Before I started practicing Yoga, I heard the multifold benefits of Ujjayi Pranayama from my friends. In my quest for more knowledge on “What is Ujjayi Pranayama?” I did some research and discovered that the word ujjayi (pronounced as ‘oo’ + ‘jai’) literally means ‘victorious’. The Ujjayi pranayama has been in use for thousands of years to enhance the Hatha Yoga Practice. This is also called as ‘Ocean breath’, as the inhalation and exhalation are done by contracting the nostrils thus making the breath long and thin. The inhalations are made with a sibilant sound ‘ssss’ and exhalations are made with an aspirate sound ‘hhhhaaaa’.
Benefits of Ujjayi Pranayama
- Brings a sedative and calming effect to the mind
- Relieves Insomnia
- Relieves stress and tension
- Increases the oxygen flow into the blood
- Assists in clearing blocked arteries and regulates cholesterol
- Purifies and energizes the body internally along with outer control and conditioning
- Slows the heart rate (beneficial for those with high blood pressure)
- Improves the concentration power
- Detoxifies the body and mind
- Helps to create a positive attitude
- People with asthma and respiratory problems can be benefitted immensely
- Improves the presence of mind, self-awareness, and meditative qualities
- Helps children with lisping problem
- Prevents thyroid and makes voice sweet and melodious
- Beneficial in chronic cold and cough
Precautions to be followed
- Always do the exercise within your ability to hold the breath
- You shouldn’t tighten your throat while practicing Ujjayi pranayama
- It is recommended to practice the pranayama with the assistance of a qualified Yoga teacher, especially if you have a respiratory condition such as asthma or emphysema
- At any point during the exercise, if you feel uncomfortable, faint or dizzy, stop the exercise and relax. Consult your Yoga teacher before starting the exercise again
How to do Ujjai Pranayama (The Basic Form)
- Sit in a comfortable asana be it Sukhasana (Easy Pose), Padmasana (lotus pose), Vajrasana (thunderbolt pose), or Siddhasana (accomplished pose)
- Make your head straight with chin parallel to the floor. Relax and close your eyes gently
- Rest your palms on your knees in chin mudra with thumb and index fingers of both hands touching and other fingers extended. This is done to form a circuit so that the prana gets directed to the brain
- Take three breaths – inhale deeply and exhale slowly. The breathing ratio of inhalation to exhalation should be 1:2.
- On your third exhalation, gently contract the back of your throat (the glottis). Press the tip of the tongue gently upwards against your palate and make the sound ‘hhhhaaaa’. This creates a soft snoring sound
- Keeping your throat contracted, inhale deeply making the sound ‘ssss’. You will start noticing your breath making an “ocean sound” like ocean waves. When you practice as a novice, the breath would be audible. However, as you practice, it will become so subtle that only the practitioner can hear it
- Initially, you may practice Ujjai pranayama for 3 to 5 minutes and gradually increase to 15 minutes
- As you get experienced, you may begin to link your breath with your asana movements throughout the practice
- When your practice is complete, release your breath and lie down in savasana (the corpse pose)
During your initial days of practice, if you find trouble in getting the right sound for your breath, you can try the following tips:
- Open your mouth and exhale the sound ‘hhhhaaaa’. Get comfortable with this sound
- Contract the back of your throat and now, attempt to make the same sound with your mouth closed. Feel the outflow of air through your nasal passages. After you exhale, inhale normally. Repeat this until you master the exhalation breath with this
- After mastering the exhalation breath, use the same method while inhalation (contracting the back of your throat)
- When done correctly, your breath should sound like ocean waves. The inhales sound like the water is gathering up to form a wave and the exhales sound like the waves are hitting the shores.
- Beware of faking the breathing action in case you did not follow how to do it properly. If you hold the breath when you move into the pose and squeeze out a couple of breaths before moving into the next pose, then you would find yourself covered in sweat, panting hard and try desperately to get oxygen into the body resulting in getting nowhere near the peace of mind.
- When you follow the breath gracefully, your practice will become effortless and your movements will become much more efficient and powerful as they are synched with the breath.
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In my next post, check out the variations of Ujjayi Pranayama.