Pranayama for Winter: Ujjayi

Today I’m thankful for the warming and centering effects of Ujjayi pranayama (breathing exercise)!  I’ve been instructing a variation of the technique in my classes and a few students have loved the effects so far.

Check it out . . .

(oo-jy [rhymes with “pie”]-ee)
ujjayi = to conquer, to be victorious

“Ujjayi” comes from the Sanskrit prefix “ud” (उद्) added to it and root “ji” (जि): “ujji” (उज्जि), meaning “to be victorious”.  Ujjayi (उज्जायी), thus means “one who is victorious”. Ujjayi breath means “victorious breath”

According to the Wiki, “Ujjayi breathing is a breath technique (pranayam) employed in a variety of Hindu and Taoist Yoga practices. In relation to Hindu Yoga, it is sometimes called “the ocean breath” (just like the ocean in a conch shell!).”  Although ujjayi was classically done on its own, recently it’s been integrated with asana practice.

Sivananda’s description of how to perform Ujjayi:

“Sit in Padmasana or Siddhasana. Close the mouth. Inhale slowly through both the nostrils in a smooth, uniform manner till the breath fills the space from the throat to the heart. (You’ll hear a slight hissing sound.)

Retain the breath as long as you can do it comfortably and then exhale slowly through the left nostril by closing the right nostril with your right thumb. Expand the chest when you inhale. During inhalation a peculiar sound is produced owing to the partial closing of glottis. The sound produced during inhalation should be of a mild and uniform pitch. It should be continuous also. This Kumbhaka may be practised even when walking or standing. Instead of exhaling through the left nostril, you can exhale slowly through both nostrils.

This removes the heat in the head. The practitioner becomes very beautiful. The gastric fire is increased. It removes all the evils arising in the body and the Dhatus and cures Jalodara (dropsy of the belly or ascites). It removes phlegm in the throat, Asthma, consumption and all sorts of pulmonary diseases are cured. All diseases that arise from deficient inhalation of oxygen, and diseases of the heart are cured. All works are accomplished by Ujjayi Pranayama. The practitioner is never attacked by diseases of phlegm, nerves, dyspepsia, dysentery, enlarged spleen, consumption, cough or fever. Perform Ujjayi to destroy decay and death.”


Those are some pretty spectacular claims!


In Iyengar’s “Light on Pranayama,” the technique is described in much greater detail.
After much preparation, in the 8th stage, Ujjayi is described without retention.  As the stages increase, various retentions are explored: the deliberate internal retention (sahita antara kumbhaka), deliberate external retention (sahita bahya kumbhaka), internal retention (antara kumbhaka), external retention (bahya kumbhaka), and finally the combination of antara and bahya retentions in the final advanced stage 13.

Iyengar takes special care to note, “Listen to the sibilant sound of the breath.  Control, adjust and synchronize its flow, tone and rhythm.  The flow is controlled by the resonance of the sound, and the tone by the flow.  This is the key to success in pranayama.”

“As you breathe in, your body, lungs, brain and consciousness should be receptive rather than active. Breath is received as a divine gift and should not be drawn in forcefully.”

“Inhale with warmth, elation and joy as if you are receiving the life force as a gift from God.  Exhale with a sense of gratitude, silently expressing your humbleness as a surrender to the Lord.”

Iyengar was on the verge of death when he came to yoga .  He had suffered every severe respiratory condition imaginable in his childhood and doctors had very little confidence in his ability to survive.  Luckily, he was a relative of Krishnamacharya and was sent to the ashram to learn yogic practices and heal his lungs.  At the impressive age of 94, no one knows breathing techniques better than this man!

If the chill of winter is slowing you down, experiment with Ujjayi and see how it effects your day . . .

3 thoughts on “Pranayama for Winter: Ujjayi”

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