Have you ever experienced your teacher prompting you to utilised your "Ujjayi breath" at the beginning of a class? But what does it mean and how do we use it?
Ujjayi breath, sometimes called "ocean breath", "victorious breath" or "warrior breath", is a breathing technique (pranayama) used by yoga practitioners. Unlike other breathing techniques in yoga, Ujjayi breath is used during asana practice instead of meditation.
It is a diaphragmatic breath, which first fills the belly, then rises to the chest and then finally to the throat. The "ocean" sound is created by narrowing the throat, specifically the "glottis" so that the air passing through creates a rushing, or ocean sound. The breath is breathed in and out through the nose rather than through the mouth, in equal lengths in and out.
Why do we use Ujjayi breath?
Many practitioners use ujjayi breath as a way to emphasize the link between breath and movement. Specifically yogis in breathe synchronized practices such as Vinyasa and Ashtanga. In addition to this, there are a myriads of benefits providing value towards a simple practice.
1. Ujjayi breath can balance the cardio-respiratory system. This helps carry oxygen to your muscles and organs and further removes waste. This therefore increases the amount of oxygen in the blood, regulates blood pressure and helps us carry out strenuous movements of holds for much longer.
2. Ujjayi help heat the body, which readies us for asana practice. The friction of the air passing through the lungs and throat generates internal body heat. It is similar to a massage for the internal organs; as the core becomes warm from the inside, the body becomes prepared for the asana practice.
3. It help improve concentration in our physical practice. As it links breath to movement, it helps focus the mind and keep your awareness on the present movement. This adds an almost meditative quality to the practice.
4. Ujjayi tells us when we need to surrender and rest. The breath should remain even and smooth throughout our practice. Therefore, when we feel our breath changing, it tells us to stop and take a resting posture. This allows us to practice honestly, taking a step back to let go of our ego.
"Like all things Yoga, Ujjayi breath takes practice and a relinquishment of self-identified inhibition (which also takes practise!)...but it's a key that unlocks many doors and can transform your practice."
When to use Ujjayi breath
You can practice Ujjayi breath on or off the mat. But wherever you practice it there are certain things to keep in mind. Ujjayi breath creates heat. There are times where adding heat is inappropriate or counterproductive to a practice. If you are taking a Yin or Restorative class, you may not want this heat in the body. Some pregnant yogis can find Ujjayi breath too heating to maintain for a whole practice.
How to use Ujjayi breath
You can follow this handy video by Adriene to learn more on how to use Ujjayi breath.