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Udjayi Breath for Better Health

2 min

Ujjayi has been used for thousands of years to enhance hatha yoga practice. The sound that Ujjayi provides helps us to synchronize breath with movements during yoga, making the entire yoga practice more rhythmic.

From our very first breath until our final exhale we, without any deliberate effort, continuously breathe and that is done by our Autonomic Nervous system (ANS). Unlike other ANS actions in the body (like heart rate, for example) we are able to take voluntary control over our breathing and thus, critically, can influence our Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous system.

When we breathe Ujjayi breath we transform the automatic intoconscious and thereby become the master of our internal landscape; positively affecting how we feel by regulating the length, air volume and sound of our inhales and exhales.

Yet, the name Udjayi is actually incorrect. There is Udjayi pranayama in yoga that requires kumbaka - the holding of the breath after inhale and exhale. During your yoga practice you don't want to hold the breath as it can put a lot of pressure on the neck and the throat itself. What you do want though, is to breathe in a controlled and conscious manner and here the technique of the Udjayi pranayama comes helpful as this type of breathing makes sound and engages your bandhas (deep core muscles).

Yes. the so-called "Udjayi breath" is a free (unobstructed) rhythmic breathing with sound. That is how my teachers call it, avoiding the confusion with the pranayama Udjayi. This free breathing with sound requires constricting the glottis and inhaling/exhaling with the same length. The effect is controlling the diaphragm and opening the chest more to the sides and back, connecting to the deep core muscles (bandha) and more focus.

From the yogic perspective, Udjayi aims at "meeting" the upward-going energy flow (Prana) with the downward going energy flow (Apana). Yogis say it ignites the internal fire - Agni. And yes, actually this rthytmic breathing with sound makes you hot and makes you sweat profusely. When combined with asana (postures), the effect is magical. The body is purified, tension is released and the mind is more focused. Things that look impossible become possible.


Sit comfortably with straight back (some crossed legged position works best). Open your mouth and breathe into a mirror (against your hand but as if you are breathing into a mirror to wipe away the glass). That is the sound and vibration that you need.

Once you feel the specific closing of the glottis by "breathing into a mirror", close your mouth and do the same thing but with your mouth closed. Notice how that action connects you with your lower abdomen that engages to help you exhale.

Now "breathe into a mirror" when you inhale as well. The hardest thing here is to not let your belly stick out on the inhale - just keep it engaged after your exhalation. This lower belly control keeps the diaphragm lifted which will start opening your chest.

It is easy, just takes some practice to get used to it. Do not overstrain the glottis - you do not want to make the sound by using the vocal cords. The sound comes naturally when you constrict the glottis (that part of the throat that swallows). Listen to the sound - it is a great way to be present and aware, as well as have the idea what is going on with your body and mind - the breath will change if you exert yourslef too much or drift away.

Once you are comfortable breathing like that, use it when you do yoga poses - you will find out that the breath helps you with the perfomance, loosens your muscles and stabilizes your joints besides keeping you right where you need to be!

WARNING! This type of breathing is really very warming, so if wheather is too hot you may need to be careful to not overheat yourself. If that happens, simply revert to normal breathing, take rest and continue. Udjayi is absolutely safe when done correctly. On the other hand, in winter or when cold, just breathe Udjayi no matter what you do and you'll heat up fast. In time, regular practice of Udjayi breath balances your thermogenesis (the production of heat in the body) and improves thermoregulation including hot flashes. Yet, in the beginning, getting heated through the breath may actually feel like a hot flash. In addition, the sound might seem like a strained way to breathe (Dart Vader anyone?) but in reality, the Udjayi breath is quite calming and brings lightness. If it tires you, then you simply are not doing it correctly. Whatever happens in the beginning, do not be frightened or put aback - it will soon feel very natural as it is actually a great thing and a very useful tool to gain control over your body and mind!

About the author

Irina Bachvarova

Yoga Guru

Master in Sports Pedagogic and director at Bulgarian Ashtanga Yoga Academy.

Irina is the author of the first Bulgarian book for Ashtanga Yoga and trusted Yoga Guru for TV series, produced by Bulgarian National Television.

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