As Eddie Vedder sings, “just breathe.” Oh if only it were that simple in yoga class!
One of my favorite teachers at The Green Yogi likes to say “a yoga class is like a buffet, every asana is optional with one exception, your breath.” Specifically your Ujjayi breath, translated as victorious breath, which even a seasoned yogi can struggle to find and maintain through their practice.
When practiced correctly Ujjayi breath should be both energizing and relaxing, just like everything in yoga it’s about counterbalance. Our breath when listened to, can be our teacher, guiding us through not just our physical practice but in to the deepest recesses of our minds. There is an intimate connection between breath and mind, which is why more so than any other form of exercise, yoga is not just strengthening but calming and meditative as well.
To practice Ujjayi breath and experience its benefits gently constrict the opening of your throat to create some resistance to the passage of air. Gently pull the breath in on the inhalation and gently push the breath out on the exhalation against this resistance. This exchange of air flow creates a long, smooth, soothing sound similar to the sound of ocean waves rolling in and out. When I teach and practice Ujjayi breath I love using the sound of crashing waves at the beginning of class to match my breath to the rhythmic cadence of the ocean.
These are some of the awesome benefits you can experience when you practice Ujjayi breath.
- enhance endurance for your flow creating a stronger moving meditation.
- clear your mind and improve concentration during your physical practice, which translates into longer duration of time in poses.
- release tension and stress in your body and mind.
- generate internal heat and prepare your body for a physical practice.
- cleanse toxins from internal organs.
- practice honestly, Ujjayi is a communication in our body telling us when we need to let go of ego and rest.
- breathing through the challenges of our physical practice encourages equinimity during everyday life.
In yoga, as in life, breath is paramount. The inhale invigorates and brings in life while the exhale soothes and clears stagnancy within body and mind.