Ujjāyī breath, an ancient breathing technique
Ujjāyī Breathing – The victorious breath
“…take a few smooth breaths in ujjāyī, and the mind feels calmer; the effect is very direct. New students can be surprised when they first discover ujjāyī. Taking long, smooth, regulated breaths they often immediately experience a lighter, more spacious feeling.” Ranju Roy and Dave Charlton; Embodying the Yoga Sūtra.
Ujjāyī breathing is one of the defining characteristics of yoga, and within my approach as a practitioner and teacher. It is an ancient breathing practice known as the ‘Victorious’ breath. In the West it has adopted names such as the ‘Ocean sounding breath’ or the ‘whispering breath’ because of it’s wave-like, sighing sound and soothing quality.
The great stabiliser
The beauty of this technique is its ability to focus the mind. Changing our breathing pattern so that it becomes part of our consciousness gives the mind something internal to focus on, whilst the sounding nature of the breath also acts as a further anchor for the mind. Ujjāyī breathing acts like a great stabiliser which enables the breath to lengthen and deepen smoothly. As the breath cycle deepens and lengthens, a conscious connection to the breath is established which in turn soothes the nervous system, whilst also internally stokes our bodily heat.
So, depending on how we feel this breath can be a very equalising for the system. When we become more familiar with the technique, which for many people usually occurs within the first few attempts, the effects are instantly noticeable.
A note on the sound
The audible quality of the breath is acquired by the lightness of drawing the chin in towards the throat or chest. This action can be subtle or a little deeper depending on what feels appropriate to you. The act of during the chin in means that the airflow through which the breath is passing becomes constricted, just enough so that the breath becomes audible. This constriction also allows the breath to lengthen through a slightly narrower channel.
Often when we start with Ujjāyī breathing the sound can be quite gross, but over time and as we become used to practising it the sound should be loud enough and soft enough so that only you or someone very close by would be able to hear it.
As you can see there are so many qualities to breathing in this way. What I don’t want to happen is for you to get too caught up in it, and I appreciate that for some of you reading or practising this approach is may not be possible each and every time.
However, if you do find that you’re able to work with this conscious breathing technique, it will always be there as a tool for you to adopt whenever you feel the need to tune in, zone out the noise or undo tensions.
Grant yourself time and space to explore Ujjāyī breathing as a great stabiliser
Below is a step by step guide which embodies the technique of Ujjāyī breathing along with an accompanying 10 minute instructional video to help you on your way. It’s a practice that you can take daily, in your own time as a way of centring the mind, calming the nervous system or to generate internal heat as a process of elimination.
This technique should be pleasantly focussing, so if you put too much effort into the practice the breathing pattern my become irregular or feel disturbed. Each time this happens, come back to the natural breath and try again when you feel ready. Think of this breath as a way of being able declutter yourself – of mental chatter or disturbances, physical tensions and unnecessary burdens. Notice how you feel beforehand, during and afterwards, and as always allow yourself plenty of time to transition back into your day.
Seated Ujjāyī breathing practice, step by step:
- Sitting onto a chair, take support where you feel is needed in order for your position to be as comfortable and alert as is possible.
- Get grounded and settle into your position, connect more evenly towards the earth. Let your spine become elevated and shoulders spacious as your hands rest onto your lap.
- Bring your awareness to your breathing rhythm. Notice a how you are breathing in each moment and where the sensations of the breath rise and fall in your body.
- Draw your chin in lightly towards your throat, feel how the back of your neck responds. Notice the slight constriction in the throat.
- Allow the breath to deepen and lengthen naturally through this new slightly narrowed channel of airflow.
- Inhale through the nostrils and on the exhalation sound or sigh the breath ‘Haa’ from the back of the throat with your lips open as if you are fogging a glass or mirror. Repeat this 3-4 times.
- Continue to focus on the exhale and close your lips midway through the sighing breath but continue to fog the glass from the back of your throat. Repeat 3-4 times.
- Then focus your awareness on the inhalations, breathing in towards the back of your throat with your lips open as if making the same sound but sucking the air into the mouth, let your jaw relax. Exhaling with the lips closed from the back of the throat. Repeat 3-4 times.
- Then close your lips midway through the inhalation but continue to draw the air in towards the throat. Repeat 3-4 times.
- Ocean sounding, can you let the sound of the breath become more audible but without force? To begin with it may seem as though the breath is very loud.
- Next try to take the practice on both the inhale and the exhale with your lips closed as if drawing the air towards your throat, but begin to embody the sensations. Notice how the sound is now internalised and the sensations that arise in your body with the breath.
- This breath will start to expand and contract throughout your entire being.
- Follow the breath in this way and tune into the wave-like sound. Repeating for a further 6-8 breaths.
- Upon completion, let your breath return to a natural rhythm and settle into stillness.
- Pause to notice how you feel physically, energetically, mentally and emotionally. Making any notes that have arise as a result of your experience.
Take your time to connect to the breath in this way, coming back to it time and time again whenever you feel you’d like to focus or calm yourself. In each moment we can become aware of the breath, it’s length and it’s sound, then it will go onto regulate the system and slow down our pace physically, energetically and mentally.
I hope you enjoy the practice and time that you provide yourselves with to explore the more subtle experiences you may encounter. If you would like to join me for further explorations of accessible movement supported by the breath, you can do so by joining me online.
Thank you once again,
“Everywhere on land, air and sea. The earth breathes. This is global breath. When every breath blends with every other breath. Think about how connected we all really are. Mix it all together. One. Global Breath.
The Joy of breathing on Planet Earth.”
Bija Bennett; Breathing into Life