Learn Ujjayi Pranayama - The Victorious Breath

Have you ever wondered why we practice the Ujjayi breath in our yoga class? Well wonder no more, this blog is all about the Ujjayi breath. It has some great tips on how to find yours, and also lets you know all about the benefits of practicing this breath in class.

What is the Ujjayi breath?

Let’s start with a bit of background...Ujjayi is a form of pranayama (the 4th limb of yoga). Pranayama is the yogic science of breath control. It involves measuring, controlling, and directing the breath.

Ujjayi is a Sanskrit word which translates to ‘victorious‘. Why victorious you may ask? When we practice the Ujjayi breath it expands the lungs fully in all directions, lifting the chest and puffing out the ribcage. If you imagine a victorious warrior’s mighty puffed up chest expanding and moving upward, this action is said to be the same when we perform a full Ujjayi inhale. That’s why it is the victorious breath!

How can I find it?

To find your Ujjayi breath, start by breathing in through the nose and exhaling the sound ‘HHHHHAAAA’. Next, keep your mouth closed, now inhale through the nose, exhale through the nose but make the same sound. The position of your throat is unchanged and natural. Make sure the sound starts in your throat and your nose. Now, maintain the same throat position while inhaling, producing the same murmuring sound. Begin to balance the sound, quality and length of your breath. You might notice your exhalation is longer and stronger, so work on lengthening your inhalation. For the more technical people out there, slightly contract the glottis, just as it naturally happens when swallowing. The contraction of the throat muscles producesthe sound. Remember, breathe in and out through both nostrils with the lips gently closed. This audible breath is often compared to the sound of the ocean (or in some cases Darth Vader). Be careful of being too forceful with the breath, you don’t want to strain the vocal chords.

Why should I use Ujjayi breath during my practice?

The Ujjayi breath has a heating effect on the internal body which makes the body more flexible, hence preparing us for a safer practice and the sound of the Ujjayi breath helps us to stay focused and present in our yoga practice. In some styles of yoga (like we practice here at WW) where flowing movements are aligned with the breath. Overtime with practice, the breath, like the movement becomes fluid and flowing, eventually transforming our practice into a moving meditation.

The quality of the Ujjayi breath can also teach us a lot about ourselves, listening to its sound can tell us a lot about our attitude in the practice at any given moment i.e a strained breath tell us we may be straining physically or mentally, whereas an irregular breath may mean were losing focus and wandering off into our thoughts.

What are the benefits?

There are many benefits to practicing Ujjayi along with asana, some are physical, and some benefit the mind and self. As you focus on the sound of your breath, it becomes easier to increase your concentration during your practice.

Here are some other benefits:

  • It slows down the heart rate it and has a soothing effect on the nervous system, this helps to calm the mind and lower blood pressure
  • Deeper inhalations mean more oxygen coming into the body which gives you greater endurance and vitality
  • It creates internal heat which warms up the body making practicing yoga safer
  • It increases perspiration which helps the body rid itself of toxins
  • It diminishes distractions and allows you to remain self aware and grounded in the practice
  • It allows you to practice full deep breaths even during the challenges of a physical practice (which in turn can help you stay just as composed when faced daily life challenges)
  • It increases your prana or life force, helping it to travel around the body and remove energetic blockages

What have we learnt?

The Ujjayi breath is a calming audible breath that has many benefits for the mind and body. Practicing the Ujjayi breath warms the body and cools the mind, when listened to, our breath can be our greatest teacher both on and off the yoga mat.

Namaste 

Western Wellness Team

(Your friendly neighbourhood yogis)