Without the breath, yoga is just a lot of bending. With the breath, yoga transforms. Ujjayi breath provides the mind-calming rhythmic hum that naturally moves the body from one moment to the next. The sound of the Ujjayi breath reminds me of ocean waves crashing onto the shore, running back out to sea, and then crashing back into the shore again, and again. So peaceful and relaxing, yet so full of strength and power.
Consider these simple tips on correct yogic breathing from Lino Miele, who states:
Awareness (consciousness) of the breath is the basis of a correct practice of the asana (posture). Practice Ujjayi breathing. Keep the throat relaxed and open, and apply a slight closure of the glottis. The air that enters and exits will produce a sound; the quality of the Ujjayi breath should be gentle, deep and strong. The breath is complete when the lungs are either completely full or completely empty. A deep exhale ends below the navel. A deep inhale will expand the back and the thoracic cage, filling the area around the heart.
Though somewhat simple to describe, correct Ujjayi breathing takes persistent practice, usually with continual reminders to refocus on the breath. Sometimes it’s tough to not rush through a practice, giving half breaths for each of the movements. With Lino Miele’s breathing advice in mind, I recommend paying extra attention to feeling your lungs expand on inhale and contracting your lower abdominals upon exhale. Imagine your torso as if it were a sponge filling up with water on inhale and wringing itself dry on exhale.
One last visual description of the breath from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki:
When we practice zazen our mind always follows our breathing. When we inhale, the air comes into the inner world. When we exhale, the air goes out to the outer world. The inner world is limitless, and the outer world is also limitless. We say “inner world” or “outer world,” but actually there is just one whole world. In this limitless world, our throat is like a swinging door. The air comes in and goes out like someone passing through a swinging door. If you think, “I breathe,” the ” I ” is extra. There is no you to say “I. ” What we call ” I ” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale. It just moves; that is all. When your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this movement, there is nothing: no ” I , ” no world, no mind nor body; just a swinging door.
Breathe in, breathe out…Open door, shut door, open door…