The Ujjayi Breathing (the “Victorius” Breath)
“Breathing is one of the simplest things in the world. We breathe in, we breathe out. When we breathe with real freedom, we neither grasp for nor hold on to the breath. No effort is required to pull the breath in or push the breath out. Given the simplicity of breathing one would think it was the easiest thing to do in the world. However if it were truly so easy there would be few unhappy or unhealthy people in the world. To become a welcome vessel for the breath is to live life without trying to control, grasp, or push away. And how easy is this? The process of breathing is the most accurate metaphor we have for the way that we personally approach life, how we live our lives, and how we react to the inevitable change that life brings to us. ”— Donna Farhi
Breathing techniques were developed based on the concept that breath is the source of life. The prana is the notion of a vital, life-sustaining force of living beings and vital energy. Prana is a central concept of yoga, where it is believed to flow through a network of fine subtle channels called nadis. Its most subtle material form is the breath, but is also to be found in blood, and its most concentrated form is semen in men and vaginal fluid in women.
In Yoga, students gain breathing control as they slowly engage their breathing. By focusing on their breath, they prepare their minds for the next step, which is a meditative state.
For more interesting facts about the importance of breathing, please check:
“Ujjayi Pranayama is a balancing and calming breath which increases oxygenation and builds internal body heat.” Krishnamacharya
The breath of yoga, which is also known as breath of fire, is called Ujjayi. Ujjayi breathing is a diaphragmatic breath technique, which the length and speed of the breath is controlled by the diaphragm. The breath first fills the lower belly (activating the first and second chakras), rises to the lower rib cage (the third and fourth chakras), and finally moves into the upper chest and throat.
Inhalations and exhalations are both done through the nose, and are equal in duration. They are controlled in a manner that causes no distress to the practitioner. During inhalation, the diaphragm lowers (the Buddha belly rises) allowing the practitioner to take in more oxygen. During exhalation, the diaphragm rises, and the abdominal muscles are contracted, allowing for a more complete exhalation.
As the throat and the airway are narrowed, the passage of air creates a “rushing” sound. You should not hear any sound coming from your nose. It is a rhythmic sound, like the sound of ocean waves rolling in. This is why Ujjayi is also called the “oceanic breath”. For this reason, I really enjoy teaching oceanfront yoga classes. You can match the breath with the sound of the ocean, which improves relaxation, focus, and staying present in the moment.
Try this exercise: breathe 2 times with the open mouth, then seal your lips, and breathe in and out through the nose. Imagine that you were fogging-up a mirror in front of you, but with the mouth closed. This breath is known as the “Loud Breath”, which when it is done properly, is smooth and pleasant to hear. When you are in a yoga class, let your neighbors hear you breathing. It is a great opportunity to deepen your own breath and to inspire them to do the same.
Ujjayi breathing should be used continuously throughout Vinyasa yoga (the style I teach). Ujjayi is also a helpful way for the yogi or yogini to keep the vital life force, prana, circulating throughout the body rather than escaping from it. Ujjayi is said to be similar to the breathing of a new-born baby before the prana begins to flow out into the external environment.