Skillful Practice of Ujjayi Breathing in Asana

With every breath we take we renew our relationship to life itself.

We give and take, we offer back, and receive again.

What does it mean to take breath into oneself?

Can we simply allow ourselves to receive…life as it is?

To wait for it?

To invite, not pull?

Can you absorb, relish, and offer back?

Is there love in this?

Breathing is a Profoundly Intimate Act
Ujjayi breathing in asana is a way to cultivate a more conscious and intentional intimacy with life. Ujjayi breathing can be one of our most powerful breaths for nervous system balancing. When practiced skillfully, ujjayi is soothing to body and mind. It can be a direct pathway to stimulating parasympathetic nervous system and relieving us from sympathetic nervous system agitation and dominance.

When done in a forceful manner ujjayi breathing can be disruptive to the nervous system. Any harshness in the breath will have the opposite of the desired effect. Pushing or driving the breath stimulates the sympathetic rather than parasympathetic nervous system. Forcing our breath creates dis-ease rather than increased ease in body and mind.

Skillful Practice of Ujjayi
When skillfully practiced, ujjayi can be deeply nourishing and soothing. In asana, it builds soft deep strength and washes the inner world as we move rhythmically with its sound and inner feeling.

We begin with a light touch—never harsh, always rejuvenating and genuinely delightful. As we continue, we remain responsive to the actual needs of the body in movement, rather than to an idea of how the breath should be. 

Breathing arises from stillness. The stillness creates the movement. So we wait. We wait for the breath and begin. Remaining responsive and receptive—not driving or doing the breath—we follow, move and breath as an integrated undulating whole.

Initially we slow down so we can feel breath’s touch in our in the nasal pathways. We sip and relish the breath. We train our attention to feel the prana as it naturally spreads through the subtle energy receptors of the head, through the soft palate, the throat and all the way to the cave of the back heart.  

We nurture this soft sipping by delicately narrowing the region of the glottis and the vocal cords. This slight narrowing regulates how fast breath moves in response to the diaphragmatic movement below. Throat and diaphragm work together to adjust the breath’s pace and to encourage prana to circulate more completely though the entire region, all the way to the back heart.

There is no hurry in this. Calm and steady breathing and calm and steady nervous system go together. Even in vigorous asana, the rhythm of ujjayi should be even and smooth.

When practiced well, ujjayi breathing forms the foundation for effortless asana practice. When breathing is effortful, asana is harsh. When our movements are abrupt or rough, our breath is equally so. The two always go together. One always affects the other. For most successful practice it is best to attend to them both.