In a yoga class, focus always stays on the breath. More important than the movements themselves (called asanas), is continuing to breathe through them. In all types of physically challenging activity, many of us forget to breathe. While on the mat, keeping your breath at a steady pace per movement is the goal. This is arguably the hardest part about yoga.
Pranayama is the name of one of the 8 limbs of yoga, which outlines different breathing techniques. There are many different Pranayama techniques, all of which serve a unique purpose. Some styles of breathing work to cleanse, balance or even heat the body from within. Ujjayi Pranayama is used to heat the body, translating from Sanskrit meaning, “victorious breath.” This is the breathing practice to engage as soon as your start moving through asanas on your mat.
If you were to walk into a yoga class with your eyes closed, it might sound like you are at the beach. Ujjayi breathing has an oceanic sound, as air is taken in through the nose and into the back of the throat, making a slight hissing-like noise. To create this oceanic sound, you must constrict the muscles in the back of your throat, while keeping your mouth closed. This heats the air as it enters your lungs, and allows you to take in more oxygen per breath than you normally would during natural breathing. It is very purposeful when practicing yoga to shift to Ujjayi breathing because it the warm oxygen helps to warm your body, which better prepares you to move deeper into the poses, while also helping to fuel your movement. For example, as you exhale the energy from your breath can help you lift up into a handstand. If you forget to breathe, this would be much harder.
Ujjayi breathing not only makes for a better and more authentic yoga practice, but it also helps to calm the mind and body, makes meditation easier and stimulates circulation and metabolism.