Ujjayi Breathing

Ujjayi breathing is a popular form of breathing for ashtanga vinyasa and other flow yoga practices. It is referred to as breathing with sound. People using ujjayi breathing during their yoga practice sound like Darth Vader from the Star Wars movies.

Uj means to expand. Jayi means success or victory. Ujjayi breathing is most commonly translated as victory breath.

Breathing with Sound

In yoga, prana or life force is the master of the mind.

The master of prana is sound.

Breathing with sound during your yoga practice can enhance your practice. It gives your mind something to focus on. Ujjayi breathing is an attentiveness training technique, and it enables you to practice yoga poses mindfully.  This is especially important during vinyasa yoga as you flow from one pose to the next.  Movements in and out of the poses are done on an inhalation or exhalation. Some yoga classes omit this important part of yoga.

The act of listening to your breath also refines your breath, quiets your mind, and brings you back to the moment.

While you are learning ujjayi breathing think of your breath sounding like a gentle breeze blowing through the trees, a waterfall in the distance, or the ocean from afar, whichever image is more relaxing to you. Mastering ujjayi breathing like anything else takes practice. Be patient and do not get frustrated.

Ujjayi Breathing Lesson

  1. In Ujjayi breathing the back of the throat should be relaxed and widened producing a slight closing of  the glottis which in turn causes the air to make a gentle whispering sound.
  2. Begin your practice of ujjayi breathing by whispering an  “ahhh” or “urr” sound with your mouth open. Begin on an exhalation and feel the breath touching the back of your throat.
  3. Completely empty the lungs with the sound.
  4. Now inhale whispering an “ahhh” or “urrr” sound. Again, feel the breath touching the back of your throat.
  5. Completely fill your lungs with the sound.
  6. Repeat this sequence several more times.
  7. Now, exhale with your mouth open then halfway through the exhalation close your mouth so the breath switches to your nostrils while maintaining the feeling of air striking at the back of the throat.
  8. Do the same with the inhale. Start with your mouth open. Close your mouth half way through the breath and feel the air on the back of your throat.
  9. Listen to the sound—a soft aspirant sound on the inhale and a throaty hissing sound on the exhale.
  10. This is the beginning of ujjayi breathing.
  11. As your practice of ujjayi breathing continues, make sure you finish each inhalation and exhalation completely.

Each inhalation will eventually expand your back, the kidney area, the chest around the diaphragm, and will fill the heart area fully to the collarbones and the inner armpits.

Each exhalation creates a lifting of the pelvic floor.

The qualities of ujjayi breathing are:

  • Smoothness
  • Evenness
  • Depth
  • Strength
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