UJJAYI: Riding the waves of the 'OCEANIC BREATH'

The ujjayi breath is a gateway technique in yoga practice to prepare the mind for deeper states of meditative awareness. The ujjayi breath is used as a tool to encourage the mind to rest its awareness on the immediate experience unfolding before us. We become a "witness" to the waves of breath continuously coming and going in the present moment of the "here-and-now."  Discover the benefits of this transformative breath practice and try it for yourself using the Ujjayi HOW-TO guide.


UJJAYI (OOH-JAAY- EE) is a fundamental breathing technique used in yogic practices across disciplines. This means that whatever the physical form of yoga you practice, you will most likely come across this technique. Ujjayi breath is known in modern yoga by many names:  "victorious breath," "ocean breath", and even "the Darth Vader breath." This breath is practiced by constricting the throat to limit the amount of air passing through, thus producing a  sound which mimics the rhythmic effect of breathing through a respirator.... or Darth Vader's mask. 

Ujjayi is best translated as meaning "victorious breath." It is known as the victorious breath because the state of peace it brings to the mind of a dedicated practitioner is one of the biggest conquests in mindfulness practices. She who conquers the breath, controls the mind. Once we conquer this breath, we can begin to experience increased mastery of our conscious/thinking mind. We may notice that our mental fluctuations(chitta-vritti) begin to settle down enough for us to open our perspectives wide enough to glimpse the present moment that we are all experiencing in truly multifarious ways.

 On an subtle level, the rhythmic waves of ujjayi breath are said to bring any physical, mental, or emotional imbalances into energetic alignment with nature. The therapeutic benefits experienced by ujjayi breathing practices prepares the body to enter calmly into more demanding physical postures or yoga-asana. The heating nature of the breath is known to create a tranquilizing effect, soothing the nervous system and calming the mind. On a physical level, the steady deepening of the natural breath gently works the muscles of the respiratory system. On the inhalations, the intercostal muscles expand the chest and the ribs, the lungs and belly fill as the diaphragm contracts and the abdominals expand outward. Energetically, the inhale allows for expansion into space while the exhale anchors and grounds.  On a mental level, ujjayi breathing sharpens the mind and keeps us mentally alert; maintaining the steady rhythm of ujjayi breathing requires the ability to hold a state of continued, conscious awareness. This state of awareness leads a practitioner to a state of absorption or integration: breath and movement unite to become one. This integration resets our habitual patterning enough for our perception to "slip" into a state beyond our ego-centric selves.  Once the mind wanders off and away from the breathing practice,  awareness dissipates and we enter out of the meditative state. 

Can you imagine the ocean flowing smoothly with a clear, glass-like surface rather than raging with the uncontrollable crashing of waves? 



Vinyasa yoga, or "flow" yoga practices seek to link breath with movement as if "riding the waves of the breath." Ujjayi breathing is carried on throughout the practice in an integrative way: inhalations are synchronized with postures of expansion and exhalations are linked with postures of contraction.

The meditative, pulsing activity (spanda) of the breath linked with movement creates a sedative tranquility of mind. Can you imagine the ocean flowing smoothly with a clear, glass-like surface rather than raging with the uncontrollable crashing of waves? This state of mind allows a practitioner to calm racing thoughts in an agitated mind.

Seek to bring a sense of ease and harmony to the flow of energy (prana) through the channels (nadis) of the energy body (pranamaya-kosha), even as each wave holds its own expressive pattern, but they are less disturbing... less able to knock us over or catch us off-guard. Connect with the breath at this deep level simply by listening to the sound with one-pointed mental concentration. Meditate on the reciprocal and interdependent energy exchange that occurs between the inhalation and exhalation. When the prana energy is balanced, the mind is calm and the body is serene, only under these conditions is a practitioner able to slip into a meditative, perceptive, yet playful state of receptive curiosity (līlā).

Ujjāyī:  ud + √ji =  to win, conquer, acquire by conquest, to subdue, to be victorious


Practice this breath technique by beginning in a comfortable seated position. First, simply close the eyes and bring the gaze inward. Take a few moments to observe the current state of your breath. Notice the pattern of the inhalation and exhalation, the expansion and contraction of the lungs and muscles of respiration. Place on hand on the chest and the other hand on the belly. Feel the body as you breathe naturally.

As you are ready, begin to deepen the breath, enhancing the quality of the natural breath by lengthening both the inhale and the exhale. Keep the breath steady and full as you find your own rhythmic pattern. The in-breaths and out-breaths should be of equal length. (Ex: inhale for 4, exhale for 4)

As you come into ujjayi breathing, draw the air in and up through the nostrils. Allow the air to flow in and out freely. Breathing only through the nose allows us to take in naturally purified air-- the hairs (cilia) and mucus membranes in the nostrils act as filters for dust particles, airborne impurities and environmental contaminates. Air inhaled through the nose is purified and humidified before it circulates through the body.

Information about our environment comes to us through fragrant particles in the air. Our olfactory senses interact with the particles as they enter the nasal passageway, stimulating neurons in the olfactory cortex,amygdala and hippocampus. This activity lights up the limbic system, influencing the brain centers responsible for emotion, memory, behavior, motivation, and olfaction. Again, She who conquers the breath, controls the mind. ;)

Imagine slow, deep, steady, ocean waves rolling in and out to help you bring depth and robust fullness to the breath. Maintain deep breathing through the nose while bringing a slight constriction to the back of the throat. This constriction should produce a subtle hissing sound said to sound like the waves of the ocean or the sound of the mantra "so'ham".

Note: This technique is often practiced in conjunction with bandhas, or controlled constriction of specific parts of the body.