Ujjayi breath takes a light touch: The Moves

Yogi YuMee Chung performs Ujjayi Breath in the Artichoke room for The Moves at Lena restaurant in Toronto.
Yogi YuMee Chung performs Ujjayi Breath in the Artichoke room for The Moves at Lena restaurant in Toronto.  (J.P. MOCZULSKI / For The Toronto Star)  

Ujjayi is a yogic breath technique that simultaneously energizes and relaxes. Translated as “victorious” breath, Ujjayi brings the breath under conscious control, makes it audible, and turns it into an object of meditation. Use it whenever you need to quiet the mind whilst staying bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

1. Sit comfortably with impeccable posture.

2. Holding a compact mirror a few inches in front of your face, open your mouth and fog the mirror with your out-breath.

3. Next, hold the mirror behind your head. Open your mouth and exhale as you imagine yourself fogging the mirror in its new position. Notice the slight engagement around the vocal folds and the whispery sound that comes from the breath stroking the back of the throat

4. Repeat the last step, but close your lips halfway through the out-breath.

5. Without changing the shape of your throat, inhale and exhale through your nostrils with the lips closed and your face relaxed.

6 Put your compact mirror aside and continue to breathe in the Ujjayi style for two or three minutes.

This breath is easy to learn yet hard to master. Ideally your breaths are smooth, deep, and even. Cultivate in- and out-breaths that sound identical and move seamlessly from one to the next.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

The whispery quality that characterizes Ujjayi breath is sometimes described as the sound of Darth Vader breathing. While the vivid imagery may point breath-beginners in the right general direction, a sustainable Ujjayi practice requires a much lighter touch. To avoid straining the throat, both the squeeze at the glottis (the area that includes the vocal folds and the space between them) and the subglottal pressure presented by the breath should be subtle. As your Ujjayi practice advances, you will find your sound becomes increasingly more mellow and refined.

YuMee Chung is a recovering lawyer who teaches yoga in Toronto. She is on the faculty of a number of yoga teacher training programs and leads international yoga retreats. Learn more about her at padmani.com

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