Ujjayi, “victorious,” breath is central to a fruitful practice of Ashtanga Yoga. It is performed continuously during the practice of asana.
Ujjayi is performed by lightly constricting the musculature of the throat so that the epiglottis is slightly closed. This creates friction as breath passes through the narrowed opening of the airway. Then, with the lips sealed, the breath is directed through the nostrils. A gentle hissing sound, similar to that of wind moving through distant trees, arises; listen. The pace of the breath should be slow.
Beyond the general benefits of deep, regular breathing, Ujjayi also generates internal heat. Panting is a method of cooling; Ujjayi keeps heat within.
Constricting the musculature of the inner throat aids in restoring healthful alignment to the neck. Members of modern, western societies typically have very tight or toned muscles at the back of the neck, including the trapezius and spinal muscles. Ujjayi helps to restore tone to the center/front of the neck musculature. Under stress or strain, Ujjayi serves to keep the facial muscles relaxed and unclenched.
By creating a sensation of suction/friction, Ujjayi draws attention to both the internal edge of the spine as well as the diaphragm.
By requiring consistent attention, Ujjayi serves as a tool for developing concentration and the faculty of listening.
Focus on the breath, combined with the gentle, rhythmic sound of Ujjayi, is often soothing and engenders a more tranquil state of mind.
Place your palm in front of your open mouth. “Huff” the breath into your hand, as if you were fogging up a mirror or pair of glasses, or saying “Haaaaaaaa.” Repeat this several times until it becomes familiar. This is the same muscular action as Ujjayi.
Now, gently close your mouth without clenching your jaw. Breath through the nose while maintaining the same sensation in the throat. Ujjayi is continuous through both inhalation and exhalation.