What is ujjayi breath and why do we use it?

If you’ve been to a yoga class before, it’s likely you’ve heard the term ujjayi breath (sounds a little like ooh-ja-eee). Whether you had any idea what that meant is another story. On the flip side, you might have heard the person next to you breathing quite loud and deep and not completely understood how that was happening? These two things are one in the same. One of the most commonly used breathing techniques (or pranayama) in our yoga practice. Our ujjayi breath.

Let’s start by working out what ujjayi breath is.

Ujjayi breath, often translated to victorious breath or oceanic breath, is a breathing technique we use in our hatha/vinyasa practice to both calm and energise the body. This breath is intended to be long, controlled, and smooth. This pranayama (or breath control) is used commonly in classes of all levels.

We move into this way of breathing by closing the mouth and breathing in and out of the nose. We then constrict or tighten the muscles at the back of the throat slightly. Imagine you were trying to fog up a mirror or sigh, but the lips stay closed. It’s an ‘haah’ sound. You can then start to feel the breath a little more in the back of the throat. When practising this breath, start with the exhale, it can be easier to master at the start. Then work to keep it moving on both your inhale and exhale. When we are breathing like this it can be quite loud and sound like the ocean moving and swaying, which is how it got the name oceanic breath. It’s good to work on this technique in a comfortable seated pose before trying to incorporate it into more strenuous shapes.

The benefits of Ujjayi breath

This type of breathing has so many benefits for our practice itself but also for the body.

Firstly in terms of our practice, it allows us to slow and deepen the breath, which gives us more time and space when we move one breath per movement. This allows us to hold shapes for longer but is also helping us to create our own speed and rhythm in a flow.  It is very helpful in building internal heat and warmth as well as energy and prana flow in the body. Plus it is really helpful in guiding us back to the present moment as we can hear it and feel it more than regular breath.

When it comes to the body alone, this technique can help us to increase the amount of air and therefore oxygen that is entering the body, it helps relieve tension, helps to regulate blood pressure, and helps to detoxify the body as our breath is the greatest tool for detoxification available to us (except the liver, of course).

While it’s intended use is in the yoga room, this way of breathing can help us off the mat as well. If you find yourself stressed, tense, or nervous, this way of breathing allows you to slow the breath and the body, while also calming and focusing the mind. Try 10 rounds of breath and see how you can shift the way you feel.

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