28 Jan What is Ujjayi Breath?
Heating, victorious breathing…..
I am often surprised and dismayed when new students come to class who have been practicing Ashtanga or other forms of Hatha yoga for a while yet have no concept of the practice of Ujjayi breath. This is certainly not the fault of the student.
Ashtanga means “Eight Limbs” in Sanskrit. Pranayama is one of these limbs. In Ashtanga yoga it is practiced in conjunction with Asana (posture).
Without Ujjayi breath we are not practicing Ashtanga.
Using Ujjayi breath opens the gateway to unlimited Prana or energy, practicing without it will leave you weak and depleted.
This way of breathing has several benefits. When you witness an experienced Ashtangi practicing postures they seem to defy gravity. They are strong yet light and demonstrate incredible control. This is only possible with Ujjayi Breathing.
Ujjayi requires a slight constriction of the glottis, the upper part of the larynx, which is achieved by partially closing it with the epiglottis.
Sounds a bit complicated doesn’t it?
It’s actually quite simple. We do this naturally when we want to whisper. Holding the throat in this way when we breath, with the mouth closed and the glottis slightly constricted, we stretch the breath and create a sound like the ocean waves, or less romantically put like Darth Vadar!
The sound should come from the throat, not the nose. No sniffing!
Benefits of Ujjayi
Heating Breath This constriction allows friction to occur so the breath enters the lungs warm. This heats the body or as Guruji put it “Boils the blood”. We do not need to external heat, we can create it from within. This heat enables us to sweat and makes the body more flexible.
There are tales of yogis in ancient times performing Asana on the ice in the Himalayas wearing nothing but a loincloth with steam coming off them! They knew the power of Ujjayi!
Sense Withdrawal The whole purpose of yoga is to look inside ourselves. Pratyahara is one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga (Sense withdrawal, looking inside) Once you start your own daily Ashtanga practice the sound of the breath brings you into the state of Pratyahara.
Creates of Energy If you exercise at a gym you work out, in yoga we work in and create not expend energy
Soothes and Relaxes Breathing in this way reduces the “fight or flight” response, soothes the nervous system as well as helping to lower blood pressure
Increases Lung capacity A daily yoga practice with focus on deep steady breathing whilst practicing strenuous and dynamic postures i.e. Ashtanga yoga allows us to improve our lung capacity
Creates Strength This breath makes us both strong and light by encouraging us to use our core muscles as well as the intercostal muscles and diaphragm
Ujjayi Pranayama Exercise
•Sit in a comfortable position on the floor which may be Sukasana, crossed legged, lotus or half lotus.
•Close your eyes.
•First take the breath in through the nose then exhale through the mouth making a “Haaa” sound.
•Now try to inhale and then exhale through the nose making that same sound
•Gently “sip” the breath in through the nose. Don’t strain or force the breath
•Now try to match the length of the inhale with the length of the exhale.
•Visualise your lungs and allow then to fill and empty completely.
•Now try to connect movement with your breath as you would in your Ashtanga practice. Lift your arms up overhead as you inhale and lower them down on the exhale. Repeat this a few times
•Ensure you are connecting with your Bandhas* to retain Prana in the body
•Take your time. Relax into it, don’t stress if it doesn’t happen straight away. Spend at least 5 minutes on this exercise.
*Uddiyana Bandha -keeping the lower tummy beneath the navel still but allowing the upper abdomen to expand with your breath and drawing up the centre of your pelvic Floor, Mula Bandha or your Root Lock
This drawing up of the Bandhas stops “Apana” or downward flow of Prana
I could say so much more about Bandhas but I’ll save that for the next blog!
If you are struggling with Ujjayi in your Ashtanga practice be sure to try the above exercise every day before you begin. Soon it will become second nature and Ujjayi will be a valuable asset in your yoga practice and life in general!