Pranayama came from the Sanskrit words “Prana” which means breath or universal energy or life force that gives life, and “Ayama” which means to extend or expand. Together, it means the extension of life force, it is a practice that helps sustain and enhance life force energy. Pranayama removes any emotional or physical blocks by using techniques to focus on breathing. These techniques are inhalation or puraka, internal retention or antara-khumbaka, exhalation or rechaka, and external retention or bahya-khumbaka. With these Pranayama techniques, one will be able to control the flow of the life force throughout the body and extend life. This energy is being transported through nerve or pulse channels called Nadi.
Pranayama is an essential practice in yogic traditions, particularly in Ashtanga yoga is a practice that combines both breathing and asanas (yoga postures) together. It is the fourth out of the eight limbs of Ashtanga in the yoga sutras that Patanjali, an Indian guru have put together. The Ashtanga is a guideline with eight steps on how to live the righteous life. It includes Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.
Ujjayi came from the Sanskrit word “ujji” which means to be victorious. It is a breathing technique in pranayama that involves deep breathing by tightening the diaphragm that creates a sound is similar to the sound of the ocean. It is one of the fundamental breathing techniques to be learned in yoga as it is the foundation of many other pranayama methods.
How to Do the Oceanic Breath or Ujjayi Pranayama
It is important that the individual practicing the Ujjayi is able to control the muscles in the throat. This is because a partial tightening of the back of the throat is needed, and this will produce an audible sound of the breath which should sound like the ocean. This constriction is similar to when one is whispering. The sound would be produced by the air that will be passing through the throat and create friction.
Ujjayi can be done while sitting or while in any comfortable position. Close the eyes and relax the body and facial muscles. With mouth closed, tighten the base of the throat or the glottis. Do a long steady inhalation until lungs are full through the nostrils with the air passing through the glottis, this should produce the audible sound of the breath. Maintain the air inside the lungs for a double the time used in inhaling with mouth still closed. Exhale moderately and naturally. Concentrate on the sound, as it should sound like an “ahhh” sound.
Benefits of Ujjayi Breath
- Ujjayi enhances concentration. Focusing on the breath removes distractions and an individual remains self-aware and focused. In Asanas, this will allow an individual to hold the pose steadily for a longer period of time. When focused on this breath, the body will also relax more and will decrease the tension. This also applies to women during childbirth, as it helps the body relax and stay calm.
- It helps clear the Nadi or pulse channels with blockages. With the removal of these blockages, the prana or energy would flow more throughout the body. The more energy that flows through the body, the better our body would function.
- When the body is calmer and more relaxed, an individual can have a sound sleep. It is also an effective way to reduce sleep apnea or snoring. This can also result in more complications like hypertension, heart attack, stroke, etc. Sleep apnea happens when the air passage is blocked temporarily during sleep. With Ujjayi practice, the muscles in the air passage are improved and it also helps remove the blockage on the airway.
- The ujjayi breath helps with sinus treatment and sinusitis relief. Sinusitis is caused by accumulating mucus in the sinuses which happens during allergy or when one is exposed to pollution or one is stressed. This practice helps in releasing the phlegm in the lungs and sinus. Since this practice warms the body, it helps rejuvenates the nervous system and the sinuses.
- It can help reduce the risk of heart diseases. Cardiovascular disease is one of the top reasons for deaths in the world. It is often caused by congestive heart, arrhythmia, or plaque in the heart. Because the practice of Ujjayi helps to calm one’s body, it also helps reduce stress by letting go of the unnecessary emotions that have built up in tissues. Because of the reduction of stress, we can expect that blood pressure and heart rate will also lower. The emotional response will also be affected and will be slowed down, making one more aware and centered.
- Ujjayi is good for reducing thyroid problems. The most common thyroid problems are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Which happens if an individual has an underactive or overactive thyroid. Doing ujjayi with other yogic practices, it helps balance and regulates the body which includes the thyroid.
- It helps reduce asthma attacks. Asthma is a respiratory problem that happens when the bronchi contracts in the lungs which will cause a problem in breathing. This can be triggered by being exposed to airborne substances, pollution or because of allergic reactions. This practice helps warm the body and helps relax and loosen the bronchi of the lungs.
- This practice helps undo bloating and strengthen the digestive system by balancing body functions.
- Ujjayi is a good breathing practice for women, especially during childbirth. The ujjayi practice keeps the body warm and it can help the mother remain calm and relax during the delivery.
There are many benefits in practicing the Ujjayi breath, but there are also things that need to be considered before starting the practice of ujjayi. Ask for help from a guru or yoga teacher to start doing any pranayama and asanas. The ujjayi breath is not just a technique practiced with a yoga mat. It is a useful technique that can be applied to everyday life since breathing is an integral part of life and knowing proper breathing techniques like pranayama is important not only in the spiritual journey but also in getting optimal health.