Ujjayi is a simple breathing technique that can be activated by breathing through the nose and creating a constricting sound at the back of the throat. Constant, rhythmic oceanic sounds, like the sound and flow of the waves, is similar to the sound of ujjayi. Another way to describe the sound, is to imagine your are fogging up a mirror with a ha sound. Instead of using the mouth to breathe, close the mouth, and breathe through the nose.
To practice Ujjayi Pranayama: sit or lie down comfortably so that the spine is tall. If seated, sit on a couple of blankets or on a block with legs crossed. Feel the sitting bones grounded underneath you and notice the pelvis. Adjust the pelvis to be neutral to help elongate the spine, allowing the breath to freely move up and down without “blockage” in the line of energy. Lift the chest and roll the shoulders down the back. Spread the collarbones wide.
Option to sit against a wall for support. Rest the palms comfortably on the thighs, facing upwards as a gesture to receive whatever it is your body and mind is needing, perhaps clarity, a release, or inspiration. Option to connect the thumb and index finger, Jnanu Mudra, to help access the subtle energies in the body and connect to the soul, and to dive inward.
If lying down, release the shoulders down the back and allow the legs and arms to fall open. Option to bring a pillow or bolster under the knees for support of the low back or place a blanket or block under the head for support. Feel the shoulders laying flush to the earth and feel the heart lifted and exposed. Allow the body to relax. Take a mental “scan” of the body and notice any areas that are feeling tight or holding tension. Begin to notice your breath and send your exhale to the areas that need release and softening. On the inhale notice that we create space for the body, allowing for new growth and opportunities.
Begin by exhaling the breath and emptying the body of air. Take a “cleansing breath”, inhale and an open mouth exhale. Next, begin inhaling and exhaling with the mouth closed, through the nose. Find a rhythm with the breath, lengthening and deepening each inhale and exhale. Close the eyes and fix the gaze at the space in between the eyebrows, the third eye center, the seat of our intuition and of our divine wisdom. When we quiet the body and mind, we listen to what our body is telling us. If we turn off distractions, we can tune into our listening mode, and learn to better problem solve, make clearer decisions, and set attainable goals. Quieting the mind, creating stillness in the body, and focusing on living more mindfully, we can better focus on living towards our full-potential.
Stay breathing through the nose in Ujjayi for 5 minutes and work your way up to 10 or even 15 minutes. As you slowly begin to awaken after focused breathing, notice how the body and mind is feeling. Slowly begin to wiggle the fingers and toes. If lying down reach the arms over the head and reach in opposite directions. Draw the knees into the chest and roll to one side. Pause there and again, notice how you feel.
Press yourself up into a comfortable seat. Sit nice and tall and roll the shoulders down the back, broaden through the collarbones. Bring the hands to heart center, honoring yourself. Gently begin to flicker the eyes open. Notice how the body and mind is feeling. Notice if you feel more calm, relaxed, and ready to move back into the day.
When first practicing ujjayi in yoga class, I realized how when I slowed down my breathing and began focusing on each inhale and exhale, my mood lifted, feelings of anxiety lessened, and I felt more calm and at peace. I then started using Ujjayi breathing throughout the day to minimize stress and come back to a happy state of mind.
Check with your doctor before performing any form of exercise including yoga. Always honor your body. If a posture gives you pain, gently come out.
Christi Iacono, In Rhythms Yoga