Our minds are like the ocean, constantly flowing with thoughts, some meaningful but others distracting. Ujjayi Pranayama, also known as ocean breath, is a great way to anchor your thoughts, bringing you stillness and relaxation, while leaving you energised and refreshed.
Ujjayi is breath-work or pranayama used in several ancient disciplines of yoga such as Hatha and Vinyasas. Translated, Ujjayi means “victorious” - a victory of calm over the chaos that is in your mind.
What makes Ujjayi special is that it is an audible breath, unlike other, more popular, breathing techniques. That is where this way of breathing gets its common name ocean breath from; you sound like the ocean whilst practising Ujjayi. Surprisingly the loud, rumbling, ocean-like sounds you make while practicing Ujjayi breathing help keep you grounded and present, overriding any distracting thoughts that may arise. Thus helping you achieve a meditative focus.
Ujjayi can be practised solely as breath-work or in conjunction with the physical practice, or yog asanas, where it helps you to synchronise movements with your breath, bringing awareness and focus to the practice. Using Ujjayi breathing to compliment your yoga practice is something you can try once you are familiar and comfortable with this breathing technique.
A Beginners Guide To Ujjayi Breathing
- Begin in a comfortable position. This could be leaning against the wall, sitting on a meditation cushion or sitting cross-legged in sukhasana on your yoga mat. Just make sure to keep your spine straight and your heart open.
- Bring awareness to your natural breath: pay attention to how your lungs fill with air as you inhale and deflate like a balloon when you exhale. How your chest rises with each inhalation and belly rises with each exhalation.
- Next, begin to slowly deepen and lengthen your breath while you inhale through your nose in an unforced manner. Picture yourself inhaling through a straw or pipe to allow a slow, steady flow of breath.
- Exhale by relaxing your jaw and opening your throat to make an “ahh” sound. Try to gently constrict your throat so that your exhalation is restricted, creating a smooth and slow sound, just like the ocean waves.
- Repeat several rounds of this breathing pattern while maintaining a steady pace for each inhalation and exhalation using your diaphragm.
- Place your palm in front of your mouth and imagine your exhalation is fogging up a bathroom mirror. This will also help you feel the warmth of the breath and its prana (life force/energy) on your palm.
- As you get more comfortable with this breathing exercise you can also practice Ujjayi breath-work where you exhale with sealed lips making a hissing sound.
- Last but not least, ensure you are comfortable, don’t force anything. It is common to feel overwhelmed, especially while doing these breath-work exercises for the first time. If you feel uncomfortable, take a break. Remember to go at your own pace
The Ujjayi Pranayama helps you bring your focus inward and experience relaxation through breath control. It leaves you more aware of your surroundings and less distracted by the millions of thoughts that muddle our minds.