You have probably heard in class people breathing rhythmically while going through their postures. Well, this is the Pranayama technique called Ujjayi Breath, also known as the victorious breath, ocean breath or (my favourite) the Darth Vader breath.
It’s a staple in the Yoga tradition to focus the mind and calm and soothe an agitated nervous system.
This vibrating sound, called ajapa mantra (ah-JOP-ah), or “unspoken mantra”, serves three purposes: it helps to slow the breath down (which is exactly what we want for Ujjayi), to focus awareness on the breath and prevent your mind “wandering”, and to regulate, by continually monitoring and adjusting the evenness of the sound, the smooth flow of breath.
When practiced with awareness Ujjayi breathing should be both energising and relaxing. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali suggests that the breath should be both dirga (long) and suksma (smooth).
How to do Ujjayai Breath
Sit comfortably and upright in a chair or on the floor and place one hand in front of your mouth. Breathe in through the nose and then breathe out through the mouth as if you were fogging a mirror or a pane of glass. Repeat this a few times. Now drop the hand and create the same experience in your breathing but with the mouth closed.
Breathing in and out of the nostrils creating a gentle and soothing vibration in the back of the throat around the area of the soft pallete and glottis. Repeat and keep breathing this way, in and out of the nose with sound on both the inhale and on the exhale for 5-10 minutes.
Keep the breath smooth and calmed and avoid the sound getting too loud to avoid overheating your system.
When to use Ujjayi Breath
Ujjayi breath is traditionally used through the whole practice. Most often you will hear it used during Asana/postures to focus our mind and create a steady rhythm for our practice. As we develop in our practice the Ujjayi breath can be used as a stand alone breathing/pranayama practice or as a focus point, “dristi”, during our meditation.
Next time you come to class or get on your mat at home give it a go with some of your favourite postures, see how it affects you.