When I am able to put all the elements of a dynamic practice in place – the rhythm of my ujjayi breath that guides the movements, my mind landing in my body and following the sound of my breath – I feel whole, expanded and exactly where I am supposed to be, neither more or less.
The Breath is the heart of the practice, it’s a guidance, a safe place and an anchor.
Today I am very thrilled to share my knowledge around the Ujjayi Breath as a yoga facilitator and practitioner of Progressive Ashtanga Yoga. We could stay a lot on this topic, but I will keep short, effective and simple.
In Progressive Ashtanga Yoga, or in any Vinyasa/dynamic Yoga practice, we combine two main elements: Ujjayi Breath and Movements, to create the conditions for a moving and breathing meditation.
Ujjayi Breath is a type of Pranayama.
Pranayama is defined as the action to control or extend our Breath in order to create more space (at the mind/body/heart level) so that Prana, our life Force, can circulate and flow more freely.
Ujjayi Breath is known as “victorious breath” or more poetically as the “ocean Breath” due to its particular sound, a deep and hissing sound.
Elements and Functions
- With the Ujjayi Breath technique we create the conditions to rise up and direct our energy, life Force = Prana.
- As we breathe only with the nose and the mouth close, we keep the warmth inside the body, increasing Heat (Prana) and use this energy during the practice in the asanas (poses) for a purification/detox action.
- The particular sound, produced by the activation of specific muscle in the throat and neck area (controlling the epiglottis) becomes a focus point for the mind. The thoughts become quiet and the mind follows the rhythm we give to the practice. Maybe for the first time during our day, our mind trusts the breath and follow, without being stuck in the past or projecting in the future.
After almost 10 years of practice and 8 of teaching, the Ujjayi Breath is always a field of surprises, inquiries and insights. Some days I step on the mat and magically my breath is strong but soft, active but spacious. Some days my Breath sounds rusty and lifeless.
But that’s the beauty of our practice: it’s never the same, as we are always different every day.
Yes, let’s practice together!
- Sit in a comfortable position in your sacred space, elevate your hips sitting on a block or a pillow.
- Elongate your spine, pull your navel in and up to create a strong base for your back.
- Keep your eyes soft, relax the muscles of your face and throat.
- Open your mouth and begin to inhale and exhale with your mouth open producing a “hhaaaaa” sound, the same your would make when you want to clean your glasses.
- Take a few breaths this way and then midway through your exhale, close your mouth and let the air continue coming out through the nose. With time you will become more comfortable in producing the hissing or ocean sound with the back of your throat.
- It’s important to keep your face, neck and shoulder soft (hint: separate your teeth and lift your tongue up) to avoid extra tension in your upper body.
- Practice ujjayi breath for 5 minutes and begin to observe how your mind, heart and body begin to shift.
As David Swenson says: “If we apply too much effort, the breath will become constricted and forced. With too little focus, the ujjayi breath may be drowned out by the sound of our own thoughts.”
This is the beginning and we could go so deep on a technical level, but it’s a great beginning.
It’s completely normal at the beginning to feel frustrated, strange, and confused.
With time the awareness around your breath will increase, and you will be able to detect hidden messages in the way you breathe, in the resistances you might feel and explore the benefits of breathing consciously.
Explore your breath and allow yourself to be surprised at what you could discover in this inquiry.
Do you want to explore the Ujjayi Breath during Sun Salutation? Practice with me using the video below!
I am always here to support you in every step of the way,
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