How to Practice Ujjayi Pranayama
Also known as: Hissing Breath, Victorious Breath, Darth Vader Breath
Benefits: Concentrates and directs the breath, giving asana practice extra power and focus. Increases oxygen consumption.
This pranayama is most often used in support of yoga postures, especially in the vinyasa style. Vinyasa yoga is often called breath-synchronized movement, which means you move from one pose to the next on and inhalation or an exhalation of the breath.
The breath used for vinyasa understood to be ujjayi pranayama. And it's not just for flowing. It’s a full deep slow breath that can called upon to help you find your reserve tank in long holds. When you body’s flight or flight response kicks in, telling you that it wants to get out of this pose as soon a possible, that it can’t possibly stay her for one second longer, ujjayi counters this urge by telling your body that things are ok. We’re still breathing deeply, see?
In fact, a clinical study from the Department of Neurophysiology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bangalore, India found ujjayi pranayama can increase your oxygen consumption during practice by about 50 percent.
You can learn this breath while seated in a comfortable cross-legged position. Once you get the hang of it, begin to use it during your yoga practice.
1. Sit up tall with your shoulders relaxed away from your ears and close your eyes.
To prepare, become aware of your breath without trying to control it at all. The begin to inhale and exhale through your mouth if you have been breathing through your nose.
2. Bring your awareness to your throat. On your exhales, begin to tone the back of your throat (your glottis or soft palate), slightly constricting the passage of air.
Imagine that you are fogging up a pair of glasses. You should hear a soft hissing sound.
3. Once you are comfortable with the exhale, begin to apply the same contraction of the throat to the inhales. You should, once again, hear a soft hissing sound. This is where the name of the breath comes from: it sounds like the ocean. (It also sounds like Darth Vadar.)
4. When you are able to control the throat on both the inhale and the exhale, close the mouth and begin breathing through the nose. Continue applying the same toning to the throat that you did when the mouth was open. The breath will still make a loud noise coming in and out of the nose. This is ujjayi breath.
5. Now start to use this breath during your practice. If the teacher tells you to move on an inhale, make it an ujjayi inhale. If you need a little something extra to support you while holding a pose, remember this breath and apply it.
Longer Breaths Mean Greater Control and Power
Reducing the amount of air that can pass through your throat lengthens your breath cycle.
Each inhalation and exhalation is long, full, deep, and controlled.
Another way to think about ujjayi breath is to visualize your throat as a garden hose, with the breath passing through like a trickle of water. If you put your thumb partially over the opening of the hose, you increase the power of the water that is coming through. This is the same thing you are doing with your throat during ujjayi breathing. The air that comes in through your constricted throat is a powerful, directed breath that you can send into the parts of your body that need it during your practice.