Many of us know yoga to be a physical practice, one that twists the body into a variety of interesting shapes. In actuality, yoga comprises eight limbs, meaning there are seven other, equally important considerations beyond the postures we know and love. One of those limbs is breath work, or pranayama.
There are a variety of pranayama, but one very common technique is called ujjayi, or ocean breath. Ujjayi is practiced by slightly constricting the throat, which sort of mimics the sound of the ocean. By doing so, we lengthen the breath cycle, leading to greater focus and concentration. As such, this technique is often used to complement the physical practice of yoga.
If you have ever wondered what on earth your yoga teacher was talking about at the beginning of class when you were told to cue your ujjayi, this post is for you. Find a comfortable seat and let’s get started.
- Find a comfortable place and sit cross legged. Gently tuck your tailbone forward, creating length through your spine. Relax your shoulder blades back and down; this should allow you to open your chest. Imagine a thread rests at the crown of your head and it has gently been pulled to lift you higher. Tuck your chin slightly to minimize any curvature of the neck. Let your lips gently close, unclenching your jaw. For this exercise, you will be breathing through your nose. Bring your awareness to your breath, without changing. Observe.
- Bring your awareness to your throat as you breathe. We will begin our ujjayi on the exhale. Inhale normally, and then, on the exhale, gently constrict the glottis (i.e., the throat area at the back of your mouth) as if you were fogging up a pair of glasses. Take note, this will add texture to the sound of your exhales. It might just sound like the ocean. Continue practicing this on your exhales until you feel comfortable.
- When you are ready, bring your attention to each inhale. Exhale as your normally would, then gently constrict the glottis-just as you did before-on your inhale. Notice, once more, the textural sound that occurs when you inhale with this contraction.
- When you are comfortable doing so, you can combine your ujjayi inhales and exhales. It is intended to be utilized throughout your physical practice, and it can be a great tool to help you find balance, focus, comfort, and depth in any posture.
Note: when utilizing ujjayi, it is not supposed to be difficult to breathe. If you are congested for any given reason, this technique may not be as accessible to you. However, ujjayi can also assist with congestion. You know your body best–make the right decision for you.