Those who have been practicing yoga for a while are usually aware that yoga is not just the stuff you do on the mat. Yes, Asana (postures) are an important part of a practice, but are not the only component. In fact, asana only makes up 1/8 of your yoga practice. When looking at the eight limbs of yoga, Asana comes in at a humble third place only after Yama and Niyama, the parts referring to ethics and discipline. The fourth limb of the eighth is Pranayama (breathing).
Ujjayi breath, which is often referred to as breathing with sound, is the way in which you breathe during a Vinyasa practice. Ujjayi, breathing with sound, ocean breath and my person favorite, Darth Vader breath, is an audible breathing technique used to create heat in the body and form a conscious connection to the breath. Although this is a widely used technique, it is not alway explained clearly at the beginning of a yoga class so I thought we could take a few minutes to explain how to practice Ujjayi breath.
The best description of how to practice Ujjayi breath is really simple and one I often use in my classes for beginners after the conversation about Bandhas (a blog post for another time).
Image you are cleaning your sunglasses. You breathe across the lenses with a “haaaaaa” sound, drawing the breath from the back of the throat to create a fogging effect on the lenses. Ujjayi breath is not far off this action. We breathe in the same way with the “haaaaaa”-like action, but with the mouth closed.
The breath now becomes audible due to the slight restriction from the back of the throat. The good news is if you manage to breathe out with the mouth closed and the “haaaaa” sound, then you have created Ujjayi. Well done! The bad news is that you have do the same process on the inhale.Yep, afraid so.
It is important to remember the very gentle restriction at the level of the throat when focusing on the inhale. This can take some time and a lot of practice to be able to have a comfortable Ujjayi breath, but please remember, it is meant to be comfortable. If you are really struggling you can begin by sitting down and practicing this breathing technique without movement and making it part of your Pranayama practice. You can even begin by practicing Ujjayi breath with the mouth open. For many people this is the easiest way to get the general feeling for the technique. Once you can practice breathing with sound with the mouth open then it’s time to close the mouth for the full effect.
Never be afraid to ask your teacher for a little bit of help if you’re struggling with Ujjayi breathing in class – they are there to help. Every teacher has a different way of explaining so maybe they will have a different method of teaching this technique that resonates better with you.
Good luck and happy practice!