"As long as there is breath in the body,
there is life. When breath departs, so too does life. Therefore, regulate the breath."
–The Hatha Yoga Pratipika–
I am Irena. I am a yoga student, practitioner, and teacher. I teach a style of yoga called Vinyasa,
in which one posture flows into the next, as well as a static style called Yin yoga, in which we
stay in each position for up to five minutes. Although one is active and the other passive, the one
thing those two styles share in common is the breath. We are all accustomed to what is
called "voluntary respiration.” This is what we are all doing throughout most of the day with hardly
even a thought.
In every class I teach, I remind my students to breathe, which would seem like an impossible
thing to forget; yet, most of us tend to hold our breath without even noticing. When the breath
becomes static, so do we. How do we avoid this? The answer is by listening to, focusing on, and
becoming aware of the breath. One of the key elements of our yoga practice is the Ujjayi breath,
which has a number of benefits.
Benefits of Ujjayi Breath
Ujjayi breathing, often translated as the "victorious" breath, is a slow and deep style
of breathing, which strengthens our lungs and diaphragm, while allowing a deeper intake of
oxygen and full expulsion of carbon dioxide, enriching the blood. Ujjayi breathing also slows
down the passage of air into and out of the body, having a calming effect on our nervous system.
As this happens, our body relaxes and the mind quiets, allowing us to melt into the yoga postures
much more graciously. This type of breathing also creates a steady sound that becomes a barometer
for how we are working with ourselves and acts as an anchor to keep the mind focused in the present moment.
Let's learn Ujjayi breathing:
Sit in a comfortable position with your spine elongated and your sitting bones resting evenly on a cushion.
Close your eyes and become aware of your breath. Notice if your belly raises or contracts on the inhalations.
Notice what happens on the exhalations. Now consciously draw your belly in toward your spine on your next
exhalation. Allow your belly to relax on the next inhalation.
The second aspect involves slowing down the passage of air into and out of the body in order to take longer
breaths. To slow this passage of air, we close off part of our throat and breathe through the back of the
throat, creating a sound like ocean waves or wind moving through trees. You do not need to project it loudly;
it's enough for you to be able to just hear it yourself.
If you lose the rhythm, stop, take a break, take a few ordinary breaths, and begin again.
Allow your breath to be the most important element of your practice. Backing off or coming out of a pose only
shows an awareness of the breath.
For each of us, life begins with our first breath and ends with our last. As the quote says,
“as long as there is breath, there is life.” To be aware of the breath is to be aware of life.
If you were given only this one breath, wouldn't you want to make it count? So why wait? Be vibrantly alive,
fully present, and aware; it's only a breath away!