Teaching Yogic Breathing Practices: Ujjayi Breathing

yoga instructorBy: Virginia Iversen

It is not unusual for many Yoga students to come to class a bit harried and rushed from their daily activities. You may be teaching a Yoga class to a group of busy moms during the day or to students who are trying to squeeze an hour of Yoga in during their lunch hour. Because of the fast pace of our contemporary lifestyle, it is often helpful to begin a class with setting an intention for the practice and a few moments of grounding meditation. In this way, your students will be able to fully arrive and be present during the class.


There are also a number of pranayama or breathing practices that help to ground and center the mind during asana practice. One of these practices is known as the ocean sounding breath or Ujjayi pranayama. Ujjayi pranayama is a diaphragmatic breathing technique that is usually practiced during flowing Yoga classes, such as Ashtanga or Power Yoga. This type of breathing is marked by the sound of a conch shell as a Yoga practitioner partially closes the back of his or her throat to create some resistance when inhaling.

Ujjayi pranayama helps to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Due to its balancing effect, practicing Ujjayi pranayama while doing Yoga asanas is both calming and energizing. It helps to fully oxygenate the blood and expand the rib cage, chest and lung capacity fully. In addition, Ujjayi breathing increases the flow of prana throughout the entire body, increasing energy levels and alertness. It is also said that Ujjayi breathing offers you a garland of pearls upon which to rest your mind during the practice of Yoga postures.


If you are introducing your Yoga students to Ujjayi pranayama for the first time, have them sit on their mats in a comfortable cross-legged position. You may wish to demonstrate Ujjayi breathing to your students by taking four or five rounds of breath. Remember to turn any music down or off completely, so that they can hear the ocean sound of the breath. Next, instruct your students on how to partially close the back of their throats, so that they can produce the same ocean sounding breath without strain.

While practicing Ujjayi pranayama, encourage your students to breath fully and deeply by expanding their rib cage completely and taking the breath all the way up to the top of the throat, and then exhaling completely through the nose. When your students are comfortable with Ujjayi breathing, begin leading them through a sequence of postures while you cue each inhale and exhale. Practicing Ujjayi breathing in rhythm with the postures will also help your students to fluidly move in and out of each asana.


© Copyright – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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