Ujjayi Breath is a form of Yoga breathing (pranayama.) It is known as Victorious Breath, also Breath of the Ocean.
Why Victorious Breath? With Ujjayi the abdomen is lightly contracted and the pelvic floor lightly lifted rendering less space for the more common belly breathing. With this gentle restriction in place the breath is drawn into the chest cavity and side ribs, having the chest puffed out in this way gives the look of someone haughty & proud, someone victorious.
Further to this, Ujjayi breath produces a mesmerizing sound. There is a gentle constriction at the back of the throat on both the breath in and the breath out through the nostrils. Have you ever held a large shell to your ear as a child and marveled at the distant sound of the ocean trapped in side? This is how your Ujjayi Breath should sound hence the name Breath of the Ocean. Ujjayi’s texture and sound allow a focal point for meditation.
Ujjayi is also used to lengthen the breath. When we lengthen breath in this way it has a direct calming effect on the nervous system. Our bodies are in a constant state of flight or fight due to the stress and demands of modern day life. If we can take a moment to simply sit and breath we can connect with our parasympathetic nervous system allowing it to reset and our hormones to balance once more.
I personally like to use Ujjayi when I practice Vinyasa Yoga. It provides a rhythm and a focal point during my practice. From a physiological point of view, Krishnamacharya (referred to as the Grandfather of modern day yoga) said that “Ujjayi Pranayama is a balancing and calming breath which increases oxygenation and builds internal body heat.” This is obviously important when considering Vinyasa’s more aerobic nature as the muscles need to be fully oxygenated for energy metabolism to take place.
Above all, Ujjayi breath gives me a grounding focus during my practice, helping me transition from one pose to the next keeping my core engaged, helping me lengthen and calm my breath when holding a more challenging asana and finally acting as a guide for my mind to recognise when I lose control of my breath – a clear signal that my body is worn out and it’s time to back off.
Have a look here for more information on Ujjayi Breath: http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/2485