What is ujjayi breath?

Most yoga classes start with asking you to “find your üjjayi breath” and unless it has been properly explained to you, this may have been confusing. So here we’ll break it down.

What is üjjayi breath?

Ujjayi (pronounced oo-jai) is commonly translated as “victorious breath,” and has been used for thousands of years to enhance the physical asana (yoga postures) practice. Also commonly referred to as the “oceanic breath,” the sound that Ujjayi provides helps us to synchronize breath with movements during yoga, making the entire yoga practice more rhythmic.

How to ujjayi breath?

With your mouth open, try exhaling the sound “HAAAAH”—it’s similar to the sound you make when you’re trying to fog up a mirror. Get comfortable with this sound to get the hang of the practice.

Close your mouth and attempt a similar sound, feeling the outflow of air through your nasal passages. Once you have mastered this on the outflow, use the same method for the in-flow breath, gently constricting the back of your throat as you inhale.

Gently pulling the breath in on inhalation and gently pushing the breath out on exhalation against this resistance creates a well-modulated and soothing sound. Some small effort is required to produce a pleasing sound, but too much effort creates a grasping quality and a grating sound.

Why is ujjayi breathing important?
  • It creates heat in the body through the friction of the air passing through the lungs and throat, preparing the body for physical practice.
  • It focuses the mind, keeping ourselves more “present”, diminishing distractions and allowing us to immerse deeper into the practice.
  • A soft and smooth Ujjayi breath can help to relax the muscles in slow deep stretching, and allow us to release emotions and blockages which may be the cause of stiffness.
  • If in a challenging pose, the Ujjayi breath can assist with endurance, meaning we can stay in the pose for longer.
  • Alternatively, it can act as a gage as to when we need to rest. If the Ujjayi breath becomes strained, or is no longer smooth then we can recognize that we need to take a step back and let go of the ego.
  • There are also physiological benefits to practicing Ujjayi such as reducing headaches, relief from sinus pain, and stimulating the nervous and digestive systems.

You can practice Ujjayi breath any time you wish. You don't have to be on your yoga mat. FACT - you cannot hyperventilate or even cry and practice Ujjayi breath at the same time. So next time when you’re upset and overwhelmed, why not give it a go?