The foundation of any yoga practice is the breath. It is the fundamental element that helps the practitioner become more aware of the Self. It allows the yogi to move deeper into themselves. When one is able to sit in stillness with their breath, a sense of calm and peace can be achieved.
The act of breathing is an involuntary operation: we don't have to think about breathing in and out....it just happens. In the yoga practice, however, we breathe with intention and effort. Again, this allows for a greater connection to Self. When we pay attention to the flow of breath, it is difficult to think about anything else. You become centered, present, and balanced just by focusing on the inhales and exhales.
Ujjayi Breath is a style of breathing that is typically done during the yoga practice that keeps the practitioner aware and present. The word ujjayi means "victorious breath" and in this home practice, we will focus on being more victorious in and with ourselves. Below is a description of one way you can practice the Ujjayi Breath or Victorious Breath.
When you begin your yoga practice, you often start by standing in Mountain Pose. Standing in stillness and silence allows for the opportunity to focus on the ujjayi breathing. Let's practice this exercise, though, while seated in Easy Pose. Sit up nice and tall with an extended spine and straight back. Close your eyes to begin your journey inward. In your stillness, simply be aware that you are breathing. Breathe in and out through your nose. You don't have to do anything special with the breath at this point. Just be aware that you are breathing. You may feel breath move and out of your body...perhaps through your nostrils.
From here you will shift that sensation of nostril breathing to throat breathing. This will help to engage the ujjayi breath. To initiate the throat breathing, allow your mouth to open and take a few breaths in and out through your mouth. As you draw in breath, feel the airy hollowness of breath moving into the back of your mouth. As you exhale, breathe out as if you are fogging a mirror. (Place your hand in front of your mouth to mimic a mirror to simulate this exercise. Feel the warm air hit your hand as you release the breath.) Do that a few times then continue this process of breathing with your mouth CLOSED. You may feel that same sensation in the back of your throat as you did when you had your mouth open. You've begun ujjayi breathing.
If you you continue this practice, you may find that you can take slower and deeper breaths. Also, you may hear a sound which we sometimes refer to as the Ujjayi Sound. It may sound like an ocean wave rolling onto the beach. As you deepen the breath here, really feel the expansion of your lungs. You may feel your chest rise with each inhale. As you exhale, try to maintain the victorious breath high in your chest by engaging your abdominal muscles. Feel your navel draw in toward your spine. This is the abdominal lock or Uddiyana Bandha. Again, the more you practice this style of breath, you will also expand the capacity of your lungs AND strengthen your core.
Taking deep breaths is an intention process and takes your attention to do so. Further, Ujjayi Breathing helps to calm the circulatory system so it can help relieve stress and anxiety. Practice Ujjayi Breath for about 2 minutes and experience the calming effects of the practice. When you are in your next yoga class, be sure to connect to this way of breathing to help guide you and move you through your practice.
Try Ujjayi Breathing today and let us know how you did and what you felt afterward.