Ujjayi breath (for a definition look here) is pervasive throughout most yoga practices. It is often taught as a way to become aware of and control the breath. This is a great practice. We’re all about sharpening an individual’s awareness of the body. But, too many times, do we see clients come in who believe that breathing this wayALLTHE TIME is how to manage stress and relax. Ujjayi does not work that way.
This breathing practice is an audible one. That means, to successfully do it, you have to have a “whispered” breath you can hear. In order to do so, one must be able to control and contract the opening of the glottis in the throat. Neat! That’s cool, but this level of measured control does not necessarily inform the brain and body that it’s time to relax. Sometimes relaxing means being comfortable within yourself while letting go of control. For example, try applying Ujjayi breathing to your Savasana and then try being in Savasana and letting the breath come and go without trying to control it. This can be a much harder practice; thus is the challenge in letting go!
Ujjayi can be excellent for tracking your breathing during a challenging practice, or for making the body more of a solid structure, which can be useful in certain situations. For a demonstration of Ujjayi’s effect check out breathing master and one of our beloved teacher’s Leslie Kaminoff and this video.
Especially after viewing that demonstration, one can see that breathing this way does not connote relaxation. But it can help you gain control of yourself, thoughts and emotions by getting in touch with your breath. Keep in mind this is an active manipulation of a physical process that is mostly performed unconsciously. Use this ACTIVity to then take you to a place where letting go and just “being” is easier. If you find it too difficult too let go of Ujjayi and just BE with your breath than find a teacher to help you release the habit. It could actually be responsible for keeping you from truly being able to relax and release.