breathing is important

I remember one of the first yoga classes I ever took. When the instructor babbled on about cultivating the "oojawee," I tuned him out. I didn't know what the heck that meant and anyway, I was too busy gasping for air to think about it. Years later, I did finally figure out what it meant and I'm still working on it. The ujjayi breath may come more naturally now, but the journey in finding strength and focus of the breath is never over.

Ujjayi (ooj-JA-yee) - Sanskrit term for a breathing technique used throughout a variety of yogic practices. The term translates literally to "victorious breath" and is sometimes referred to at the "oceanic breath" due to the sound it produces.

If you're not familiar with the ujjayi breathing method or are not sure you've fully grasped it, here are some helpful tips:
1 Sit tall in a comfortable position, placing one hand on the stomach and one on the chest. As you inhale through the nose, allow the belly to expand like a bellows and notice how your lower hand moves. Even as you inhale the air all the way up into your lungs, the hand on your chest does not move much. Contrary to popular belief, for the most fulfilling and complete breath, our chest only expands slightly from the diaphragm lifting. Chest-breathing is a shallow, incomplete type of breathing that we all have a tendency toward. Breaking that habit in daily life is a benefit of practicing ujjayi.

2 On the exhale, (also slowly through the nose) draw your navel up and back toward the spine, forcing out all the air.

3 Here's the part that might be challenging at first: when you exhale during ujjayi practice, you are meant to close off (or narrow) the glottis located in the back of the throat. This narrowing of that passage helps to lengthen and control the breath, while at the same time, creating an audible noise, as if in a deep sleep.  It's a little hard to grasp at first, but once you get it, you'll feel it.
Check out your glottis. This little space between the vocal cords makes the ujjayi breath possible.

Try it this way: Take an inhale through the nose, and just for this illustration, allow the air to come out through your mouth in a sigh. On the next breath, inhale through the nose once more, but this time, close the mouth completely and still try to force the air out of the mouth. If you don't allow the mouth open, you should feel the air pulling through the back of your throat and hear that audible "oceanic" sound. If you ended up hacking or blowing the air out through your mouth, that's okay. It just takes practice.

Practicing the fundamentals of the ujjayi breath is beneficial whether it's your first time or your thousandth. It really is the most important part of yoga and will carry you through your practice, help you remain focused, lift and strengthen your diaphragm, and create a meditative, soothing sound for all to share. What more could you want from just breathing!?

Keep ujjaying, yogiis! :)