As you have probably noticed we start all our classes with 3 deep Ujjayi breaths and keep using this breath throughout our practice. Ujjayi pranayama is the only pranayama used simultaneously with asanas. It is a style of breathing, which translated into English means “to gain mastery” or to “become victorious”.
Anatomically speaking Ujjayi breathing is a type of pranayama which develops awareness while the “glottis” is partially closed. The glottis refers to the vocal folds, and the opening between them or, to put it more simply, the opening between the vocal cords in your throat.
The Ujjayi Breath consists of inhaling and exhaling through the nose. There’s a noise that always accompanies it, which is often compared to the ocean, fogging a window, or slight snoring sound.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Sit or stand with your back straight.
2. Start inhaling and exhaling slowly through the nose, until you attain a steady rhythm.
3. Keeping your mouth closed, gently constrict the glottis muscles in the back of your throat (the muscles you use when you whisper) and continue breathing. You should hear an ocean-like sound.
4. If you’re still not sure if you’re doing it right, try this method: Inhale, and on an exhale, open your mouth and make the same “hhhha” sound you would make if you were actually fogging a window. Halfway through the “hhha” exhale, close your mouth and complete your exhale.
Some of the benefits of ujjayi pranayama are that it invigorates the nostrils. For most people, the nostrils connect to emotions; you only have to notice how when someone is really mad, sad or frustrated, their nostrils seem to flare (as their jaw simultaneously clenches). Ujjayi simply exploits this connection, but in a positive way. By purposely slowing down the breath, we calm our circulation, heart rate, and emotional response. We become more relaxed, aware, and centered in the moment.
In addition to merely slowing down our breathing, ujjayii offers extra benefits through our constriction of the glottis. This constriction permits less air to get through (both on inhalations and exhalations), which in turn force our breath to last longer.
In turn, this exaggeratedly slow breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which sends relaxation signals to our body through an abundance of physiological processes.
Here are the physical benefits of Ujjayi:
1. When our vocal cords restrict the flow of air, our breathing muscles also become firmer, which explains why we feel stronger.
2. The whispering sound of ujjayii draws our attention to the breath, which then becomes the heart of our practice.
3. With the glottis partially closed, your inhales last longer, which permits the air to seep deeper into the lower lungs than regular breathing permits, which is where our richest blood supply is. So basically, you’re nourishing your lung tissues.
4. Your abdominal organs get massaged, as the diaphragm extends downward in response to the chest expanding and the pelvic floor muscles relaxing. On a deep inhalation, your organs sink deeper into the pelvis, and this is reversed on exhalations, resulting in a gentle massage of your internal organs.
5. It opens up our chest, which triggers a mind-body connection that translates into an emotional response of confidence, power and invigoration of our practice.
6. It generates heat and by doing so, releases built-up toxins from both the body and mind.
So Ujjayi breathing not only focuses our attention on our breathing and being in the moment during our practice, but it has numerous physical benefits as well. Happy Ujjayi breathing!
Slavica Gokul is a certified Vinyasa, Hatha and Power yoga teacher through Total Yoga in Bangalore, India. She has been an aspiring yogi for more than 20 years. She dedicated herself to consistent practice 9 years ago and while residing in India from 2012-14 underwent teacher training.