Breathing is the first act after birth. It is involuntary till death. Since we cannot live without breathing, it is imperative to learn the correct art of breathing. Practicing Ujjayi breath is one of the art which provides immense benefits.
The mind is the king of senses, but the breath is the king of the mind. ~ Hatha Yoga Pradipika
So, if you want to master your mind, you need to master your breath and to get mastery over breathing you need to learn Pranayama practice.
Swami Swatmarama Suri mentioned 8 classical Pranayama in his text ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ 800 years ago. Ujjayi Pranayama is one of the most important among them. It’s also mentioned in the Gheranda Samhita.
All works are accomplished by Ujjayi Kumbhaka. Let a man perform it to destroy decay and death.~ Gheranda Samhita Lesson 5, verse 71-72.
Meaning of Ujjayi Pranayama
The pronunciation of Ujjayi is ‘ooh-JAI-yee.’
Ujjayi is a Sanskrit term comprising a prefix ‘Ud’ meaning bondage added to its root ‘Ji’ means to conquer or to acquire by conquest. Together it forms Ujjayi, which means to be victorious from one’s bondage.
To get the literal meaning of Ujjayi Pranayama, It comprises 2 terms ‘Ujjayi’ & ‘Pranayama‘.
Ujjayi – Victory over
Pranayama – ‘Prana‘ – life fore and ‘Yama’ – Control
Hence, it signifies “the victorious breathing” and gives “freedom from bondage.”
It is also known as “Psychic breath” due to its soothing and calming effect on the mind.
In Ujjayi breathing, the nose is the center for both inhalation and exhalation. A rushing or hissing sound is produced, which is called Ujjayi sound. This sound resembles the waves of oceans.
Ujjayi is also known as “cobra breath” or “ocean breath” due to the sound produced during its practice.
How to do Ujjayi Breathing?
There are certain techniques to perform Ujjayi pranayama, which can be incorporated according to the level of the practitioner. In the beginner level, begin with simple Ujjayi breath, and later on, you can add up Bandha (locks), Kumbhaka (Internal retention) with your practice.
General Idea of Ujjayi Breath
To get a general idea of what Ujjayi breath feels like, prepare yourself for Ujjayi breathing. Follow these simple steps.
Place one hand in front of your mouth, palm facing towards you and open your mouth.
- Exhale out completely through your mouth on the palm. It will produce the ‘HHHHHAAAA’ sound as if you’re trying to steam up a mirror or glass.
This exhalation sounds like continuous waves of the ocean are approaching towards the shore. It’s the reason ujjayi breathing also called Ocean Breath.
- Inhale in the same manner through your mouth while gently constricting your back of the throat. This time you will feel a soothing air passes from your mouth to the throat.
Inhalation sounds like you cup a seashell over your ear and then the sound produced resembles the sound of Ujjayi breath.
Practice these 2 steps for a few rounds to get an idea of Ujjayi breath because you would have to maintain the same sound of breathing with the closed mouth (through the nose) in the Ujjayi Pranayama.
Ujjayi Breathing Instructions
- Sit comfortably in any of the meditative poses. Sukhasana (easy pose) or padmasana (lotus pose) are preferred. Lengthen your spine and relax your shoulders.
- Seal your lips and place both hands on the kneecap.
- Constrict the muscles of your back of the throat and Imagine a hole in your throat. Feel your breath getting drawn in and out (Inhale and exhale) through this hole during whole ujjayi pranayama.
- Now, bring your awareness to the breath in the nostrils. Take a slightly deep breath in than a normal one and direct it through the imagined hole in the back of the throat.
- After first inhale, exhale out the stored breath from your nose producing the sound ‘HHHHHAAAA’ through the constricted throat. Try to create a sound loud enough to be audible to the practitioner or a nearby person.
One cycle of Ujjayi consists of 1 breath in and 1 out. Choose the number of cycles you want to go for; generally, 3-5 minutes prove to be effective.
Signs of Correct Ujjayi
- The sound produced during sealed lips in Inhalation and Exhalation should be the same sound as produced during inhalation & exhalation through the open mouth.
- Spontaneous and effortless contraction of the abdomen should happen if done correctly.
- During the whole Ujjayi breath, ‘Back of the throat‘ is the place where you feel the breath is drawing in and out, not the ‘nostrils’ as in usual breath.
With Khechari Mudra
Once you master the simpler version of Ujjayi breathing, you can accompany it with “Khechari Mudra.”
- To perform Khechari mudra, fold your tongue upward and backward so that the lower surface lies in contact with the upper palate. Stretch the tip of the language back to the maximum you can do without straining. Hold the tongue lock for as long as possible.
- Further instructions are the same as for the simpler Ujjayi Pranayama. Breath from your constrict throat and produce the sound of ocean waves at inhaling and exhaling.
Performing Ujjayi in this way stimulates several pressure points located in the back of the mouth and the nasal cavity. They influence the body by stimulating the Prana and awakening kundalini shakti. It also affects the Vishuddhi chakra.
With Internal Retention
Ujjayi Breathing when performed with inner retention or Antar Kumbhaka, provides additional benefits just like a gold plated ornament.
- Inhale slowly and deeply through the nose.
- Try to keep the inhalation and exhalation smooth and controlled.
- Retain the breath inside and bring your awareness to the Ajna Chakra or Third Eye (Place between eyebrows).
- Exhale for a more extended period with comfort.
- Do not strain yourself during Kumbhaka.
- Perform for 1-2 seconds at first and increase gradually with practice.
With ‘Bandhas (Body Locks)’
After you master the Internal Retention, Bandhas can be incorporated with Ujjayi Breathing. Either you can perform Jalandhar Bandha alone or with both Moola and Jalandhara Bandha together.
1. With Jalandhara Bandha
Jalandhar means ‘Stream’ or ‘flow.’ Jalandhara bandha is, therefore, the throat lock holds the nectar or fluid flowing down and prevents it from falling into the digestive fire. In this way, prana is conserved.
- Take a deep breath in smoothly.
- Perform Jalandhara bandha with internal retention as long as you feel comfortable.
- Release Jalandhara Bandha and exhale.
2. With Jalandhara & Moola Bandha Together
Moola means ‘root,’ ‘firmly fixed,’ ‘source’ or ‘cause.’ Here it means the root of the spine which is said to have the seat of kundalini. This bandha awakens the ‘Mooladhara Chakra.
- Inhale the air.
- Perform Jalandhara Bandha followed by Moola Bandha.
- Hold the breath inside according to the level of comfort.
- Release moola bandha and then jalandhara bandha.
- Proceed towards exhalation.
When to Practice Ocean Breathing?
- When the mind is naturally active in the morning and evening hours, ujjayi is most beneficial.
- Like any pranayama practice, ujjayi preferred before meditation practice as it makes the mind more concentrative for meditation.
- When you feel agitated and irritated, as ujjayi is effective in calming your mind and controlling anger.
- Ocean breathing is beneficial during Hatha Yoga asana practice or any physical exercise.
- It can be performed in any position, standing, sitting, or lying.
- It may be performed in Shavasana when sleeping disturbance is one of the main points of concern.
- In the cases of a slipped disc or vertebral spondylitis, you can practice Ujjayi breathing in Vajrasana or Makarasana.
Mechanism of Ocean Breathing
Ujjayi breath is a kind of diaphragmatic breath in which internal organs from lower belly to the throat, all participates in an equal manner.
Below mentioned steps shows how the movement of breath happens in the ujjayi pranayama.
- The nose is the center for both inhalation and exhalation. Breath enters through the nose in Ujjayi.
- As breath, we inhaled, all it goes down into the lower belly.
- Then from the lower abdomen, the breath moves upwards to the chest when inhalation converts to the retention.
- After retaining breath at the chest for a while, exhalation begins. Here, Diaphragm controls the length and speed of the breath.
- In this stage, we constrict the vocal cords of the throat which restrict the passageway of air coming out of the throat.
- This constriction produces the sound of ‘Ocean Waves,’ which we called Ujjayi sound.
Importance of Ujjayi Breathing
The natural sound of Ujjayi lengthens the breath, which significantly increases the intake capacity of the lungs. Once you get mastery over maintaining the ujjayi breath during your asana practice in Ashtanga & Vinyasa yoga, you will feel the smoothness in between the different poses.
Ujjayi breathing enhances the overall performance of a Yogi by bringing harmony in the Yoga Sadhana.
It brings a state of meditation and helps the practitioner to focus. It also helps to maintain a rhythm in oxygen intake and flow of energy, which balances the state of mind and aids in detoxification of the body.
Benefits of Ujjayi Breathing
To keep a balance between the breath and movement of the body, Ujjayi proves to be an adjunct. It is one of the simple practice in yoga, which helps in calming the mind and release the feeling of frustration.
Ujjayi has many health-related benefits 1, which advocates inculcating this technique in the habit.
Here are a few benefits you may enjoy after the proper and regular practice of Ujjayi breath.
1. Physical Benefits (Effect on Body Itself)
- Ocean breath Helps to concentrate more on the physical practice
- Increases the threshold to hold a pose for a longer period
- Provides a state of meditation which maintains the rhythm with the movement and breathing
- Deep and slow rhythmic inhalation and exhalation of Ujjayi breath helps patients of Chemotherapy to improve their lifestyle 2
- Ujjayi breath manages increased hypertension (B.P) problems in women caused of post-menopausal 3
- Deep breaths of Ujjayi help meet the challenges of physical practice of yoga and exercise
2. Physiological Benefits (Effect on Body’s Function)
- Ocean breath regulates the internal body heat and maintains an equilibrium with the external environment
- Relieves pain from headaches
- Provides relief of sinus pressure
- Strengthen the nervous and digestive systems
- Reduces the risk of thyroid disorders
- Relieves insomnia when done in lying posture i.e., Shavasana just before going to sleep
- Beneficial in chronic cold, cough, asthma and other respiratory diseases
- This practice causes a reduction in the hunger and thirst sensations and induction of inner stillness
3. Psychological Benefits
- It calms the mind and allows you to control your anger
- It dissipates anxiety and stress
- Let’s you focus and concentrate better
- Instills a positive attitude
- The mood is enhanced, and a feeling of absolute happiness prevails
4. Spiritual Benefits
- As it allows the mind to focus more, it aids in the meditative state
- It preserves the vitality of the body and acts as a guide for inner healing
- Beneficial in arousing kundalini and chakras
- Relax the facial muscles while constricting the throat for breathing
- Do not tighten your throat too firmly
- See that the air touches the throat
- Try to maintain the breathing ratio between exhalation and inhalation
- Don’t do forceful breathing
- Do not practice if you are suffering from migraine or heart diseases. Take proper guidance from a teacher or guru
- Avoid Ujjayi breathing during pregnancy
To get victory over your prana, you have to develop a habit of being victorious in your daily life too. As it is also known as “psychic breath,” it has very soothing effects on the mind. Ujjayi not only provides the concentration but also increases endurance and patience.
The functioning of ujjayi has also had a significant effect on Various therapies, for example, in the treatment of insomnia and depression.
It equalizes the breath and increases the oxygenation. It builds up internal heat, which provides warmth to the core and help in performing physical exercises and yogic postures with ease and efficiency.
Ujjayi breathing had been a great practice among the yogis since Vedic period. It is the need of the modern world, and we should include this beautiful technique of self-care in our daily routine.