What is Ujjayi Pranayama?
Known as the Victorious Breath or Oceans Breath, Ujjayi pranayama is a type of breathing exercise in yoga. The word ‘jaya’ means victory in Sanskrit, and that is where the term victorious breath came from. This technique has been proven to provide immense relaxation, calmness and harmony to the mind and body. It brings the mind to a point of focus, and is therefore very beneficial to do before meditation. You can also practice this during some specific yoga asanas; it will give you the strength and calmness needed to hold a posture for longer.
Ujjayi pranayama is practiced by constricting the throat while breathing in and out, and thus creating a sound that is in sync with the breath.
What is the starting position for Ujjayi Pranayama?
Before beginning the practice, you must sit comfortably with your spine straight. You may sit in the Easy Pose, Lotus Pose or Thunderbolt Pose. If sitting on the mat is difficult, you can also sit on a chair with your feet on the ground. The key is to ensure your upper body is straight. Gently keep your eyes closed.
How to do Ujjayi Pranayama?
- Once you are sitting comfortably with your back, head and neck straight, close your mouth and keep a gentle smile on your face. Now, start breathing from the nose. As you inhale, contract the throat, that is the glottis (a part of the larynx).
- Ensure the breath is slow, rhythmic and gentle. It should not be forceful.
- Allow the air to pass through the constricted throat. This will create a light snoring sound.
- Inhale completely till you feel full in the chest.
- Retain the inhaled air for a count of sixe (initially you might not be able to retain more than 3 or 4 seconds. Exhale when you need to and with practice you can extend till 6).
- Now slowly exhale as naturally as you can while keeping the throat constricted.
When to practice Ujjayi Pranayama?
The beauty of this breathing technique is that you can practice it any time. It has an immediate calming effect on the mind and body, making it beneficial to practice when doing daily chores, driving or standing in line at the supermarket. If you’re feeling stressed at your desk, take a few moments and practice Ujjayi. You’ll immediately feel a difference. During yoga, you can practice this before starting meditation, after your asana practice and while holding some yoga postures. You can also practice this at the beginning or end of a session when slowing down.
Benefits of Ujjayi Pranayama
Physiologically, Ujjayi pranayama clears phlegm by effectively removing toxins. It is good for cold, cough, indigestion, liver problems, fever and stimulates and balances the thyroid gland. It provides mental stability and strength by releasing stress, anxiety and depression. It is also helpful in relaxing the body and mind, and taking the mind away from chronic pain. It improves concentration and focus, releases tension from the body, and has a cooling effect on the system. Many studies have also shown Ujjayi pranayama to be effective in the management of hypothyroidism and in improving the quality of sleep. Ujjayi pranayama also activates the parasympathetic nervous system and stimulates the vagus nerve.
Contraindications of Ujjayi Pranayama
Avoid practicing with retention if you have high BP (hypertension), cardiac issues and anxiety.
Watch this video on how to practice Ujjayi Pranayama:
Shvasa practice tips for Ujjayi Pranayama
- Ensure the facial muscles are relaxed and your breaths are slow and rhythmic.
- Avoid any jerks or hasty exhales.
- With practice, you will get better at the technique and feel more comfortable.
- The sound that is made should be gentle, like a baby snoring. It should not be loud or forceful.
- Be mindful of tension in the teeth, jaw, throat and/or neck and learn to let it go.
Ujjayi pranayama is also beneficial in regulating body temperature. As you inhale, heat builds in the body and as you exhale there is an immense cooling effect. Even though the breath is passing through the nostrils, the emphasis is in your throat. The inhalation and exhalation is so steady and smooth that very often you won’t be able to tell the difference between the inhale-exhale cycle.
Learn to practice Ujjayi Pranayama in online live yoga classes with an experienced and certified yoga teacher. Once you have learnt the practice, you can do this any time you wish! You will soon get better and more comfortable, making it possible to use Ujjayi breath more naturally.