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Breathe In, Breathe Out: Proper Yoga Breathing


By Liz Rosenblum - 5/16/2013

Yoga exercises in the autumn city park
  Photo Credit: Aleksandr Markin / Shutterstock.com

Yoga is often thought of as a quiet activity. It's void of the grunting of weight lifting. There's no loud music and clapping that take place in an aerobics class. Yoga doesn't even have the sound of machines such as a treadmill or exercise bike. But when it comes to yogic breathing, sound is encouraged.

Ujjayi breathing, pronounced you-JYE-yee, is a type of breathing incorporated into many yoga practices including Hatha, Vinyasa and Ashtanga. In Sanskrit, Ujjayi means victorious. Done properly, Ujjayi breathing is compared to the soft sound of waves in the ocean. The sound is not meant to be heard by everyone in the room, but should be at a volume that the practitioner can hear themselves, and, generally, a few other people nearby.

When done during a practice, the breathing technique can enhance the practice.

So, how is Ujjayi breathing accomplished?

The first step is to make sure you're breathing in and out through your nostrils.

Next, constrict the muscles in the back of the throat. Take a deep and smooth breath in. You should notice a bit of resistance to the air as you pull it into your body. With the exhalation, which should be done equally long and smooth, push the air out of the body while still keeping the slight contraction in your throat. When done correctly, the noise you make will be a beautiful resonance similar to the sound of the ocean.

Often the teacher will encourage the class to engage their Ujjayi breathing early in the practice and will remind the class to check in on it throughout the practice.

When you consider that yoga is a moving meditation, Ujjayi breathing makes sense to add to your practice. Focusing on a specific breathing technique such as this helps to clear the mind of outside influences thereby deepening the experience.

This breathing style also comes with a variety of other benefits.
1. In practices such as Hatha or Ashtanga where the postures are help longer, the slow, focused Ujjayi breathing can help in holding some of the more challenging positions.
2. The slow, long, deep breaths in Ujjayi breathing can help deepen postures. Postures that can seem basic, where it's easy to just 'hang out' become more active postures when Ujjayi breathing is incorporated.
3. Breathing, in general, is important to get oxygen moving throughout the body and to the brain. It's easy for people who are busy or under high stress to find they hold their breath during the day. Making deep breaths a part of the practice guarantee that more oxygen is taken in along with its benefits.
4. Deep breaths help strengthen the nervous system and relax tightness throughout the body.
5. Ujjayi breathing helps to build internal heat, helping to massage the internal organs and improve the overall functioning of the many systems of the body.

Ujjayi breathing is intended to be incorporated throughout the practice up until Sivasana and which time you'll want to go back to easy breathing with diminished focus.

You can start by focusing just on the inhalation, then expand to working on the exhalation. Also, if you are uncomfortable doing Ujjayi breathing along with the movements, practice the technique in a comfortable seated posture, before making it part of your practice.

If you notice you're struggling with Ujjayi breathing, it may be a sign that you need to make modifications to your practice to find what's right for you. The breathing should not be challenging. It should work with you and act as an aid to your practice.

Let your breath be your guide and you'll likely find even more benefits than those listed here.


 








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