Ujjayi, or Ocean Sound breathing is a foundational breath in yoga. In my experience this breathing technique can be used on its own or in combination with other breathing techniques. Ujjayi breathing has a calming, centering effect on the mind, body and emotions.
Benefits of Ujjayi breathing:
- Calms the mind
- Complete exchange of air in the lung
- That leads to oxygenating the blood
- Releases tension in chest and abdomen
- Strengthens breathing muscles, as pulling air through the contracted throat (glottis) takes additional effort; strength training for your breath!
- Draws the mind inward
- Increases concentration
- Increases (over time) breath control
- With all the above, it will also lead to a deeper experience of postures
When *not* to practice this:
- When the throat is irritated
- When the sinuses are irritated
- When congested
How to practice Ujjayi breath:
- Sit comfortably, lengthen through the spine and relax the shoulders and abdomen
- Begin by counting your breath, and allowing it to become gradually slower and fuller
- Relax the face and with the mouth gently closed, begin to constrict the glottis at the back of the throat making a soft hiss like sound. Continue this for both inhale and exhale
- As you continue with this breathing, you can make the hiss sound louder and softer. Play with it and notice the effects as you change the breathing
- To sustain this practice you can focus on the sound of the breath, however I prefer to count my breaths. Count the seconds for the inhale, then again for the exhale. They will generally even out as you move deeper into the breath.
- Continue this breathing for a length of time of your choosing. Three minutes is a good start, but it can grow over time.
- To release, loosen the glottis and sit quietly and feel the effects of the Ujjayi breathing technique
Some tips to help get the Ujjayi breathing practice started.
- To get the hang of tightening the glottis, sit with your hand in front of your open mouth. When you exhale, visualize fogging a mirror (your hand). Once you have the hang of that, gently close your mouth continue breathing.
- When you are comfortable with the basic breathing, you can start playing with it. Put a short hold between the inhale and exhale parts of the breath.
- You can also link the inhale and exhale, minimizing the gap between them.
- Layer in the Ujjayi breath with other breathing techniques as you are moving through your posture practice.
- Bonus, find places/postures where deep breathing is difficult (compression of the torso and/or abdomen) and switch to Ujjayi and see what happens.
I’ve heard Ujjayi breathing either overlooked or thrown in as an after-thought in classes. It isn’t as overt as some of the others and doesn’t require mudras to assist. What it does do is form a basic, concrete bridge between the conscious mind, the body and the breath (energy/prana) that is the foundation of life.
Try this breath pattern, both on its own and layered on top of others. And always give yourself time to integrate and absorb what may come up.