When you first walk into an Ashtanga yoga class, one of the first things you may notice is the sound of the practitioners’ breath. You might describe it as “ocean wave meets Darth Vader”…you know what I mean, right?! They are practising a technique called Ujjayi breathing, otherwise known as “breathing with sound”. This breathing technique is the foundation upon which the Ashtanga practice is built, so it’s important to start practising it early on in your yoga journey. Despite its reputation for being an intense physical practice, the main focus in Ashtanga is the breath. All the crazy stuff like postures, jump-backs, back-bending etc. – that can be layered on top over time!
Benefits of Ujjayi breathing during your Ashtanga yoga practice.Why do we bother with Ujjayi breathing?
Here are some of the reasons we put so much emphasis on this breathing technique in Ashtanga yoga:
1. It triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, making us more relaxed and calm
2. It helps us to deepen postures by relaxing the muscles
3. It creates a strong oscillation of intra-abdominal blood pressure, which massages the internal organs, making them strong and healthy
4. It keeps the mind focused on the present moment, which helps to reduce stress and anxiety
5. It prepares us for a more formal pranayama practice by deepening and lengthening the breath
6. It starts to correct poor/inefficient breathing habits
7. It reduces obsession with the physical body and turns our attention inwards (a form of pratyahara)
8. It creates a pump-like effect in the subtle body, fanning the fire of agni to awaken Kundalini energy
When you’ve been practising for a while you will start to notice how the quality of your breath impacts the overall quality of your practice.