
- Stimulates Nadis (energy channels in the body) bringing mental clarity and focus
- Links breath to movement
- Its meditative quality encourages flow and rhythm during physical practice
- Regulates the heat of the body and massages organs due to the friction created by the air traveling through the lungs and throat
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