What is Ujjayi Breath | Ujjayi Breathing Benefits & Contraindications

Written by Kuldeep Yele

Ujjayi Breathing or Ujjayi Pranayama

Ujjayi breath is one of the great pranayamas mentioned in Hatha Yoga Pradipika as well as in Gherand Samhita. This breathing technique is so powerful that it simultaneously energizes and relaxes your mind & body that this can helps you to transform your Yoga practice; similarly, there are immense such Ujjayi Breath Benefits.

Ujjayi Pranayama, often referred to as Ocean Breath (don’t worry, why it is called as Ocean Breath I had covered in the latter part of the article), is such a unique breathing technique that unlike other types of pranayama, you can even perform it during moving yoga asanas, walking or standing. 

And the best part is that once you understand how to do ujjayi breathing, it is very simple for you to perform it regularly!

Breath is the king of mind 
– B.K.S. Iyengar

Ujjayi Breath

What is Ujjayi Breath

Ujjayi breath is one of the eight pranayamas mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. It is a simple type of breathing exercise or pranayama employed in Yoga practice. Ujjayi Pranayama is practiced by constricting the glottis; once done correctly, ujjayi breath sounds like a cat purring or light snoring. 

Ocean breath is one of the foremost essential, nonetheless, one amongst the most beneficial pranayamas.

Ujjayi pranayama stretches the breath, warms it before entering into the lungs, and helps to enhance heat in the body. Agni (Internal Fire) is stoked through this heat, and a robust healing process is unlocked within the body. 

It helps to eliminate toxins out of the body.

This breathing technique is practiced and taught throughout Ashtanga Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga.

Ujjayi breathing happens naturally in our body, but it stops happening as we grow up!

This natural ujjayi breathing process you can notice when a small kid sleeps at night time, he invariably breathes by contracting his glottis, so you will be able to hear a little snoring or hissing sound caused by the breath in his throat.

If appropriately practiced, this pranayama can induce you into a meditative state.

Ujjayi Pranayama in Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Swami Swatmarama Suri had mentioned Eight Classical Pranayamas in his fifteenth-century most influential surviving texts on hatha yoga, Hatha Yoga Pradipika. 

Ujjayi breath is one the foremost among them. In Hatha Yoga Pradipika verses 51-53 Ujjayi pranayama is described as follows:

अथ उज्जायी
मुखं संयम्य नाडीभ्यामाकॄष्य पवनं शनैः ।
यथा लगति कण्ठात्तु हॄदयावधि सस्वनम् ।। 


पूर्ववत्कुम्भयेत्प्राणं रेचयेदिडया तथा ।
श्र्लेष्मदोषहरं कण्ठे देहानलविवर्धनम् ।।


नाडीजलोदराधातुगतदोषविनाशनम् ।
गच्छता तिष्ठता कार्यमुज्जाय्याख्यं तु कुम्भकम् ।।

— Hath Yoga Pradipika 51-53

Meaning:

Now Ujjayi!

Having closed the opening of the Nadi (Larynx), the air should be drawn in such a way that it goes touching from the throat to the chest and making noise while passing.

It should be restrained as before and then let out through Ida (the left nostril). This removes slesma (phlegm) in the throat and increases the appetite.

It destroys the defects of the Nadis, dropsy, and disorder of Dhatu. Ujjayi should be performed in all conditions of life, even while walking or sitting. 

Ujjayi Pranayama in Gherand Samhita

Ujjayi Breath is also described in the Seventeenth-century classic hatha yoga text, Gherand Samhita.

In Gherand Samhita Chapter No. 5 Verses 68-71 Ocean Breath is described as follows: 

अथ उज्जायीकुम्भकः 
नासाभ्यां वायुमाकृष्य वायुं वक्त्रेण धारयेत् ।
हृद्गलाभ्यां समाकृष्य मुखमध्ये च धारयेत् ।।

मुखं प्रक्षाल्य संबन्धं कुर्याज्जालन्धरं ततः ।
अशक्तिकुम्भकं कृत्वा धारयेदविरोधतः ।।

उज्जायी कुम्भकं कृत्वा सर्वकार्याणि साधयेत् ।
न भवेत् कफरोगं च क्रूरवायुरजीर्णकम् ।।

आमवातं क्षयं कासं ज्वर प्लीहा न विद्यते ।
जरामृत्युविनाशाय चोज्जायीसाधयेन्नरः ।।

— Gherand Samhita 5.68-71

Meaning: 

Now Ujjayi Kumbhaka is described!

Close the mouth, draw in the external air by both the nostrils, and pull up the internal air from the lungs and throat; retain them in the mouth.

Then having washed the mouth (i.e., expelled air through the mouth), perform Jalandhara. Let him perform Kumbhaka (retention of the breath) with all his might and retain the air unhindered.

Ujjayi Kumbhaka accomplishes all works. He is never attacked by phlegm diseases, or nervous diseases, or indigestion, or dysentery, or consumption, or cough, or fever or [enlarged] spleen. Let a man perform Ujjayi to destroy decay and death.

Ujjayi Pronunciation

Ujjayi pronunciation is as “ooh-JAI-yee.”

Sometimes it is also pronounced as ‘oo-jai’.

In Hindi or most of the Indian traditional language, it is pronounced as उज्जायी.

Ujjayi Pranayama Meaning

Ujjayi Pranayama meaning is ‘breath of victory’ or ‘victorious breath.’  

The Sanskrit word Ujjayi comes from the Sanskrit prefix “ud” (उद्) and root “ji” (जि). The Sanskrit word ‘Ujji‘ (उज्जि) means “to be victorious“, thus Ujjayi means “one who is victorious“.

Therefore Ujjayi Pranayama or Ujjayi breath is often referred to as “Victorious Breath“.

Also, the Sanskrit prefix ‘ud’ means “Upward” or “Expanding” as well as “Bondage” or “Binding” and root ‘ji’ means “to conquer”. So at a higher spiritual level, Ujjayi pranayama is about achieving freedom from bondage or being victorious from one’s bondage. It also suggests a sense of power and upliftment.  

Popularly Ujjayi breath is also known as Ocean breath, as the movement of breath in the throat resembles the sound of the ocean wave.

So, in a Nutshell, Ujjayi breathing is also referred to as:

Ujjayi Pranayama
Victorious Breathing
Snake Breath or Cobra Breath
Ocean Breathing
Psychic Breath
 Diaphragmatic Breathing

How to do Ujjayi Breathing

Follow the following steps to do Ujjayi Breathing:

  1. Sit comfortably in any meditative posture, calm your mind and close your mouth.
  2. Constrict the muscles of your throat such that while inhaling or exhaling, you must feel your breath passing through the trachea.
  3. Start inhaling, slowly and rhythmically, in one long and continuous inspiration. Allow the air to pass through the constricted throat, creating a “friction sound.”
  4. Concentrate on the sound of your breath; allow it to calm your mind. It should be perceptible to you.
  5. Let your inhalations fill your lungs to their fullest expansion until a sense of fullness is felt within the chest.
  6. Retain the inhaled air as much as you can, or try to hold at least double the inhalation period.
  7. Now slowly closing your right nostril and exhale through the left nostril, again producing the friction sound while keeping the same constriction in your throat.
  8. Exhale as naturally as possible – gradually, avoiding jerky or hasty moments.
  9. Completely release the air throughout your exhalations.

This is one cycle of ocean breath, try to practice as many cycles as possible, or at least try to practice it for five to ten minutes. 

Also, note that although there is a constriction of the throat, inhale such that the breath should be both long (dirga) and smooth (suksma), allowing the air to reach every cell in your lungs.

As described in Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Ujjayi can be performed in all conditions of life, even while walking or sitting. So you can even perform it during your Asana practice or while doing other physical training.

If you want to enhance your meditative quality, try to practice it in a comfortable & calm environment.

Ujjayi Breath Technique

At an advanced level, there are some additional techniques to perform Ujjayi Breath; this helps yogis enhance the state of meditation and improve overall performance by bringing harmony in Sadhana.

So if you want to enhance your ujjayi practice, then you can add up:

  • Khumbhaka (Breath Retention) 
  • Bandhas (Body Locks)
  • Mudras
  • Mantras

Ocean breath, when practiced along with Khumbhaka (Internal Breath Retention) it can be very beneficial. Initially, you can hold khumbhaka just for few seconds, and eventually, you should try to increase it over time.

After you master breath retention, then while holding your breath you can incorporate Bandhas, mudras, and even mantras along with it.

While you are performing Khumbhaka, you can hold Jalandhar bandha as described in Gherand Samhita, or you can perform both Jalandhara and Moola Bandha together.

Also, you can hold Khechari Mudra while performing Ujjayi, or even you can chant the OM mantra in mind.

Ujjayi Breath Benefits

Scientific studies show that integrating Ujjayi breathing in your yoga practice will deepen your experience and have a balancing influence on the entire system. With Ujjayi, there are immense benefits, providing massive value to a simple practice.

Here are the few Ujjayi Breathing Benefits:

  1. Promotes mental clarity and focus.
  2. Removes phlegm in the throat.
  3. Increases appetite and prevents indigestion. 
  4. Cleanses & destroys defects of Nadis.
  5. Destroys Dhatu (seven tissues of the body) disorder and helps in purification.
  6. Rejuvenates and Soothes the nervous system.
  7. Helps in thyroid-related problems. This prevents the risk of thyroid disorders.
  8. Promotes sound sleep and helps to cure the snoring problem.
  9. Also beneficial to treat anxiety and stress.

Keep Learning: Amazing Benefits of Practising Kapalbhati Pranayama

Ujjayi Breath Meditation

From the meaning of Ujjayi, we know that this form of pranayama helps to be victorious. But victory from whom?

So various yoga gurus say that Ujjayi helps win over our Prana (Life Force) and our mind & its thoughts.

As it helps to controls our mind, it is so beneficial that Ujjayi Breathing automatically drives our mind into the process of meditation. 

Also, after regular practice, it helps to improve the oxygen and energy level of the body. Consequently, increased energy boosts the focusing power of the mind.

As Ujjayi pranayama allows the mind to focus more, it aids in the meditative state.

Ujjayi Breath Contraindications

  • Avoid it during pregnancy.
  • Do not perform if you are suffering from severe cardiovascular problems.
  • Avoid ujjayi pranayama if you are suffering from migraine problems.
  • Do not perform it when your stomach is full. It is always best to do ocean breath on an empty stomach as it gives better results.
  • If you had gone through any surgery, then try to avoid this pranayama.
  • Also, note that if you are having some problems while performing Ujjayi breathing, it is always best to perform it under the guidance of an experienced teacher.

Conclusion

The ujjayi breath, which means ‘victorious breath,’ helps us conquer our thoughts and automatically aids in the meditative state.

Ujjayi breath is one of the eight forms of pranayama mentioned in Hatha Yoga Pradipika. It stretches the breath, warms it before entering into the lungs, and helps to enhance internal heat. Through this heat, Agni (Internal body heat) is stoked, and a powerful healing process is unlocked within the body. 

Ujjayi has a balancing impact on the entire cardiorespiratory and nervous system, releases feelings of stress & irritation, and helps calm the mind and body, and helps in meditation.

Ujjayi breathing is also known as Ujjayi Pranayama, Ocean Breath, Victorious Breath, Snake Breath or Cobra Breath, Psychic Breath.

Even you can perform ocean breath in all conditions of life, even while walking or sitting. So you can perform it in the seated position as well as during other yoga postures.

So do you like Ujjayi breath?

If you practice Ujjayi breathing regularly, then which ujjayi breath benefits had helped you in your life? Tell in the comments below! Also, if you liked this article on Ujjayi Breath, then share it on social media. 

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