11 Ujjayi Breathing Signals You’ve Probably Never Heard Before

June 26, 2023 0 Comments

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We tend to manage life by turning our senses outward. We’re constantly streaming music, scrolling through social media, and binging on Netflix. If we’re not careful, our days go on autopilot.

Our breathing is also largely autonomous. But by redirecting our awareness inward, to our in-breaths and out-breaths, we begin to bring more presence and purpose to everything we do, ensuring that nothing happens on autopilot.

Ujjayi (pronounced ooh-jai-yee) can help with this. Translated from Sanskrit as “upward victory”, Ujjayi is a form pranayamaor breathing that is slow and audible and is commonly called “victory breathing.”

It’s quite simple: inhale and exhale through the nose, calm and slow, with a gentle sound coming from the back of the throat. Although many of us are familiar with Ujaya as the breathing pattern taught by yoga teachers, it can be used any time of the day when you need to slow down or feel more alive.

What are the benefits of Ujaya breathing?

The yogic tradition states that the practice of Ujjaya energizes the body while bringing the mind into a meditative state. It is said to enhance awareness of the senses and thus ground us in the present moment, helping to calm the mind. Modern science is finally catching up with ancient wisdom.

Research shows that Ujjayi triggers a parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) response in us, where rest and rejuvenation can occur. When practicing Ujayi, we change our breathing rate from 12-16 breaths per minute to six to eight breaths. Slow, deep, conscious breathing helps the body go into a relaxed state, although it is important to maintain a large volume of air entering the lungs.

I have found Ujjayi to be extremely effective in relieving anxiety in everyday life. I used to be a constant mouth breather with a tendency to shallow, anxious breathing. I’ve learned that by taking slow, mindful breaths, I can direct my awareness to the core of my being and increase the likelihood of making the right decisions that will create a more balanced life. Ujai taught me to breathe peace into my life.

Ujjayi is sometimes called “psychic breath” because it is believed to unlock sticky mind patterns known as samskaras. Past actions, events or traumas create negative mental impressions. We keep playing these habitual thought patterns like a broken record until we become aware of them and replace them with positive samskaras.

This ancient teaching is reflected in the recently discovered science of neuroplasticity, the ability of our neural pathways to reorganize and create new patterns in the mind. In yoga philosophy, Ujjayi is believed to help stimulate the flow of prana within the energy body and, as a result, bring to the surface any stuck emotions and thought patterns.

How to practice Ujaya breathing

Ujayi requires a subtle awareness of one’s body. According to Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a fifteenth-century text, Ujjayi is achieved through contraction of the epiglottis. This is a flap of cartilage at the back of the tongue that protects the trachea from anything but air. “The Ujjayi method turns the epiglottis into a valve,” explains Gregor Maele in Ashtanga yoga.

Try to squeeze the back of your throat slightly by closing your lips and speaking softly. Inhale and exhale through the nose, slightly activating the back wall of the throat. Maintain audible breathing that is not loud or forceful.

The resulting sound is often compared to ocean waves or Darth Vader’s voice. But, as Richard Freeman mentions in The art of vinyasa, Ujjayi should actually sound more like a whisper or the wind between the trees. This is an intimate practice that you, and only you, must experience and hear. You can rely on it anytime you need to slow your thoughts and calm your body.

11 tips to help you understand Ujaya’s breathing

Ujjayi seems simple, and it is, although it may take some practice to become intuitive. Instead of making the breath sound like something, try a more subtle approach that focuses on the actual action rather than the result. The following tips can help you better approximate and understand the mild contraction at the back of the throat that leads to Ujaya. To connect with the sound of your own breathing while studying, try closing your ears.

Fog on the window with a painted heart

1. Fog the window

Have you ever screamed “haaaaaah” in front of a window or mirror to write something silly or maybe draw a heart? This exhalation should come from the back of the throat. Practicing this can help you understand the technique and sound of the ujaya. Tighten the muscles as if you are trying to fog the mirror, but the lips should remain closed.

2. Pretend to yawn

When we yawn quietly, we make an Ujaya-like sound that comes from the same deep throat.

3. Breathe through a straw

Imagine that you are inhaling air through a straw and you will understand which area of ​​the throat you need to activate in Ujjayi.

The child gargles while standing near the mirror

4. Consider gargling

When you lift your chin to the sky to gargle, you instinctively close your throat. Anatomically speaking, this is the same area of ​​the throat where Ujjayi originates.

5. Imagine that you have a stethoscope on your chest

Remember how you instinctively react when a doctor places a stethoscope on your chest and back and asks you to take a deep, audible breath. It’s like Ujjayi — except with a cold metal tool on your skin.

6. Chant the Sa Ha Mantra (mentally)

Inhaling, mentally repeat “sa” on inhalation, and “ha” on exhalation. Extend each vowel sound so that it lasts 3-5 seconds.

Two women are whispering
(Photo: Westend61 | Getty)

7. Whisper while breathing

How exactly to combine breathing with whispering? Try. The result is silky breath. This very action — without speaking — is Ujjayi.

8. (Slight) sound of snoring

Think of the slight sound of snoring. I’m emphasizing “light” here since we don’t want to spray the decks. Think of it as a low hissing sound coming from the back of your throat.

9. Breathe like a scuba diver

If you scuba dive, you know what I’m talking about. If not, you can imagine the sound of divers breathing underwater. It’s slow and actually sounds like Darth Vader.

10. Breathe upwards

As you inhale with your mouth closed, imagine the air moving up along the roof of your mouth, as if you’re trying to pull it toward the top of your head. As you exhale, continue to focus on moving the air up against the roof of your mouth. This provides physical feedback on the sensation of the air as it flows through the body during Ujaya, a tactile reminder of the breathing practice. Because the mouth is closed with Ujjayi, the air does not interact directly with the palate, but the energy and intention remain the same.

11. Imagine warmth along the back wall of the throat

As you inhale and exhale, visualize a lazy summer day and the sunset warming the area along your throat.

About our contributor

Derek Doritis aims to help people feel free from anxiety. He shares his teachings on YouTube and strives to improve people’s lives through yoga. He studied Ashtanga and Hatha Yoga in India and has been teaching on the beaches of the Mediterranean for the past seven years. He is currently building a yoga retreat in the mountains of Cyprus. Follow him @derekyoga

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