There is one yogic breathing technique that can be practiced at all times of the day and night by just about anyone. This pranayama (breath control) is called ujjayi.
Ujjayi means “victorious.” The prefix ud means upward and superior, and jaya (from root ji) means to conquer and have victory over. With consistent practice of ujjayi breath, a practitioner will attain victorious results for both body and mind.
The benefits of ujjayi breath are manifold. In addition to aerating the lungs and removing excess phlegm, it boosts endurance and gently warms the body. This soothing breath massages and tones the entire nervous system, making it an excellent way to combat stress. It’s also believed to help counter high blood pressure.
While one should initially learn ujjayi breath in a seated position, in can later be consistently threaded through the entire asana practice.
Here’s how to practice:
1. Sit in a comfortable, upright meditation position (I encourage sitting on a folded blanket or pillow for extra support)
2. Maintaining a tall spine, close eyes and begin to breath normally through both nostrils. Observe the flow of the air in and out of the body.
3. Once you’re familiar with the course of the breath, take a deep, slow breath in through the nostrils. Try to focus the air in on the palate and back of the throat and create a sibilant sound (saaaa). It should be an ocean like sound, or like having your ear against a conch shell. Fill the lungs entirely and then…
4. Breath out slowly, focusing the air on the back of the throat/palate.
The sea-like sound is caused by a subtle constriction of the glottis, which is the aperture of the larynx.
The breath should be just loud enough that someone sitting close to you would hear it. Avoid being too loud of forceful. I’m fond of esteemed Ashtanga teacher Tim Miller’s description of ujjayi, “Imagine sipping the breath in through a straw. If the suction is too strong the straw collapses and great force is required to suck anything through it.”
5. Set your Zen Timer with Tibetan Bowl for 15 minutes. Continue to breathe for 5 to 15 minutes with this ocean like sound. If possible, take a brief savasana after.
More experienced practitioners, commit to carrying ujjayi breath through your entire asana practice. Let it be metronomic in quality.
Observe how much space you’ll discover in body and mind!
Sophie Herbert is an alignment focused yoga teacher (and perpetual student), a singer-songwriter, and a visual artist. She has lived, studied, and volunteered extensively in India; teaches yoga in Brooklyn and Manhattan; and recently released her first full-length album, “Take a Clear Look.” Please visit her website at SophieHerbert.com.
adapted from Wholeliving.com February 2011
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