Ujjayi Pranayama: The Anchor That Keeps You From Drifting

  • Megan McInturff
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I will never forget the first time I went to a hot yoga class. It wasn’t that the poses were too difficult or that the amount of drenching sweat was shocking. What surprised me the most was how everyone in the room was breathing so loudly. I remember thinking “How is that possible? He’s breathing out of his nose like that?!” I spent many classes after that trying to “breathe really loud.” I didn’t know what it was, why it was happening, or how to do it.

Have you ever found yourself in a class and heard the teacher say “Begin Ujjayi Breathing” and thought to yourself “ujja what?” Allow me to break down the steps to the “loud breathing” technique called Ujjayi Pranayama.

Pranayama is one of the eight elements of yoga, defined as “controlled intake and outflow of breath in a firmly established posture.” Ujjayi Pranayama is known to be the most basic breathing technique and great for beginner yogis. Breathing is done through the nose with a constriction of the back of the throat, which narrows the space near the epiglottis. This makes an ocean like sound by creating a vibration on the larynx, also known as the voice box.

Try this simple technique to achieving Ujjayi Pranayama:

  • Take a comfortable seat or stand in Mountain Pose and close your eyes. Practice taking a few full breaths to connect your mind to the breath. Take your hand in front of your mouth and open your mouth. Imagine that your hand is a mirror and breath out through the mouth as if you are fogging up the mirror.
  • Take your hand to the back of the neck (behind your head) and imagine that you are now fogging up the mirror by inhaling through the mouth. Try this for a couple rounds, with hand in front of the mouth on the exhale and back of the neck on the inhale. You should notice the “haaaaa” sound as you breath.
  • Try the same thing, but now with the mouth closed. Breath in and out through the nose. Keep your hand in front of your face to maintain the “fogging” action and “haaaaa” sound.

No need to get frustrated if your Ujjayi is a little shaky at first. You may grasp the technique easily when sitting, but then have trouble maintain Ujjayi when you start moving on your mat. Like all aspects of yoga, all will come with practice.

Applying Ujjayi Pranayama to your physical yoga practice can bring you to a relaxed state of mind and body. The soothing sound of the breath will attract your attention, keeping awareness inward. However, the sound is not the main focus. The focus should be on maintaining an even, steady flow on each inhale and exhale. Ujjayi Pranayama can be a tool for making the practice more meditative. Throughout your physical yoga practice, the mind will drift as distractions are presented. Allow the breath to be the anchor that keeps you from drifting.