I've written about it before and I'll write about it again, darn it: the ujjayi breath. Take just a few yoga classes and you'll soon know that the single most important part of the practice is not the poses at all, but this breath. This noisy, raspy breath. The Conqueror Breath. Victorious, Oceanic, The Darth Vader....Ujjayi Breath. Whatever you call it, it is what draws our bodies from one pose to another, keeps our minds centered, activates our parasympathetic nervous system and efficiently floods the entire body with oxygen. Have you grasped the importance? Regular breathing in and out through the nose, chest breathing or cardio-style breathing are just not enough for yoga, physically or mentally. It makes a huge difference to feel the breath on the throat and slow it down significantly. In a group class, surrounded by other audible breaths, we remind each other gently to stay focused and breathe.
Intentional breathing in daily life is the end result of the ujjayi technique. As we work to control, suspend and calm the breath during our practice, it becomes more natural off the mat as well because we're stronger. We're not just breathing deeply in a yoga class, we're breathing deeply while folded, twisted or lengthened; the lungs and diaphragm need to get stronger and work much harder to fill and expand, so when we're off the mat, strong intentional breathing comes more naturally.
"When we get into a difficult pose, a long hold in Utkatasana (chair pose) or a Navasana (boat pose) that never seems to end, the easiest thing to forget about is the breath. It’s instinct to hold our breath or shorten it. That is the moment when we need the breath most, we need the oxygen. It’s the same thing off the mat." - Source
A lot of people hold back because they feel self-conscious about breathing loudly, but breathing demurely will only hold you back in yoga. So let loose! As a student, I remember struggling to grasp this technique, wondering how my fellow students were making that weird noise. I eventually learned it by trying to fake it. When I specifically tried to make that noise, I realized with surprise that I had it; I noticed how different I felt. If you're not sure you're getting the technique down, try being noisy with your exhales, just sighing loudly with your mouth shut. Even if you feel stupid or think you're just faking it, try it. When you feel that wheezy sensation of air moving through your throat, you'll know you've got it.
"This sound, called ajapa mantra (ah-JOP-ah) or 'the unspoken mantra,' serves three purposes: it helps to slow the breath down, creates a noise to focus awareness on the breath and helps to regulate respiration by continually monitoring and adjusting the evenness of the sound, the smooth flow of breath." -Source
It may sound dramatic, but there is truly little benefit in doing yoga asanas without the ujjayi breath. Working toward this technique will strengthen muscles and mental focus that you didn't even know you had. If you're still feeling like you're missing something or need a different explanation to make it click for you, please ask me or your yoga instructor for help. Cultivating strong, confident breathers and yogis is what we're here for. <3