I love the presence of Ujjayi breath in my asana practice. Ujjayi can be translated to mean victorious. I also hear it referred to as the oceanic breath, because of the sound it makes. It is a powerful pranayama technique that can sustain and enrich your asana practice. Since you may not have explored Ujjayi breathing before, I thought I would offer a brief how to.
Step 1: Take on an attitude of playfulness and be ready to feel a little silly!
Step 2: Open your mouth and as you exhale pretend you’re fogging up your glasses to clean them. Once you find the action try to slow it down. Exhale (as if your fogging up your glasses) for several seconds. Play with how gentle the breath can be. This isn’t a quick or forced action.
Step 3: Take another breath and repeat that long fogging exhale, but this time close your mouth half way through the breath and continue the fogging exhale through your nose.
Step 4: Listen and feel. Do you hear it? Do you feel it? What you’ve done is lightly valve your throat. This is the action of the Ujjayi breath.
Once you connect with the throat valve of Ujjayi on exhale, you can start playing with it on the inhale. Don’t try and force anything. Let it come naturally. And if you lose it don’t try to force it back. Give yourself time to play and to explore something new!
Place a metronome timed to seconds or a clock with a loud second hand near you.
Sit in a comfortable posture where your torso is free from restriction (i.e., don’t lie down and if you’re in a chair don’t lean back). Sit up nice and tall and take several breaths and simply notice how they feel. Direct your attention through your breath into your spine and notice how your body feels.
Begin to slowly and progressively deepen your inhales and exhales. Gently engage the Ujjayi throat valve. Continue lengthening each side of the breath until you reach a comfortable maximum. For example, you might inhale four seconds and exhale six seconds.
Take 12 complete breaths at this count. You can use the sections of your fingers to count your breath. Look at the palm of your right hand and notice how each finger is divided into three sections. Using your thumb, gently move through the sections with each breath forming a spiral shape. I drew a picture to show you what I mean:
After 12 breaths, slowly return to natural breathing. Pause and notice how you feel.
Try and do this practice everyday! Notice what happens with your breath threshold. Notice how this pranayama practice affects your asana practice. And as you do, please share. I would love to hear what’s happening for you.