He considered ujjayipranayama the ideal breathing technique to accompany movement, and it remains central to the practice of AshtangaVinyasaas well as other modern schools of Yoga. As a method of strengthening mind-body awareness, ujjayi pranayama was the ideal choice; giving the practitioner an additional tool to focus the mind, lengthen the breath and conduct heat in the body.
Achieved with a slight narrowing of the epiglottis, ujjayi can be maintained indefinitely and helps to create continual awareness of every part of the breath. It helps the deep Yogic breath to become fixed and lengthened, tying you to the experience of your breath throughout your practice. Such a sustained technique recognizes breath as an essential bridge between conscious and unconscious, taking you quicker and deeper into the united awareness of mind and body. This, of course, is the aim of every asana practice; the eventual removal of distinction between mind and movement, and even breath and movement.
Such considerations may be the reason why ujjayi pranayama got its name. Using the Sanskrit roots for both ‘victory’ and ‘bondage’, it is ‘the breath that gives liberation’. The bondage referred to is the bondage of duality– where liberation means collapsing the division between mind and body in order to reveal the united intelligence of the whole system. Just as it empowers us in our asana practice, so it can empower us in life – ujjayi breathing is easy to adopt at any time and helps us to remain mindful in the face of daily challenges.
Born of the highest concept of Yogic philosophy, we need not forget its usefulness as a therapeutic tool: tranquilizing the mind, aiding deep sleep, lowering blood pressure, toning the respiratory system and aiding the circulation of prana. Ujjayi pranayama works for us along the whole spectrum of Yogic practice – offering us a tool for basic calm and stress-relief as well as access to the higher ‘psychic’ practices, enabling the practitioner to enter subtler states of mind.
How to practice Ujjayi Pranayama.
- First, it is essential to master the full Yogic breath. This means the easy and fluid practice of the full three-part breath, filling the abdomen, chest, then clavicular cavity, before deflating from the abdomen with an exhalation of equal length. This process is to be maintained throughout the practice of ujjayi.
- Gently contract the epiglottis to create a soft snoring sound in the throat. Maintain the contraction without tension - you should be able to effortlessly sustain it throughout your practice.
How to teach Ujjayi Pranayama.
- When teaching ujjayi breath, there are a number of visualizations that may be useful to your students:
1. Ask them to imagine that the breath is being drawn in and out through a small hole in the throat, instead of the nostrils.
2. Describe the intended sound as the waves of the ocean.
3. Max Strom advises imagining you are cleaning your sunglasses. Tell your students to make a ‘hahh’ sound from the throat with the mouth open, as if fogging sunglasses. Keep practicing until they can perform this breath regularly on inhalation and exhalation. Then, simply close the mouth and continue through the nostrils with the proper ujjayi breath.
4. Ask your students to simulate snoring, then experiment with more relaxed versions of this until it becomes an effortless contraction.
5. Ask your students to come close and imitate the sound that you are making. Depending on your students’ learning styles, this can be enough. Some students pick it up by imitation alone, without ever being asked to try it.
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