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A Beginner’s Guide to Ujjayi Breath

Leah Sugerman
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Breathing is your body’s most vital function. Without food or water, the human body can survive for days or even weeks. But without breath, the human body can only survive for a matter of minutes. The breath is part of everyday life, often overlooked or forgotten. Ujjayi or Ocean Breath can improve your yoga practice and help you handle life situations better.
 

“If you can breathe, then you can do yoga.” – Krishnamacharya

 
Yoga teaches you to bring your awareness to the breath. A precise and clear focus on the breath is the very essence of yoga. This powerful life force energy literally keeps the body alive, and also connects body and mind.
 

What is Ujjayi Pranayama?

Pranayama is the practice of conscious breath control: prana means “life force energy” and yama means “control.”
 

Ujjayi Pranayama can sound like the gentle flow of ocean waves or the heavy breathing of Darth Vader.

 
Ujjayi Pranayama, which translates to “victorious breath,” is a breathing pattern that is usually practiced during physical asana and occasionally during meditation.
 
You perform Ujjayi breathwork by constricting the back of the throat, which is why it has an audible texture. Ujjayi Pranayama can sound like the gentle flow of ocean waves or the heavy breathing of Darth Vader.
 
Interested in learning more about breathwork? Read Pranayama Explained + 5 Techniques to Get Started.
 

Benefits of Ujjayi Breath

Ujjayi, or Ocean Breath, creates a warming sensation throughout the body. This form of conscious breathwork builds internal heat, regulates body temperature, aids in concentration, and can help relieve headaches and sinus pressure.
 
No matter what style you prefer, the breath is meant to be the focal point of your journey on the yoga mat . . . to gracefully and effortlessly guide you through even the subtle movements of your body.
 

6 Steps to Find Your Ujjayi Breath

 

1. Find Your Seat

Begin in a comfortable seated position, with a long, tall spine. Expand the crown of your head skyward and your tailbone toward the ground. Stack your ears over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips. This lengthening will create space to allow your respiratory organs and muscles (namely, your lungs and diaphragm) to expand and contract as you breathe.
 
 

2. Find a Steady Breath

Place your right hand in front of your mouth and nose, with your palm facing toward you. Place your left hand onto your belly. Breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Imagine that your right hand is a mirror that you are trying to fog up with your breath.
 
 

3. Gently Constrict Your Breath Flow

Subtly restrict the flow of air through your esophagus in order to create a slight constriction in the back of your throat. This action will give your breath an audible quality. Remember to breathe deeply into your belly.
 
 

4. Let Your Belly Rise and Fall

Imagine creating a “Buddha belly” when you breathe: inhale to relax the diaphragm and create space for your lungs to expand, then exhale to engage the diaphragm and press the air from your lungs. Let your belly rise and fall with each breath so you can see or feel the movement of your left hand on your belly.
 

 
 

5. Give Your Breath Sound

Once you find a comfortable cadence with your breath, close your mouth and rest both hands in your lap or on your knees. Inhale and exhale through your nose. If it helps, you can keep imagining your hand as a mirror that you are trying to fog up. Keep the constriction through the back of your throat. Give your breath sound – like the sound of the ocean waves – or Darth Vader.
 
 

6. Find Your Rhythm

Try to inhale for a slow count of three or four. Then exhale for a slow count of the same number. Try to elongate each inhale and exhale and find your rhythm. Congratulations – you are now practicing Ujjayi Pranayama!
 
Now, the only trick is to keep your breath flowing as you move through your physical practice!
 

Ujjayi Breath Tips and Modifications

  • To bring your Ujjayi practice to your mat, begin with slow movements and allow your breath to guide you. Try to lengthen with each inhale and soften with each exhale
  • Maintain the flow of your Ujjayi rhythm. If you lose your rhythm, pause and slow down until you find your desired flow
  • Keep in mind that breathwork is the drishti, or focal point, in traditional yoga practices. If you lose awareness of your breath, slow down and find your rhythm

 
Did you know that breathwork can reduce stress? Learn how to find calm using mindful breathing in Guided Pranayama and Mindfulness Meditation for a Calm and Peaceful Mind (Video).
 

How to Expand Your Ujjayi Breathwork

  • Count each breath. For example, inhale for a count of four, feel the natural pause at the top of the breath, then exhale for a count of four
  • To expand your breathwork, elongate the count of each inhale and exhale. Strive to create equal and consistent lengths
  • Experiment with breath retention. Pause at the top of you breath and the bottom of your exhale for a few moments
  • Your breath is a metronome. It provides you with a slow and steady beat to follow throughout your practice. As you move, observe the cadence of your breath
  • Your breath will never lie to you. Gather information from your breathing patterns and adjust your yoga practice (and life) accordingly

 

How to Apply Ujjayi to Your Life

Breathwork is crucial to the state of your mind. Your breath can help work you up or calm you down. Your breath can be a tool for consciousness, if you are tuned in!
 
The breath is a powerful force: it is the only autonomous system of the body that can also be consciously controlled! The next time you feel stressed, draw your attention toward your breath. Is your breath short and labored? Are you holding your breath? Practice Ujjayi breathing for a moment and note any changes to your mood or mindset.
 
Did you know that you can cultivate happiness with your breath? Try 3 Pranayama Techniques That Will Bliss You The F– Out!
 
Allow your breath to guide you, calm you, and move you. Conscious breathwork will improve your yoga and meditation practices – and give you an option when you feel overwhelmed. Your breath is the connection between your mind and body – and vice versa. Create union between your breath and body – on and off the mat – and watch positive transformation unfold.
 

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Leah Sugerman

Leah is a yoga teacher, writer and passionate world traveler. She fell in love with the pure dichotomy of the yoga practice: the stark contrast between the strength and power compared to the grace and surrender. When not teaching, Leah can be found practicing handstands in the sand, finding magic and eloquence playing with words or traveling to far ends of the globe with her mat in hand.

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