Recently I posted a video talking a lot about Ujjayi Breath. If you’ve practised a vinyasa class in the past few years, or almost any yoga class for that matter, is quite possible that the teacher might have mentioned it. Maybe they called it ocean breath, or victorious breath… or simply: ‘constrict slightly the back of your throat both in the inhale and exhale’.

But why? what are the benefits? And can it be practiced on its own?

Originally it wasn’t intended to be practiced constantly during an asana practice, but as a separate pranayama, or breath practice. But Pattabhi Jois, who developed and popularised the vinyasa style of yoga known as Ashtanga Yoga, changed all that and introduced it in all the classes and practices.

In the video, I talk a bit about that and why Patabhi Jois insisted in using that particular breath.

“Ujjayi Pranayama is a balancing and calming breath which increases oxygenation and builds internal body heat.” —Krishnamacharya

Some of the benefits of the breath are:

1. Improves concentration if performed during asana practice.  It Links breath to movement and helps focus the mind and keeps your awareness on the present moment.

2. Builds energy that enhances a flowing practice that maintains the rhythm of the class, if you are practicing a Vinyasa style or similar. It may help you stay in the poses for longer if you are practicing a more static style, like hatha.

3. It diminishes distractions and allows the practitioner to remain self aware and grounded in the practice.

4. Ujjayi breath regulates heating of the body.

5. A focused Ujjayi breath can release tension and tight areas of the body as well as soothes the nervous system.

6. Ujjayi balances the Cardio-respiratory System helping to carry oxygen to your muscles and organs and removing waste.

7.  It may help diminish pain from headaches, relief of sinus pressure, decrease in phlegm, and strengthening of the nervous and digestive systems.  

8. Ujjayi Increases the amount of oxygen in the blood and regulates blood pressure.

But, is it really that good? or necessary?

Unfortunately, despite the many benefits, we should approach the Ujjayi breath with caution. It wasn’t meant to be a breath for beginner practitioners but nowadays many teachers just include it in all their classes routinely without really stopping to think why or where it comes from.

I’m not saying we should no use it in asana practice, I certainly do and teach it to my students. I’m just saying if you are going to teach it or practice it… approach with caution.

Many beginners apply force to the body to create the sound associated with this breath. Especially when beginning practice, it may be difficult to find the right amount of ‘friction’ and students want to really ‘hear’ the sound loudly because that may give them a sense of security, of doing it ‘right’. This enforced narrowing/compression, when practised excessively, may lead to mild or severe disturbances.  It may overheat the system, agitate the mind and disconnect the physical body from the energy systems.

And it can be really distracting for others! If you aren’t practising a strict Ashtanga style, maybe try not using Ujjayi all the time! and when you do, try to be as soft as possible, we don’t need to announce to the world that we are breathing… your practice is yours and for you, and so is your breath.

Urdva Hastasana

If you’d like to know more about it or perhaps you don’t agree or are used to a different type of practice, leave a comment or send me a message! I always love hearing from people and start conversations!

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