I am amazed at the number of people who come from other yoga classes and have never even heard the word Ujjayi let alone practiced this ultimate yoga pranayama.
Ujjayi means Victorious Breath and here's why you should use it throughout your yoga class:
1) Slow the breath down. By tightening the larynx in the throat we restrict airflow. This has the effect of slowing the rate at which we breathe and gives us greater control over our breath. By changing the way we breathe, we can potentially change the way we feel. Slowing down the exhalation makes us feel calmer and more relaxed.
2) Breathe into the belly. You may recall that when we are stressed, we tend to pull the breath into the chest and breathe rapidly. This gives the brain the message that we are under threat, that we need to escape the stressor and therefore the body enters the stress response. Slow the breath down and we can enable the breath to move downwards into the belly, suggesting to the brain that we are at rest and can relax. Belly breathing utilises the diaphragm rather than the chest, the main respiratory muscle.
3) Greater control over how and where we breathe. By slowing the breath down, we can direct the breath to specific areas of the body where there may be tension for instance. We can literally learn to breathe the tension away!
4) Heightening self awareness. Slowing the rate of breathing slows the rate at which we move. Because we use Ujjayi throughout our asana practice and move with the breath, we move more slowly than usual. This heightens our self awareness. It teaches us more about how we move so that we can make changes and improve our posture.
5) Relax. Using Ujjayi, the body enters the relaxation response more quickly. This is because restricting the airflow is thought to 'tone' the Vagus nerve that acts as a brake on the heart, increasing parasympathetic activity such as digestion.
Ujjayi breathing is particularly beneficial for High Blood Pressure, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or other digestive complaints and in dealing with stress, anxiety or depression depending on the ratio of inhalation to exhalation. Please seek professional help if you suffer from any of these conditions before practicing Ujjayi on your own.
Put your hand in front of your mouth. With your mouth open, make a Haa sound as if huffing up a piece of glass to clean it. The more slowly you can let the sound leave your mouth, the easier this will be. Now try closing your mouth half way along the breath so that you continue to make the Haa sound from your throat. Finally try making the Haa sound with your mouth closed. It is almost as though your are breathing directly out of your throat; pushing the air through a small space as gently as if you were blowing onto a baby's face.
It is usually easier to begin with the exhalation alone and to only try Ujjayi on the inhalation when you understand the practice.