Ujjayi: A Breath to Massage Your Nervous System
There is one yogic breathing technique that can be practiced anytime by just about anyone: Ujjayi pranayama.
The word Ujjayi means “victorious” in Sanskrit. The prefix ud means upward and superior, and jaya (from root ji) means to conquer and have victory over. Consistent practice of ujjayi breath, can lead to victorious results for your body and mind.
The benefits of ujjayi breath are multifold. In addition to aerating the lungs and removing excess phlegm, this soothing breath boosts endurance and gently warms the body. Evidence also suggests that it can help counter high blood pressure. Essentially, ujjayi is like a massage for the nervous system.
Here’s how to practice:
- Find a comfortable seat in a chair or on the floor (Sit on a folded blanket or pillow for extra support).
- Maintaining a tall spine, close your eyes and begin to breathe normally through both nostrils. Observe the flow of the air in and out of the body.
- Once you’re familiar with the course of your breath, take a slow, deep breath in through the nostrils. Try to focus the air on the palate and back of the throat and begin creating a gentle sibilant saaaaa sound. It should be an ocean like sound, or like having your ear against a conch shell. Fill the lungs entirely and then…
- Breathe out slowly, once again focusing the air on the back of the throat/palate. The sea-like sound is caused by a subtle constriction of the glottis, which is the aperture of the larynx. The breath should be just loud enough that someone sitting close to you would hear it. Try not to breathe too forcefully. I’m fond of Ashtanga teacher Tim Miller’s description of ujjayi, “Imagine sipping the breath in through a straw. If the suction is too strong the straw collapses and great force is required to suck anything through it.”
- Continue for 3 to 15 minutes. If possible, rest in savasana or legs-up-the-wall after.
Note: Ujjayi breath can also be carried throughout your yoga practice as you hold and transition through poses.
Observe how much space you’ll discover in body and mind!
by Sophie Slater
Photos by Chloe Bolton (from Brazil) & Sophie Slater (from Italy)