Step-by-Step Guide to Practicing Ujjayi Pranayama
As with all physical practices (which includes breathwork), please consult with your trusted medical professional before attempting to follow the steps here. This is intended as informative only, and not a substitute for professional medical advice.
Pranayama practices all come with a long list of benefits, but each also has contraindications, Ujjayi Pranayama included.
Once you have the go-ahead, read through the following, then go find a qualified instructor to help you through each step.
1. Finding a Comfortable Seated Posture
Choose a peaceful quiet place to sit comfortably, either on the floor or a chair, with an upright spine and relaxed shoulders. Elevate the hips on a cushion if you need to, to bring your knees in line with your hip points or lower. This reduces tension on the muscles around the knees.
2. Becoming Aware of Natural Breath Patterns
Begin by observing your natural breath without attempting to change it. Notice the rhythm, depth, and sensations of each inhale and exhale. Are you breathing only into the upper chest? Make a note without trying to change the breath.
3. The Constriction of the Throat: Creating the “Oceanic” Sound
Gently constrict the back of your throat as you inhale and exhale, creating a soft, soothing sound similar to the ocean waves. This is a difficult concept to grasp at first, so one trick is to whisper a long “ha” and halfway through close the mouth while endeavoring to continue the sound.
Keep that very slight constricting in place as you inhale. Inhaling is a little harder than exhaling like this. It’s OK, it comes with practice.
There is no need to place great effort on the constriction – that might cause the breath to catch – especially on the inhale, and we want to aim for smooth deep breaths.
4. Coordinating Breath with Movement and Mindfulness
When you get really familiar with the practice (I’m talking several months of regular Ujjayi Pranayama), then you can try to bring it into your yoga asana practice or meditation practice, syncing your breath with movement and cultivating mindful awareness of the present moment.
Beware that this is not easy, and not always appropriate. It is better to include Ujjayi breath with asanas you already feel comfortable with. If you find yourself feeling frustrated or more anxious, then return to nasal breathing.
5. Recommended Duration and Frequency of Practice
Start with 5 minutes, twice-weekly practice, and gradually work up to a daily practice. You can increase the duration as you become more comfortable. Consistency is key to experiencing the full benefits, but there is no such thing as rushing in Pranayama.
A dedicated, slowly-progressing practice done with integrity is far more beneficial than rushing toward a daily 10-minute practice and pairing it with every asana you do that day.