Stressed Out? Try Taking an Ocean Breath
Ujjayi breath, also known as “the ocean breath,” is practiced by slightly constricting the back of the throat so that as you inhale and exhale, your breath sounds a bit like the gentle roar of the ocean. If this sounds a little intimidating, bear with me: Ujjayi breath is one of the most popular pranayama techniques, or breathing techniques, in yoga. Practitioners have been using ujjayi breath to calm the nervous system for centuries, and ujjayi and other yogic breathing practices have been shown in studies to have a calming effect.
Everyone has their own reactions to breathwork, however, so even though ujjayi is “supposed” to be relaxing, if you try it and don’t enjoy it, there’s nothing wrong with you. If this technique doesn’t work for you, consider alternate nostril breathing, practicing the five senses exercise, or “tapping.”
How to take an ocean breath
To begin, situate yourself. Make yourself comfortable. You can do this breath standing, sitting, or lying down. I prefer to lie down (almost all the time, at any opportunity) but especially for ujjayi breath because I feel the throat constriction to be most effective for me this way. You can experiment and see what you like. Once you’ve found your comfortable spot, you can move on to the controlled breathing.
Keep your mouth closed, and breathe only through your nose. Start off just by breathing deeply for a few rounds, centering yourself in the experience of the breath and only the breath. Then when you’re ready, you can slightly constrict your throat. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, here’s a tip. You know how you can breathe on a mirror or window to fog it up? You tighten the back of your throat a little bit as you exhale, and it makes an aspirated “ha” sound, and then you’ve made fog. That’s exactly the kind of throat constriction you want to maintain for ujjayi breath.
Once you’ve found your throat constriction, continue to breathe deeply and slowly through your nose. Your breath should be audible, like a little ocean inside you. As you inhale, allow your belly to expand first, then your rib cage, and then your chest. As you exhale, let the chest drop, the rib cage contract, and the belly relax. This method is referred to as a three-part-breath, which you can do with or without adding a constriction to the throat. Imagine the breath like a wave, swelling and then receding. If you only have a few minutes to relax, you can set a timer so that you can let yourself get lost in the gentle rhythm of your ocean breath.
Jezmina Von Thiele (they/them) is a 200-hour Kripalu certified Yoga Instructor with a Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga Certificate. They are a dancer, healer, artist, art model, and tell fortunes in their mixed Roma/Sinti family’s tradition. Follow them on Instagram at @jezmina.vonthiele and visit jezminavonthiele.com for more.
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