Mindful breathing is the foundation of yoga practice and Ujjayi (literally “victorious breath”) is just one of several breathing exercises that can help to clear the mind and improve your health. Ujjayi is often applied during the poses (asanas) of an Ashtanga or Vinyasa Yoga practice, or it can also be used during meditation. This form of breathing warms up and massages the internal organs, raising body heat. It is also said to relieve headaches and sinus pressure while toning the digestive system and nervous system. It also has a calming, centering effect on the mind, helping it to clear out negative thought processes while relieving stress.
Practicing Ujjayi Breathing
Ujjayi breathing in yoga helps yogis focus on a necessary bodily function that most people take entirely for granted—breathing. Many yoga instructors recommend practicing Ujjayi breathing on its own before adding it to asana practice.
To get into Ujjayi breathing, you can sit comfortably on a yoga mat, in Easy Pose or Lotus Pose. Ensure that your spine is straight and your chest and belly are open. Relax your face, jaw and tongue and close your eyes to shift your focus to listening to the sound of your breath.
Inhale deeply through your nose, and then exhale through the mouth, constricting the throat just enough (like when you whisper) so that the exhale sounds like a long, gentle “ahhhh” sound.
Repeat these inhalations and exhalations a few times and then switch from exhaling out the mouth to exhaling out of your nose only. Focus on moving the air along the back of your throat to maintain a gentle hissing sound, like that of mellow ocean waves.
The goal with Ujjayi breathing is to create slow, smooth breathing. Focus on pulling the breath deep into your diaphragm, filling your lungs, and then letting the breath hiss gently and completely out of you on each exhale. By giving all of your attention to this breathing exercise, stress will melt away, you mind will calm down and your body will be receiving a fresh dose of healing oxygen.
After 5 to 15 minutes, depending on your level of experience with Ujjayi, gradually return to normal breathing and then end in Savasana (“Corpse pose”).
Talk with your yoga instructor about deepening your Ujjayi breathing practice, or any other yoga breathing exercise you would like to master.