Updated: Nov 20, 2021
The Ujjāyī breath is one of the most common techniques in the practice of yoga.
The inhalation and exhalation are done through the nose at a normal pace, with partial contraction of the glottis, which produces light snoring sound - hence is also referred to as “ocean breath” or even “Dark Vader breath”.
In general, this technique has two main functions. The first is to make the breath tangible - to make it something that one can perceive - by bringing the breath into the awareness by giving it a sound and a feeling in the throat. The second function of Ujjāyī is to facilitate the lengthening of the breath (control of the breath).
When done properly, Ujjāyī (translated as “victorious”) breathing should be both relaxing and energizing and relaxing. However, it shouldn’t be forceful or loud. On the contrary, a soft Ujjāyī may involve almost no effort and very little constriction in the throat region; it is mainly about sensation and awareness.
Throughout our āsana (postures) practice, we try to pay attention to our breath, to maintain the length and smoothness of the breath as much as possible. Breath holds a mirror up to our existing unconscious habits. When some āsanas require great effort, and we may begin to strain in our breath. By listening to the breath, we will know that some adjustments are needed. That might mean easing up or even stopping and resting until the breath becomes long and smooth again.
Allowing the breath to lead the movement is also allowing the subtle lead the gross; it is deepening our introspection and allowing us to have a greater presence, on the mat and in life.
Also, according to several academic studies, Ujjāyī breathing stimulates the vagus nerve (through a subtle vibration at the back of the throat). The vagus nerve is the heart of the parasympathetic nervous system. It controls the organs of maintenance – the heart, digestion, breathing, and hormonal glands. By repeatedly stimulating the vagus nerve during those long, audible exhalations, slow breathing may shift the nervous system towards that more restful state, resulting in positive changes like a lower heart rate and lower blood pressure. It brings calm and reduces anxiety.