When hearing Ujjayi for the first time, many are reminded of their first Star Wars viewing, with Darth Vader breathing heavily into his mask, telling Luke the truth of his identity. Who knows if the source of inspiration for Darth Vader’s voice was taken from yoga science, but Ujjayi is a pranayama worth examining and exploring in depth….
When you first begin the path of Yoga, you may noticed an extreme amount of emphasis on the breath. Yoga, meaning union, strives to find cohesion between the body and the mind, and the breath serves as a vehicle to unite the two. You can imagine the breath as the chain links that connect one to the other, thereby having a tremendous influence on both mind and body. Ujjayi is extremely helpful when first attempting to cultivate breath awareness, and to match the breath with the movements of the body. Often times, beginning practitioners are confused with their inhalations and exhalations, and using an audible breath allows the senses to tune into the motion of the breath as you flow in and out of postures.
Ujjayi breathing is a pranayama practice described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The word ujjayi means “victorious”—from the verb ujji meaning “to conquer or acquire by conquest.”The great thing about Ujjayi is it’s versatility. It can be done while sitting, walking, during your asana, or even waiting in line (as long as you don’t mind a few looks from your neighbors!!).
Ujjayi slows and deepens the breath and tones the muscles of respiration. It is said to be helpful therapeutically in the treatment of tonsillitis, sore throat, chronic cold, and bronchial asthma. It is used to prevent throat ailments of various kinds. And it is helpful for relieving anxiety by slowing down the breath and calming the nervous sytem.
Stop practicing Ujjayi if you feel light headed or dizzy, moving back to your diaphragmatic breath instead.
1. Sit in a comfortable seated pose, with your head neck and trunk aligned. Inhale and exhale deeply with your nose, using the diaphragm, instead of your chest to breathe. You will feel your lower abdomen, sides of the ribcage, and lower back expanding and contracting with your breath.
2. On the exhales, begin to tone the back of the throat, slightly constricting the passage of air. Try partially closing the glottis, the aperture in the throat just behind the larynx. The glottis is contracted when you whisper, so if you are having trouble first whisper a few words to isolate the action in your throat, and then eliminate the words all together.
3. Once you are comfortable with the exhale, begin to apply the same toning of the throat to the inhales. This is the full Ujjayi pranayama. You may notice how the sound you are making resembles that of the sound of the waves in a conch shell.
5. Now start to use this breath during your practice. Ujjayi is an excellent preparation for meditation, allowing us to hone in on and deepen the breath first, and then let it go as we move in to our meditation practice.
…And who knows, maybe the source of Darth Vader’s power was in his breath after all!