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International Infopage for Ashtanga Yoga

Ujjayi Pranayama - the victorious breath

The beauty of unifying breath and movement is truly majestic. With the breathing techniques of Ujjayi pranayama we can open a gateway, melt snow, or ride the waves like a surfer. Experience it here …

Yogis are convinced that everything is prana (energy). The breath links the physical and energetic universe. By applying the correct breathing technique you can open a gateway to unlimited energy. The correct breathing technique for Ashtanga Yoga is Ujjay pranayama.

By following these simple steps you can learn the Ujjayi breathing method. (Have someone slowly read you the following text aloud and put in a break after each section.):

Sit down with your spine upright and close your eyes. Inhale slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth.

When exhaling, produce the sound ‘HHHHHAAAA’.

From now on, keep your mouth closed while exhaling. Generate the same sound as before but this time with your mouth closed. The position of your throat is unchanged and natural. Make sure the sound originates from your throat and not from your nose.

Now maintain the same throat position while inhaling, producing the same murmuring sound.

Begin to balance your inhalation with your exhalation. Balance the sound, quality and length of your breath. You’ll probably notice that your exhalation is longer and stronger. Therefore, expand and emphasise your inhalation. This is the first way to expand your breath.

Feel your heartbeat. Inhale over approximately three to five heartbeats and exhale over the same amount. This is the second way to expand your breath during inhalation as well as exhalation.

Lift your arms while inhaling, and lower them while exhaling. The way your breath adjusts to the movement (Vinyasa) is the third way to expand your breath. Now let your hands rest in your lap while you let your breath flow. Experience the effect of your breathing. By expanding your breath, you absorb Prana (energy). You might even feel a delicate tingling in the back of your throat. As your practice becomes more refined and advanced, the quality of your breath will become more subtle and you will become more in touch with the Prana.

Concentrate on the turning point between inhalation and exhalation. Make sure you keep your breath flowing and your throat open. This is the basis for an ongoing flow of energy.

Now slowly open your breath and return to normal breathing.

You have now successfully learned the Ujjayi pranayama (breathing method). It will take some practice before the quality of this breathing system can be successfully used during your physical practice.

It is said that Yogis can melt snow by using Ujjayi breathing.' You might feel heat when first applying this technique. As your practice advances the energy will become more subtle. A quiet but steady force will develop deep inside you with which you will be able to master virtually impossible physical challenges with ease.

Superficially, the muscles carry the Yogi through the air. However it is the breath which provides the necessary prana (energy).' Prana is the basis of everything. It can be consciously directed to heal and strengthen the body. The breath becomes the Yogi’s key to health, strength, and vitality. Without breath there is no life.

Ujjayi pranayama, also referred to as "the victorious breath", provides the strength required to master every asana. The absorbed prana (energy) can also be used to facilitate body movement, allowing even Yogis with slight builds to seem able to defy gravity and glide through movements almost effortlessly.

As the waves form the beach, so too does the breath form the Ashtanga Yoga practice. Your inner waves set the rhythm. The murmuring of your breath becomes the murmuring of your inner ocean while waves of inhalation flood your inner coast. Have you created a flat, sandy beach where the waves subtly fade into eternity, or do sharp cliffs rise from the waves causing the surf to break with a loud roar on barren rocks? Create the coastline that fits you and your practice today – not too steep, not too flat.

Like a surfer who rides the waves of a real ocean, your inner surf carries you from asana to asana. Your breath directs each movement.

Ujjayi pranayama is also a very valuable technique from a physiological point of view. Breathing through the nose humidifies the inhaled air, tempers it and removes dust particles. Using Ujjayi pranayama allows you to breathe clean air. The murmuring Ujjayi sound causes the bronchi to vibrate subtly, activating the ciliated epithelium. Dust particles will also be removed from the lungs in this way. During normal breathing, the pressure on the bronchi during exhalation is quite modest. Ujjayi pranayama maintains steady pressure inside the bronchi, even during exhalation. This counteracts the collapsing of the smaller bronchi, allowing the exhalation to be expanded and the amount of residual air in the lungs to be reduced. This breathing technique is especially useful for people who suffer from chronic obstructive lung conditions or asthma.

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