What is Ujjayi Pranayama?
Have you ever heard your yoga instructor saying “cultivate your ujjayi pranayama…”?
Excuse me, my what? Cultivate?
There is always more to learn in yoga – so whether you have heard this term before, or not, read on! I double dog dare you!
How do we say it?
Where does it originate?
Like many terms in yoga, ujjayi pranayama is sanskrit term. What is sanskrit? Sankrit is an ancient Indic language of India, in which the Hindu scriptures and classical Indian epic poems are written and from which many northern Indian languages were derived.
But what does it mean?
Let’s break it down…
What is ujjayi?
Ujjayi is sanskrit for “to conquer” or “to be victorious.”
What is pranayama?
Pranayama breaks down into two base words – prana-yama. In sanskrit, “prana” means “life energy” and “yama” means “moral discipline.” Together, “pranayama” is sanskrit for “the regulation of breath through certain techniques and exercises.” Pranayama is considered one of the classical Eight Limbs of Yoga – a whole separate, large topic for conversation!
So what is ujjayi pranayama?
Ujjayi pranayama is a breathing technique used throughout Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga practices. The purpose of the practice is to help calm the mind and warm the body. When practicing ujjayi pranayama, you breathe through your knows – completely filling your lungs while slightly contracting your throat. This breath is sometimes called “ocean breath,” “hissing breath,” or “victorious breath” – however, it is most often referred to as “ujjayi breath.”
Why is breath so important in yoga?
Daily stressors, tensions, and physical habits can affect our breathing without our awareness. Our breath can become gradually more shallow or even stilted. We develop unconscious patterns of breathing which restrict the flow of breath. When we work on regulating breath through pranayama (breathing exercises), some argue we are also working on “letting the life energy flow through our body.” Regulating breath can do amazing things – it can energize, relax and heal all at the same time. I know, I know – it sounds somewhat hokey! But there is a reason our parents always told us to take deep breaths when we were freaking out as little kids.
Our breathing is linked to our emotional states. We breathe differently when we are excited, nervous, upset, angry, or even tired. This is why we can calm or energize ourselves with our breath. Even by taking a few moments to be aware of one’s own breath, we can begin to alter our own emotional state. This is why maintaining a steady, rhythmic breath is so incredibly important in yoga. By controlling your breath, you can calm your mind and truly bring awareness to the present moment. This is why practicing breathing exercises can be especially beneficial for those suffering from stress, insomnia, and mental tension.
Some even believe that conscious practice of breath control exercise can bring positive change to “your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being” (YogaOutlet).
“There is no one perfect way to breathe in yoga. In fact, there are innumerable ways to approach the breath. We can stop and start it, hold or release it, and send it where we want it to go. We can also do nothing at all, and simply let ourselves breathe.” ~ Sadie Nardini
Other Types of Pranayama
There are many different types of pranayamas, or breath practices. Many are practiced through meditation, seated or lying down. Unlike these other forms of pranayama, ujjayi is performed throughout the practice of yoga, in every pose. Some believe that ujjayi breath can help to link mind, body, and spirit to the present moment. Cultivating ujjayi pranayama can also provide richness and increased depth throughout your practice. Regular practice of ujjayi breathing can help release pent-up emotions and provide extra oxygen to invigorate your physical practice.
Ultimately, once we learn to guide our breath , we can then use our breath to guide our practice.
Sources: Ekhart Yoga, YogaOutlet
Have more questions about breath? Want to share you knowledge? Comment below!