Breathing techniques: Ujjayi Breath
Someone asked me this week how they should breathe during yoga and meditation. Whilst there are many different breathing techniques (also called pranayama), the one most people start with is Ujjayi Breath. This is sometimes also called Conqueror's Breath, Victorious Breath or Ocean Breath, as it sounds a lot like the rolling waves of the ocean. Just like the rolling waves of the ocean, Ujjayi breath has a slow stead rhythm that works to calm and centre us.
What is Ujjayi Breath ?
Simple put, Ujjayi breath is a breathing technique that involves breathing in and out through the nose whilst gently constricting the throat. This enables a fine control over the amount of air flow which helps you lengthen and deepen your breath. Using Ujjayi breath during yoga practice not only makes sure your body is fully oxygenated to work at it's best, it also ensures that you aren’t working too hard (holding your breath or jagged breathing will give this away!). Your breath should stay steady and smooth which helps you reach a place of centredness and calm during your practice. During meditation, Ujjayi breath gives us a focus for our sometimes wandering attention (or in my case, usually wandering attention!) and also soothes your nervous system.
As for any breathing technique the most important thing is to have a nice straight spine so sit (or stand) in any way that makes this possible without causing tension in your body. Crossed-legged or kneeling both work well. I normally sit on a block or hard cushion to help me sit taller as my hips are super tight!
Here’s how to do it:
Bring your palm to a few inches in front of you mouth and imagine it is a glass or mirror. Open your mouth and breathe out steadily as if you want to fog up the mirror. Repeat this a few times breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth.
Close your mouth and continue breathing in this way. You will notice the sensation of a gentle constriction in the back of the throat and a gentle ocean like sound. Your breath should be slow and steady as you breathe in and out through your nose.
Aim to fill the lungs from the bottom to the top, right up to the collarbones, sending your breath in to every corner of your lungs.
If you are a visual person, you could try this visualisation: Imagine your torso is a thermometer and your breath is the mercury inside the thermometer. With each inhalation follow the movement of the mercury as it rises up through the torso and then exhale slowly and follow the mercury as it drops back down.
Try this for maybe 10-20 rounds to start with and extend over the days as you feel comfortable. It is a wonderful technique to very quickly help you drop back into a space of groundedness and calm so try it the next time you feel anxiety or tension starting to rise. Eventually you will introduce Ujjayi breath into your physical yoga practice, marrying each movement with an inhalation or exhalation.
Let us know how it goes or if you want some more detailed instruction!