One type of breathing that is especially helpful in focusing our attention is called ujjayi. Ujjayi, meaning victorious, is a type of breath in which we constrict gently the back of the throat. Ujjayi breathing produces a sound in the throat similar to the sound of the ocean. Using ujjayi breath during asana practice helps to anchor our attention on the continuous and smooth movement of our breath.
The easiest way to learn ujjayi breath is to:
- Open the mouth and breath through the mouth as if trying to fog a mirror in front of us, the sound is clearly audible in the back of the throat
- Relax the neck, soften the jawbone and mouth and breathe like this a few times until it feels that the breath is flowing smoothly
- Gently bring the lips together
- Keep breathing smoothly through the nose while listening to the sound of your breath
- Check that no tension is emerging in the face or neck
Movement and sound
When learning ujjayi breath, there may be a tendency to make the sound of the breath louder than it needs to be. Keep in mind that we are using the sound for focus and feedback, so just make sure that you can hear it. As we become familiar with this way of breathing, we can allow ujjayi breath to become the main axis of our asana practice. In other words, we anchor the practice on the integrity of the breath, always paying attention to the quality of each inhalation and each exhalation. When the flow of breath is firmly established, we can choose to let the breath initiate the movement for optimal synchronization between physical movements and the movements of the breath. In essence, if we cannot hear the movement of our breath there should be no physical movement.
Using ujjayi breath in asana practice has numerous advantages:
- Focuses our attention on the present moment
- Helps us verify that our breath is smooth and continuous
- By constricting the passage of air, it helps to strengthen our lungs
- Gradually increases lung capacity
- Strengthens our abdominal muscles
- Helps to improve concentration
- Brings a meditative quality to our practice
As in any other aspect of Yoga practice, there is no need for forcing our breath when performing ujjayi breathing. Ujjayi breath should always have integrity, i.e. the breath is not forced, or strained, and it does not collapse either. On the contrary, our ujjayi breath should feel comfortable and smooth throughout the practice. Using ujjayi breathing helps us develop awareness of and sensitivity to the qualities of our breath, thereby fostering awareness and sensitivity in our Yoga practice. Moreover, bringing our attention to the breath gives us insight on our own physical, mental and emotional states. As a result, we become better able to adjust our breath to suit our needs and circumstances in our Yoga practice and in every day life.
Enjoy the sound of the ocean in your throat the next time you practice Yoga.
P.S. For an excellent article on breathing: