Why We Practice ‘Ujjayi’ or Victorious Breath
Let’s look at the foundation of our practice ‘the breath’ and our relationship with this breath:A seasoned Yoga Practitioner is able to focus on his/her breath, with full awareness, from the beginning to the end of practice. Furthermore, this awareness will permeate into daily life away from the yoga mat. Such a practitioner will notice themselves being more centered and tuned into the pleasure of simple moments. They also find themselves better able to respond as opposed to reacting when under duress.
While it is true that we are always breathing, the breath we practice in our yoga classes is different because it is conscious. It connects us with our Objective Self as the mind becomes quiet, submitting to the greatness of our infinite awareness. In class we practice breathing deeply with sound, this breathing technique is called Ujjayi or Victorious Breath. If you have been coming to class and have not yet understood this style of breathing then maybe this description will be of some value…
Ujjayi comes from two root words, ‘uj’ meaning upward and ‘jayi’ meaning victorious. It is called the Victorious Breath because it helps the mind rise victoriously above its usually restless nature to experience the Self. It is an audible breath whose sound is accomplished by constricting the vocal cords or glottis at the base of the throat. This narrowing of the airway creates a whispering sound. While focusing fully on this sound, thoughts drop away, bringing a meditative quality to our practice. This type of breathing enables us to take in enough oxygen, build energy, and aerate the lungs. LISTENING keeps us present, self-aware and grounded in the moment lending a meditative quality to our practice. When the mind becomes calm, the stillness that is always there beneath our thoughts shines clear and while connected with this inner stillness the nervous system is rejuvenated and we are filled with a sense of well-being. Best of all, with regular practice, focusing on the sound of the breath can lead us seamlessly into a meditative state.
Going further in our practice…Full Wave Ujjayi Breath
Once we can easily maintain a consistent and rhythmic sound while breathing, it is time to deepen the breath by actively using the secondary respiratory muscles. Combining the actions of abdominal and diaphragmatic breathing we can increases the amount of air circulating through the body while decreasing the number of breaths per minute.
“During inhalation, the chest expands naturally first, then the expansion progresses to the lower ribs, and lastly into the abdomen. The inhalation is essentially a descending vertical motion. With this descent, the lower rib cage widens and the upper abdominal organs are displaced downward and forward. As in the abdominal breath, there is a mild expansion of the abdomen at the end of inhalation. The exhalation is the reverse of the inhalation. Its motion is an ascending vertical flow of breath. It begins with a mild contraction in the lower abdominal muscles to propel the exhaled air from the bottom of the lungs. During the mid range of exhalation the lower rib cage narrows to promote the ascent of the diaphragm. This is the natural manner of breathing that coordinates the functioning of all the respiratory structures and musculature.”
“This Full Wave Breath follows the natural function of our respiratory system and gives many benefits. During full exhales the lungs and heart are rhythmically massaged. The downward movement of the diaphragm during inhales massages the liver, stomach, transverse large intestine and pancreas. If it is a full inhale with relaxed abdominal muscles the ascending and descending large intestine and the centrally located small intestine will also be massaged. With practice and heightened awareness we can train our respiratory motions to reach the back stimulating circulation to the kidneys, spleen and adrenal glands in the middle back. It strengthens and brings flexibility to the diaphragm, abdominal muscles and the two sets of intercostal muscles to move more air in and out.” ~ Mukunda Stiles, Structural Yoga Therapy