I’ve heard it referred to as the “ocean breath” but my first instance with ojjayi breathing was something totally unexpected. It happened during my first ever yoga class at, what was then called The Yoga Loft, now the Sattva School. I hopped into a class with a friend of mine, who recommended I try out sattva. I was brand new to yoga and brand new to this school. We dove into our sun salutations at the start of class and all I heard was what I honestly thought to be the instructor turning on their “jungle sounds” playlist on their iPod. Hilariously, and much to my surprise, the jungle sounds and feeling in the room was actually created by my fellow yogis around me! Every time I get on my mat to practice, I think back to that day and smile. My how far I’ve come since that firs day at Sattva!
Let’s take some time to talk about our breath, since it’s such a pivotal part of our practice.
What is the ojjayi breathing technique?
It’s an ancient yogic breathing technique in which it first fills the lower belly (activating the first and second chakras), rises to the lower rib cage (the third and fourth chakras) and finally moves into the upper chest and throat.
In Sanskrit, the prefix "ud" (उद्) added with the root "ji" (जि): "ujji" (उज्जि), brings the meaning "to be victorious". Ujjayi (उज्जायी), thus means "one who is victorious," or in our breath’s case, “victorious breath."
How do you do it?
It’s essentially a constriction at the back of your throat and sounds just like a whisper. It’s audible and you feel it, meaning, you feel it in your body and you feel your neighbour too.
Why do we use it?
Now this is the tricky part: sync your breath with movement. To put it into the simplest form I can, we use ojjayi breath in our practice for rhythm. We use it for connection. We use it for balance. Ojjayi breathing also helps us regulate the heating of the body and helps us release tension as we flow through our practice.
It’s quite a challenge to move through a practice and maintain a steady, even quality to your breath, but that’s what makes yoga so fun! You’re in a constant mindset of fine-tuning and making small adjustments. Over time, the more we focus on our breath, the more it becomes second nature and truly part of our practice.
Concentrate on the Breath
Even when I’m going about my day, when I get stuck on a challenge that needs lots of concentration, I catch myself in mid-ojjayi breath. When I started realizing I do this throughout the day, that I’ve trained my body and breath to connect over the years, really does help me work through problems with a sense of groundedness and connection to the moment I’m in. How cool is that?!
Remember, it takes practice to find your breath and it takes patience. Dedicate a practice on your mat to sticking to rhythmic breathing and see how far you get before your mind wanders. And when it does begin to wander, kindly bring it back and try again. Without the breath, there is no life to your practice and you just move from one pose to the next, rather than wholeheartedly moving as one: body, breath and mind.