Ujjayi breathing is a breath technique employed in a variety of Taoist and Yoga practices. In relation to Yoga, it is sometimes called “the ocean breath”. Unlike some other forms of pranayama, the ujjayi breath is typically done in association with asana practice.
Ujjayi is a diaphragmatic breath, which first fills the lower belly (activating the first and second chakras), rises to the lower rib cage (the third and fourth chakras), and finally moves into the upper chest and throat. The technique is very similar to the three-part Tu-Na breathing found in Taoist Qigongpractice.
Inhalation and exhalation are bot h done through the nose. The “ocean sound” is created by moving the glottis as air passes in and out. As the throat passage is narrowed so, too, is the airway, the passage of air through which creates a “rushing” sound. The length and speed of the breath is controlled by the diaphragm, the strengthening of which is, in part, the purpose of ujjayi. The inhalations and exhalations are equal in duration, and are controlled in a manner that causes no distress to the practitioner.
Ujjayi” comes from the Sanskrit prefix “ud” (उद्) added to it and root “ji” (जि): “ujji” (उज्जि), meaning “to be victorious”. Ujjayi (उज्जायी), thus means “one who is victorious”. Ujjayi breath means “victorious breath”.
According to Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who taught the creators of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, Iyengar Yoga and others, Ujjayi Pranayama is a balancing and calming breath which increases oxygenation and builds internal body heat. The Hawaiian yoga teacher Wai Lana says Ujjayi Pranayama “tones the lungs and encourages the free and healthy flow of prana”, while helping to regulate blood pressure and bringing oxygen to all parts of the lungs.”
Ujjayi breathing may be used continuously throughout Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and is frequently used in Power Yoga and Vinyasa, or Flow Yoga. This breath enables the practitioner to maintain a rhythm to his or her practice, take in enough oxygen, and helps build energy to maintain practice, while clearing toxins out of the bodily system. This breath is especially important during transition into and out of asanas(postures), as it helps practitioners to stay present, self-aware and grounded in the practice, which lends it a meditative quality.
Ujjayi, sometimes referred to as “cobra breathing”, is also a helpful way for the yogi or yogini to keep the vital life force, prana, circulating throughout the body rather than escaping from it. Ujjayi is said to be similar to the breathing of a new-born baby before the prana begins to flow out into the world’s attractions.
Take an inhalation that is slightly deeper than normal. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose while constricting your throat muscles. If you are doing this correctly, you should sound like Darth Vader from Star Wars.
Another way to get the hang of this practice is to try exhaling the sound “haaaaah” with your mouth open. Now make a similar sound with your mouth closed, feeling the outflow of air through your nasal passages. Once you have mastered this on the outflow, use the same method for the inflow breath, gently constricting your throat as you inhale.
Try shifting into Ujjayi breath whenever you find yourself becoming aggravated or stressed, and you should notice a prompt soothing effect. If you practice yoga, focusing on Ujjayi breathing will help you stay focused and centered as you flow from one posture to the next.
Ujjayi is also useful when you’re doing aerobic exercise such as running or cycling. In fact, some Olympic-level athletes have introduced Ujjayi into their training routines to improve their respiratory efficiency. Experiment with this breath technique when you are working out and see if it reduces wear and tear on your body.
Some yogis argue that Ujjayi. should not be practiced in asana (physical postures), and prefer a normal breath. Consequently, some yogis believe the Ujjayi comes natural when the postures are deeply understood, and shouldn’t be focused on until such mastery of asana is attained. Yet, in a Vinyasa style of yoga, the Ujjayi is emphasized as a way to link the breath with the movement, as Vinyasa yoga is based on breath-synchronized poses. There are several important attributes of this form of pranayama, which declare Why We Ujjayi…
1. Improves concentration in the physical practice. Becoming absorbed in Ujjayi allows the practitioner to remain in poses for longer periods of time.
2. Instills endurance that enhances a flowing practice by lending a meditative quality that maintains the rhythm of the class.
3. It diminishes distractions and allows the practitioner to remain self aware and grounded in the practice.
4. Ujjayi breath regulates heating of the body. 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. This heat makes stretching safer while the inner organs can be cleansed of any toxins that have accumulated.
5. A focused Ujjayi breath can release tension and tight areas of the body.
6. Additional benefits of Ujjayi pranayama include diminished pain from headaches, relief of sinus pressure, decrease in phlegm, and strengthening of the nervous and digestive systems.
7. Ujjayi tells us when we need to surrender into a resting posture, as the breath should remain as even and smooth in the postures as when we rest. It allows us to practice honesty in our practice, taking a step back to let go of our ego.
8. Ujjayi allows us to practice full deep breaths during the challenges of a physical practice. Therefore, we can stay just as equanimous when faced with the challenges of our daily lives.
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