The Anatomy of Ujjayi Breath

There are a bunch of different ways to breath in yoga.  Pranayama is the umbrella term used to describe all the different yoga breathing techniques.  One of the most common breathing techniques, maybe one you’ve even heard before, is Ujjayi breath.

Ujjayi in Sanskrit translates “to be victorious.”

And that’s exactly what this breath accomplishes in your body and mind:

  • Proper usage of this breathing technique can really strengthen your lungs and breathing muscles and build enough energy in your body to maintain your practice.
  • Ujjayi breath also has a relaxing and meditative quality to it as it helps focus your mind to a point where you’re grounded, present, and self-aware in each posture you take.

We’ll keep it short and simple today and focus on Ujjayi breath, the anatomy behind it, and the effects it has on your mind and body.

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Feeling victorious in your victorious breath is just a few inhales and exhales away!


Anatomy of Ujjayi:

Let’s start first by detailing how to actually Ujjayi breath.  For that we’ll need to learn about our Larynx:

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Air enters via your mouth or nose, and then passes past your Epiglottis to get into the Trachea, and then down into the lungs.  Your Epiglottis is an important structure as it helps keep food from entering your lungs.  (It closes when you swallow, it’s open when you breath)

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Pretty cool right?  

Aside from keeping food out of your airways your Epiglottis factors a bit into your Ujjayi breathing.  When you “constrict the back of your throat” to “make the ocean sound” of Ujjayi breath, it’s the Epiglottis and your vocal cords that you’re consciously constricting narrow your airway.

The Epiglottis lies above the actual Glottis (“epi-” means above) and controls the air coming in, as well as blocking it from leaving too fast.  The vocal cords are what lie on the sides of your Glottis and can also open and close.  Usually this is to generate the sound you call a voice, but it can also influence your breath.

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Now that we have the basic anatomy behind the breath down, let’s actually do it!


How to Ujjayi Breathe:

  1. Sit up nice and tall in a seated position
  2. On your inhales fill the lower belly then the rib cage and lungs and up to the throat. You can practice ujjayi breath by taking a deep inhale and imagining fogging up a mirror on your exhale (out of your mouth). It helps to make the sound “haaaah” slowly as you exhale.
  3. Now that you have a sense of what restricting the back of your throat feels like (that haaaaah feeling).  Close your lips and inhale, fill the belly and the low ribs, feel the back of the throat constrict.  Exhale with that same constriction
  4. You’ll hear an audible sound as you continue to use this breath

***One of the most important notes is to remember to relax!  The most common fault is to try to force your breath, remember that Ujjayi breath has a relaxing and smooth quality to it.

Tips & Tricks:

  • Imagine your breath like an ocean wave, feel it smoothly roll in, roll out, and the audible vibration that you make via constricting your throat is the sound of the ocean
  • For my nerds, imagine that you’re Darth Vader, make a Darth Vader sound as you breath 😉
  • Another way to help imagine and refine this style of breath is to imagine that you’re breathing in and out through a narrow straw.

Here’s a video in case you need some help: Ujjayi Pranayama with Kino MacGregor

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I hope you were able to experience it by now and get a taste of some Victory, check out that video if you’re unsure how it sounds!

Now that we know the anatomic players involved we can delve a little deeper into the benefits of this awesome breathing technique.


The Benefits of the Breath

  • Ujjayi is used in a lot of breath-to-movement styles of yoga, because it’s really really good at evening your breath (equal inhale to equal exhale, or slightly longer exhale) for transitions between poses
  • As I hope you’ve experienced from either above or with your prior yoga experiences with it, it’s a very mindful exercise.  It requires the full dedication of your mind to your body to continue and maintain.
    • This is amazing for poses where you need to hold, or need that extra mind over matter focus for some strength!
  • Eliminates distractions, and allows you to be self aware and present
    • You can Ujjayi breath off your mat by the way, it’s a great way to ground yourself when you have a lot to do and need a quick moment to recoup and feel a little victorious
      • (Trust me this works, I used to do it before every test when I was in school and I’m a Doctor now)
  • Physically the resistance you generate with the air, works your diaphragm
    • Think of it like lifting weights with your diaphragm, you’re generating resistance through the glottis, which encourages your diaphragm to not only move, but to also work a little harder to get air in and out of your body
      • A moving diaphragm encourages organ motility as it helps get everything moving about in your abdomen.
  • The vibration of the vocal cords can release phlegm and help with any nasal or sinus problems
  • Encourages full inhales and exhales, which are profound for your body (more oxygen to your blood, more movement for you diaphragm, etc)

 

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It’s so good for your whole body!

Let’s wrap this up with one question that may be on your mind…


Why does my body heat up when I Ujjayi breath?

By now you may have noticed that you tend to get a little sweaty after a few cycles of Ujjayi breath, even when you’re sitting still…weird right?  There’s anatomy behind that,

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When you constrict the back of your throat, some of your air makes it down into your lungs, the air that doesn’t make it in initially, rebounds off the narrowed epiglottis and vocal cords.  There this air circles around your nasal cavity, until it gets a chance to be inhaled again.

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It warms up here because your nasal mucosa is moist and warm to the tune of your body temperature which is around 98.7 degrees (37 degress Celsius).  Generally the air you breathe in is cooler than your body temp, but here it heats up and when it finally enters your lungs it’s warmer than normal, which heats you up!

As you heat up with this breath your heart rate begins to increase.  With all that fresh oxygen from your full inhales and exhales you get all the cells in your entire body better oxygenated.  Plus a mini workout for your heart!

Your body begins to sweat to cool off.  The purpose of sweat is to catch the cooler air around you to cool you off.  You also begin to cool via the process of thermal radiation, where your body loses heat by emitting it into the cooler air around you.

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Now that’s hot


Inhale in Strength – Exhale Let Go

As you can see and experience, Ujjayi breath is an amazing breathing technique.  It does a whole body good and even lumps the mind in for some great meditation, focus, and grounding.

I think one of the most important take homes,

You can Ujjayi breath outside of your yoga class!

Do it!  Feel victorious on your mat, then go out into the world and feel victorious in everything you move your mind to 🙂

Afterall, the practice of Yoga is the practice of life.  What you do on your mat, reflects the life you live outside of it.

For more on breathing:

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Feel victorious in each and everything you do!

Through the nose: inhale fill your belly, exhale constrict the back of your throat,

-Dr. YG

 

3 thoughts on “The Anatomy of Ujjayi Breath

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