Pranayama is the control of your vital energy through breathing exercises. It is one of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga sutras, and it is believed that its continuous practice can positively change our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellbeing.
The Sanskrit name “Ujjayi” comes from the word “Ujji” that means “to conquer”. Ujjayi Pranayama is translated as “victorious breathing”. It is also called “oceanic breathing” due to the sound that we create with our throat when performing it.
Ujjayi Pranayama is a breathing exercise that helps you calm the mind, warm up the body, and keep your heart beating rhythmically, especially during exerting practices like Ashtanga Yoga or Vinyasa.
Benefits of Ujjayi Pranayama
Ujjayi’s wave-like sound soothes the mind and helps us link body and spirit.
Also, if we control our breath, we control our thoughts, emotions, and bring awareness to the present moment. Imagine you just got into a situation that causes you stress. How is your breath? Is it fast and shallow? Or, is it deep and slow? If you said fast and shallow, you are right! This is when we need to start breathing deeply. When your breath is deep and rhythmical, your emotions soothe and you can calm down. Calming our minds is the most important part of our yoga practice, and Ujjayi breath helps us achieve it.
Since Ujjayi breath helps control our heartbeats, it is used throughout the whole Asana practice. Regularly practicing Ujjayi breath when you are on your mat can help you release locked-up emotions, while the extra oxygen serves as fuel and invigorates and strengthen your physical practice.
How to learn Ujjayi breath
Sit comfortably in Sukhasana (translated as Easy Pose), with your legs crossed and your back straight. If sitting with your legs crossed is difficult for you, sit on a chair keeping your feet on the ground and your back straight. Put your hands on your knees or thighs. Close your eyes, let your mouth drop open slightly. Relax your jaw and your tongue.
Inhale and exhale deeply through your mouth. Feel the air of your inhalations passing through your windpipe. On your exhalation, contract the back of your throat, and imagine you are trying to fog a mirror.
Once you feel comfortable with your exhalations, keep the throat contracted during your inhalations as well. You should feel the sound created is like the waves reaching the seashore.
Once you have managed to create the ocean-like sound, close your mouth and continue to produce this sound both in inhalation and exhalation without letting the rhythm of your breathing accelerate. Allow your lungs and abdomen to fully fill with your inhalations and empty with your exhalations.
You can start with a practice of five minutes. Over time and when you feel ready you can lengthen it to 10 or 15 minutes, especially if you want to use it for meditation. When you finish, breathe normally through your nose for a couple of minutes.
Rest by stretching the body completely in the Savasana position.
Evaluate how you feel, how your mind and body are now. Enjoy the feeling.
Sometimes to make the breath audible we tend to force the throat too hard and breathing can become difficult and make us a cough. Also, people who have a respiratory condition, such as asthma or emphysema should consult with their doctor before they start practicing Ujjayi Pranayama.
With practice, you’ll learn to guide your breath — so your breath can guide your practice.