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Ujjayi breathing is a type of breath technique popular in some forms of yoga. Also known as ocean breath or victorious breath, ujjayi breathing uses constriction of the throat and a diaphragmatic breath pattern to create an elongated breath and sensation of heat in the body. Yoga practitioners believe that ujjayi breathing can help improve mind-body focus and increase oxygenation throughout the body.
Ujjayi breathing takes some conscious control, and is often practiced in a resting or still pose before incorporating it into yoga poses. Beginners are taught to perform this type of breath with their mouth open at first, but more advanced practitioners inhale and exhale through the nose instead. Beginning on an exhale, practitioners contract the muscles in their throat slightly, so that the exhaled breath makes a distinct, audible sigh. When inhaling, the contraction continues, so that breath mimics the sound of ocean waves rolling in and out.
Known as a diaphragmatic technique, ujjayi breath also focuses on increasing the amount of oxygen flowing in and out of the body. The inhale of a breath begins in the diaphragm, or abdominal region of the body, allowing the stomach and rib cage to expand as air enters. Practitioners should be able to feel the expansion of their abdomen with each inhale, followed by a smaller expansion in the chest. On the exhale, breath empties first from the chest and upper body, then from diaphragm. It may help to think of inhaling like filling up a glass of water: the water fills from the bottom toward the top.
Ujjayi breathing can help establish a rhythm for yoga poses. In many forms of yoga, each movement is linked to an inhale or exhale. Since concentrated breathing naturally leads to an elongated breath cycle, yoga practitioners can focus on moving fully into a pose during the length of an inhale or exhale. Inhaling can be thought of as a way to draw in energy and strength to the body, while exhaling can serve as a means of relaxing deeper into a pose.
Many experienced yogis claim that ujjayi breathing has numerous benefits, though their claims are not always universally accepted. Some believe that ocean breath helps bring more oxygen into the body, and promotes the cleansing of organs and body systems through increased oxygenation. The practice may also have some benefit on muscle tone throughout the throat, lungs, and diaphragm. Concentrating on ujjayi breath can also help yogis focus on their practice, allowing them to remain present and active by paying close attention to the rhythm of the breath.