Ujjayi: Ocean Breathing

You are alive by breath, you are a product of breath, and your realization is through breath. The moment you are in touch with your breath, the universe pours into you.
— Yogi Bajhan

I don't know about you, but I love the ocean—sparkling water, salty sand, smooth stones, sand-dollars—and the sound of waves as reassuring and life-affirming as heartbeats.

Although it is not as wonder-full as being at the ocean, or practicing Ujjayi on a beachpracticing Ujjayi brings the ocean to one's moment wherever one is. Wherever whenever I practice Ujjayi, the infinite ocean laps at the shore of my being in a way that those seashells I listened to as a child only hinted.

If you haven't yet had the pleasure, you may be wondering, what is Ujjayi (pronounced oo-jai)?

Ujjayi breathing is a foundational yogic breathing technique in which one breathes through the nose while slightly constricting the epiglottis at the back of the throat, creating a whispering “haaa” or soft whooshing sound reminiscent of ocean waves.

BTW, if the ocean imagery isn't inspiring you, just summon your inner Darth Vader--you know, the benevolent yogi version of Darth Vader. Whatever works. 

Whatever your imagery, it should sound something like this: 

Ocean breath from Maria Lantin on Vimeo.

Ujjayi can be practiced anywhere, but it is particularly powerful when combined with asana practice. The rhythmic sound of one’s breathing reinforces one’s awareness of the breath, sustains the flow of prana, and induces a more meditative state of mind. It also serves as an audible indicator that guides one's practice, reminding one to practice with the breath, engaging poses only as much as one can comfortably sustain one's breathing. 

Traditionally, when practicing Ujjayi, one inhales, retains the breath, and then exhales in a ratio of x: 4x: 2x.  For example, if x equals 4, one counts to four when inhaling, holds for a count of sixteen, and then exhales for a count of eight.  However, depending on one’s lung capacity, it is sometimes easier to begin with an equal 4:4:4 ratio, and gradually progress to more advanced counts as one’s lung capacity increases with practice.   

Play with different breath rhythms until you find one that suits you. Also, sometimes it is easier to get the hang of Ujjayi if you try it a few times with an open mouth to begin, and then, try it with mouth closed, breathing solely through the nose. Although the breath may seem a bit uneven or ragged in the beginning, with practice Ujjayi becomes steady, rhythmic, and soothing like the sound of calm ocean waves.

  • Sit up straight (cross legged on the floor or on a chair with your feet on the floor if you prefer)...
  • Drop your shoulders and pull them back slightly to open your chest...
  • Close your mouth, keeping your tongue and jaw relaxed...
  • Relax your belly, expanding your diaphragm...
  • Breathe...
  • Inhale through your nose while slightly constricting the muscles at the back of the throat to create a soft whispering “ha” sound (like the sound you would make if you were fogging a mirror with your breath)...
  • Allow your lungs to fill from the bottom up...
  • Exhale through your nose, creating the same sound...
  • Breathe smoothly and evenly with each inhalation and exhalation, surfing the sound of your breath...

Enjoy riding the waves of your being and becoming.