ujjaayi pranayama – victory breath

Ujjaayi (उज्जायी) Prāṇāyāma (प्राणायाम )

Ujjaayi (उज्जायी), means “one who is victorious”. Ujjaayi breath means “victorious breath. Also referred to as the psychic breath because of its positive effects on the mind.

Seat

  1. This breath can be performed while moving, standing, walking or sitting.
  2. Sit comfortably on the yoga mat using props or in a chair for seated practice.

Technique

  1. Close your eyes and bring your awareness to the sensation of the breath in and out through the nostrils.
  2. Imagine there a small opening or a constriction in your throat where the breath is being released making a soft whispering or hushing sound.
  3. Whisper ‘ha’ with an open mouth to feel the sensation in your throat.
  4. Then close your mouth and continue to produce the soft ‘ha’ sound. This time the sound will not be loud as the mouth is not open, but you should feel the sound being produced in your throat in a soft whisper.
  5. Although there is a constriction of the throat, the Ujjayi breath flows in and out through the nostrils, with the lips remaining gently closed.
  6. This hushing sound on both inhale and exhale is Ujjaayi Breath.
  7. One inhale and one exhale of this breath is considered one round. You can begin with 5 rounds. This seated practice is Ujjaayi Pranayama.
  8. You can slowly build up your practice to 10-20 rounds. When you are ready to modify your practice, please find a yoga instructor who has a long standing personal Pranayama practice to guide you.

Practice tips

  1. Breath should be long (dhirgha), smooth (sukshma).
  2. The sound of the breath is audible to the practitioner.
  3. Cover your ears to it hear it louder noticing that it sounds like the ocean.
  4. Become comfortable with Ujjaayi Breath in a seated practice before using during asana practice.
  5. The tongue may be placed upward touching the roof of the mouth in Jihva Mudra (tongue seal) or resting lightly in the center of the mouth.
  6. Train the ears to concentrate on the sound of the breath making it a Pratyahara (5th Limb of Raja Yoga) practice.
  7. Focus on finding a sense of relaxation and harmony than on the effortful performance of the breathing technique.
  8. This breath can be practiced anywhere, anytime.
  9. You may feel dryness in the throat initially. Please hydrate.

When can you use Ujjaayi Breath

When you’re agitated, angry, restless: Since the this breath is good for relieving agitation, try Ujjaayi breath whenever you are aggravated or stressed. You may notice a soothing effect.

When you’re nervous or anxious: The slow and rhythmic nature of the Ujjaayi breath is helpful to calm nerves. Next time you find yourself anxious try this breath to soothe yourself.

When you’re tired, lethargic, sleepy: This breath is also energizing, so use it to revitalize your energy and improve your alertness and concentration.

When you’re practicing asana, poses: Try focusing on Ujjaayi breathing while practicing asana, pose to help you stay focused as you flow from one posture to the next. Becoming absorbed in Ujjaayi allows you to remain in the asana for longer periods of time.

When you perform daily seated practice: Ujjaayi breath is an integral part of seated Pranayama, breathing practice. It trains the senses to go inward reducing distractions in order to prepare the mind for meditation.

Benefits

Physical/Physiological

  • reduces postnasal drip
  • clears sinuses, detoxifies the body
  • trains the senses (Pratyahara – 5th Limb of Raja Yoga) to go inwards
  • increases the amount of oxygen in the blood and is energizing
  • builds internal body heat which relaxes the muscles allowing them to move safely in asana, reducing the risk for injuries
  • regulates blood pressure

Emotional/Spiritual

  • Calming and soothing, relieves tension and anxiety
  • Quiets the nervous system and calms the mind
  • Diminishes distractions and increases feeling of self-awareness
  • Allows you to remain present and grounded in the practice
  • Practice induces concentration (Dharana – 6th limb of Raja Yoga)

My Practice

Realizing the deep connection between the breath and the mind, Yogis urge us to practice this breath everyday to help us stay equanimous when faced with the challenging interactions in our daily lives.
This is where I need most help – to catch the triggers before they have been activated or to transform destructive, habituated thought patterns into a constructive ones.
Ujjaayi breath has been an indispensable tool for my health and to manage my behaviors.
  • Because of Ujjaayi Pranayama, I have significant decrease in postnasal drip. Along with Dhirgha and Kapalabhaathi Pranayama, I am able to manage my seasonal allergies effectively.
  • Ujjaayi allows me to practice deep breaths during asanas, poses and to be mindful through the challenges of a physical (vinyasa – sequencing) practice.
  • Ujjaayi  practice has also helped me go deeper in poses with a feeling of surrender. It is a reminder that I am constantly and compassionately guided to perform these movements, and to take a step back and observe my ego in action.
My practice is definitely a work in progress. I have a long way to go before I can affirm equanimity. I rely on this breath to guide me everyday, one interaction at a time.

 Next Post: Kapalabhathi Pranayama

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Rama, Swami., Ballentine, Rudolf. M.D. 1978. Science of Breath. Himalayan Institute, Honesdale, PA

3 – part breath: dhirgha pranayama

Dhirgha (दीर्घ ) Prāṇāyāma (प्राणायाम )

Dhirgha Prāṇāyāma,  a cooling breath, is the process of elongating the breath using specific techniques. Dhirgha breath is often referred to as Dhirgha Shvāsam, Deep Yogic Breath. This is often the first breathing technique taught to new yoga practitioners.

  • Dhirgha (दीर्घ ) has several meanings – “slow,” “deep,” “long,” and “complete.”
  • Shvāsam is the breath.
  • Prāṇāyāma (प्राणायाम ) is collection of breathing practices.

This practice is also called as the Three-part Breath. The three parts are:

  • diaphragm
  • thorax
  • clavicle

Instructions

Seat

  • Establish a most comfortable seat with spine straight, shoulders relaxed and neck and head aligned. There is no rule that you must sit on the yoga mat in a difficult pose to work with your breath.
  • If you are bothered by the aches and pains its best to use as many props as you need like blocks, blankets, stool or a chair – in order to be comfortable enough to forget your body and focus only on the breath.

Identifying the 3 parts

  • First, place hands on your upper portion of your abdomen, just below the chest cavity (diaphragm). Inhale and notice the expansion in your abdominal muscle, which is actually the movement of the diaphragm moving down making room for the breath in the lower part of the lungs. Repeat.
  • This is Part 1 – Diaphragmatic Breath.
  • Next, place your thumbs under your armpits and fan out your fingers around the ribcage. Inhale and observe muscles of the chest (thorax) expand and contract. Repeat.
  • This is Part 2 – Thoracic Breath.
  • Lastly, place your hands just below the bony part of your shoulder (clavicle). Inhale and observe the movement in your shoulder muscles. This movement is very subtle and may not be observable for a long time but improves with practice. Repeat.
  • This is Part 3, called the Clavicular Breath.
  • Once you are familiar with identifying the three parts, you don’t need to place the hands in these specific areas each time you practice. With your eyes closed, just direct your attention to these three parts and follow the breath.

Variation One

  • Inhale in this order – Part 1, 2 and 3, followed by an easy exhale. Repeat 5 times.
  • Next, assign 1 count for each part on the inhales . This will total to 3 counts per inhale. Follow with an easy exhale.  Repeat.
  • Increase counts by 1 count after a week only if you have established a daily practice.
  • For example; if you increase the count by 1, you are actually adding one count for each part, essentially adding three counts to the total. Now, you will have two counts for each part for a total of 6 counts.

Variation Two

  • Inhale an easy breath and begin the exhale in this order –  Part 3, 2 and 1. Repeat 5 times.
  • Next, assign 1 count for each part on the exhales. This will total to 3 counts per exhale. Follow with an easy inhale.  Repeat.
  • Increase counts by 1 count after a week only if you have established a daily practice.
  • For example; if you increase the count by 1, you are actually adding one count for each part, essentially adding three counts to the total. Again, you will have two counts for each part for a total of 6 counts.

Variation Three

  • Inhale in the order Part 1, 2 and 3 and Exhale in the order Part 3, 2 and 1.
  • Use 1 count per part to begin for a total of 3 counts for inhale and 3 counts for exhale. This constitutes One Round. Repeat 5 times = five rounds.
  • If you are doing 2 counts per part, your inhale will be 2+2+2 for a total of 6 and your exhale will also be 2+2+2 for a total of 6 counts. This constitutes One Round. Repeat 5 times = five rounds.
  • This is the complete practice of Dhirgha Prāṇāyāma, 3 part breath.
  • Do not increase counts and rounds at the same time. If you are feeling dizzy or breathless, return to previous count or to Variation 1 and 2 for another 2 weeks.

 Practice Tips

  • Variation Three is the technique that is mostly presented in books and articles on Dhirgha Prāṇāyāma. I used Variations 1 and 2 as it was helpful for me in the beginning (still do at times).
  • Initially, the transitions from one part to the next may feel choppy. Eventually the breath will flow through the three parts as one complete, deep breath.
  • Inhalation always starts at the diaphragm (filling lower lungs), then moves upward to the thoracic area (filling mid lungs) and finally to the clavicular area (filling upper lungs).
  • Exhalation always starts from the clavicular area (emptying upper lungs), downwards to the thoracic area (emptying mid lungs) and finally to the diaphragm (emptying lower lungs).
  • Both inhalation and exhalation are always performed through the nose.
  • Although Dhirgha breath can be practiced at bedtime to release stress and improve quality of sleep, the instructions provided above are for seated Prāṇāyāma practice.

Benefits of Three-Part Yogic Breath 

It is best to practice this Prāṇāyāma and experience the benefits first hand. The following are some of the benefits gleaned from various sources.

  • Consistent practice of Dhirgha Prāṇāyāma will lengthen the breath and strengthen the lungs preparing the breath for more difficult Prāṇāyāma practices.
  • Deep breathing infuses the blood with extra oxygen and stimulates the body to release tranquilizing endorphins, reducing anxiety and making it an effective stress management technique.
  • Deep rhythmic yoga breathing reduces the work load for the heart, decreases heart rate leading to a more efficient, stronger heart.
  • This Prāṇāyāma increases lung capacity and eliminates toxins and stale air. It also helps to balance emotions and reduce stress, which can improve immunity and make you less susceptible to allergies and colds.

My Practice

At the start of the practice I was unable to maintain the same length for both inhales and exhales. After struggling for a few weeks, I decided to try working on inhales (Variation One) and exhales (Variation Two) separately for a couple of weeks to see if it made a difference. It absolutely did. In a few weeks I was ready to introduce Variation Three.

When I had to skip the practices for a week or more due to colds, flu or other sickness, I needed to start at the beginning of my practice. You will experience these restarts as well. With regular practice, my restarts are slowly getting more efficient.

Dhirgha Prāṇāyāma is teaching me to breathe fully and completely. It is this breathing practice that sets the tone for my daily Prāṇāyāma. I also use it for centering before asana practice. While my posture has improved because of asana, this breath reminds me to maintain a good posture during the day. This helps to keep the chest open and breath healthy.

What I discovered along the way is that Dhirgha Prāṇāyāma was also training me to redirect my restless energy and manage my emotional triggers a little better.

Each time I fail to maintain my composure overpowered by the stubborness of my ego, instead of retreating with resentment or shame, I am slowly learning to let go with a long, slow exhale.

Each time I think I have made progress, I jinx myself into taking a long downward pride-slide in the practice before resuming the tedious climb.

Each time I become aware that I am actively bringing my mind back to the breath, I am realizing that it is short-lived. As tempted as I am to add another slash to the success column, I am learning to simply notice it and be grateful.

Spring is the worst season for me, and I rely on pills and nasal sprays. But “this too shall pass” when blooming is complete. I am happy that the rest of the year is managed with only Jala Neti, nasal wash and Prāṇāyāma.

                                                                                                                                      Next post: Ujjaiyi Pranayama

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Rama, Swami., Ballentine, Rudolf. M.D. 1978. Science of Breath. Himalayan Institute, Honesdale, PA

pranayama for seasonal allergies

How often are we aware of the presence of a certain power source with which we are born, and without which we cannot exist?

We simply refer to it as the breath, but it is so much more.

And, seasonal allergies directly interfere with the health of this precious power source. Here, Pranayama, breathing practices, help to soothe the symptoms by activating the body’s healing process in order to make each season manageable.

Pranayama – a brief introduction

Prāāyāma is a Samskritham (Sanskrit) word  which means “restraint of the prana or life force” or “extension of life force.”

  • The first syllable is Prāna, referred to as the life force, vital energy, cosmic breath.
  • The second syllable can be conjugated in two ways.
    •  yāma”, denotes restraint, control. Here, Prāāyāma refers to control or restraint of prana.
    • āyāma”, means to extend, lengthen, liberate. Here, Prāāyāma means expanding the dimension of prana, creating a process to teach the body and mind to heal itself.

Both convey the essential meaning of Prāāyāma. The breath is the medium through which Prāāyāma is instructed.  Ancient yoga scriptures detail collective practices, and hence, Prāāyāma is simply referred to as breathing practices.

Types

There are many types of Prāāyāma practices taught by different schools with multiple variations. They can be categorized as heating and cooling, energizing and calming. The teacher who is well versed in this science is able to structure the practice for a student based on her health and personality. In other words, the teacher will find the correct mix of heating and cooling, energizing and calming Prāāyāma in order to promote optimal health and well-being of the student.

I am going to present four types of Prāāyāma and relate them to allergies in the next few posts. However, these practices also have many other benefits, such as – to promote emotional well-being and to assist in cultivating discipline for a spiritual aspirant, etc.

The four types of Prāāyāma are:

  • Dhirgha or Three-part Breath
  • Ujjaiyi or Victory or Ocean Breath
  • Kapalabhati or Skull-Shining Breath
  • Nadi Shodana or Anuloma Viloma or Alternate Nostril Breath

Caution

The techniques of Prāāyāma include various ways to manipulate the breath such as restraining, controlling, expanding and suspending. This requires proper instruction, disciplined practice and ongoing guidance in order to decipher the effects and adjust the techniques, based on the changes that may be perceived through regular practice.

If you have already been instructed in Prāāyāma by an certified teacher trained from a certain yoga school or lineage, please continue to follow the same. It is possible that you were given specific instructions according to your health and personality and hence need to consult with the same teacher before you make any changes to your practice.

On the other hand, if you are just getting into daily yoga asana practice and are considering adding Prāāyāma to your personal routine, Dhirgha Prāāyāma (next post) is the best place to begin. This Prāāyāma is safe for any age group, youth to elderly, for those who are recovering from injuries or surgeries and can be practiced anywhere, anytime.

General Practice Tips

  • First, Jala Neti, nasal wash, must be performed before any Prāāyāma for best results.
  • Next, a comfortable seat – asana must be established. Fighting with the aches and pains in your body throughout the 15-30 minutes defeats the purpose of Prāāyāma. Quoting one of my teachers – ‘hang up your ego and pull up a chair’.
  • Early mornings are usually the best time for any breathing practice as the stomach is empty and you are well rested. However, you can do them at other times, as long as you haven’t had a large meal. (2-3 hours after a main meal is recommended)
  • Some gurus recommend the practice of Prāāyāma both in the a.m. and p.m. Many may recommend 3-4 times a day. Remember the phase of life you are in before abiding to such rules.
  • For example, if you have chosen the path of a householder (family) or as a caregiver for the elderly, or a professions/careers, etc., then time may be a constraint. Then, plan accordingly so you can stick to a simple Prāāyāma routine, instead of giving up the practice altogether.
  • Conversely, if your choice is monastic or ashram life to pursue your spiritual practice, intensive Prāāyāma should fit in nicely. And you won’t need to read this blog!
  • Always remember to begin slowly and allow enough time (weeks, months) for the breath to get acclimated to being ‘controlled or manipulated’. It helps if you are consistent in your practice.

My Practice

I cannot begin to tell you how much I have benefitted, and continuing to benefit with Prāāyāma practices. I try my hardest not to miss a practice. But, if I did miss my regularly scheduled ‘sitting’ one day, there is a nagging feeling that I have forgotten something really important, and my body continually asks for it. Sometimes I am able to squeeze in a quick 10 minute Prāāyāma at some point in the day, and at other times I have to wait until next day. On these days, I notice a decrease in my energy, calmness and concentration. I have come to rely on Prāāyāma to take me through the day.

I started Prāāyāma with the intention of managing my seasonal allergies. The practices have not only helped me manage them but also enjoy Mother Nature at her best with reverence and gratitude. But more importantly, I need Prāāyāma to manage my emotional triggers and issues of self-worth. And, to deal with menopause and a teenager! And, since Prāāyāma is essentially a precursor to Dhyāna, meditation, and I want to continue on the spiritual path, I have chosen to make it a permanent part of my yoga practice.

                                                                                       Next Post – Dhirgha Prāāyāma

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Rama, Swami., Ballentine, Rudolf. M.D. 1978. Science of Breath. Himalayan Institute, Honesdale, PA