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Ujjayi (pronounced oo-jai) is a form of pranayama (the yogic science of breath) and has been used for thousands of years to enhance one’s yoga practice. The Sanskrit word, Ujjayi is commonly translated as “victorious breath,” and is commonly referred to as the “oceanic breath”. The sound that Ujjayi provides helps us to synchronize breath with movements during yoga, making the entire yoga practice more rhythmic.
To create Ujjayi breath, one must constrict the back of the throat, similar to the constriction made when speaking in a whisper. Therefore, it is an audible breathe that is often compared to the sound of the ocean. Although there is a constriction of the throat, the Ujjayi breath flows in and out through the nostrils, with the lips remaining gently closed.
Vinyasa yoga (flow yoga) is based on breath-synchronized poses or postures. Translated from Sanskrit, vinyasa means, “to place in a special way.” Each movement is a gradual progression from one to the next. The movement is aligned and linked with the breath so that you move with each inhale and exhale. Vinyasa-style yoga classes are ones where there is a dynamic flow from posture to posture.
Here are eight reasons why you’ll want to incorporate Ujjayi breathing in your yoga practice:
1. Improves concentration in the physical practice. Becoming absorbed in Ujjayi allows one to remain in poses for longer periods of time.
2. Instills endurance that enhances a flowing practice by lending a meditative quality that maintains the rhythm of the class.
3. It diminishes distractions and allows you to remain self-aware and present in the practice.
4. Ujjayi breath regulates heating of the body. The friction of the air passing through the lungs and throat generates internal body heat. It is similar to a massage for the internal organs; as the core becomes warm from the inside, the body becomes prepared for the yoga practice. This heat makes stretching safer while the inner organs can be cleansed of any toxins that have accumulated.
5. A focused Ujjayi breath can release tension and tight areas of the body.
6. Additional benefits of Ujjayi pranayama include diminished pain from headaches, relief of sinus pressure, decrease in phlegm, and strengthening of the nervous and digestive systems.
7. The breath should remain as even and smooth in the poses as when we rest. Ujjayi tells us when we need to surrender and possibly take a break into a resting posture like Child’s Pose. It allows us to be honest with ourselves and to take a step back to let go of our ego.
8. Ujjayi allows us to practice full deep breaths during the challenges of a physical practice. Therefore, it teaches us to stay calm when faced with the challenges of our daily lives.
Your breath can be your true teacher, guiding you in many ways. The ancient yogis realized the intimate connection between the breath and the mind. Hopefully, you will consider this pranayama in your practice.
(information used from various sites regarding Yoga breathing)
That song is stuck in my head!!! “Love Is My Religion” by Ziggy Marley. So simple yet so meaningful. As I was driving home from teaching yoga, I started thinking about my own journey with religion and spirituality. I was reminded of my first yoga instructor and his peaceful demeanor. I never really knew what his religious and/or spiritual beliefs were but I knew he followed an enlightened path. Today I believe it was a reflection of his yoga practice. Not just the physical practice of yoga (asana) but all aspects or limbs of yoga.
I’ve been asked more than once if yoga is a religion---and the answer is no. It is a philosophy. It began in India approximately 5,000 years ago. A spiritual sage named Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras; which is widely regarded as the authoritative text on yoga. It is a guideline for living a meaningful and purposeful life. The sutras (which means “threads” in Sanskrit) provide a framework for spiritual growth and mastery over the physical and mental body.
Yoga is a mind, body, and spirit practice, whether you are or are not religious or spiritual, you can practice the wonderful and ancient gift of yoga.
Ah! Music to my ears…I’ll never forget the first time I heard the yoga instructor state, “You can always rest in Child’s pose”. What? Rest during Yoga? Listening to your body is one of the most important parts of a yoga practice. The physical practice of Yoga is not “mind over matter” but more of a holistic process --- synchronizing your body and breath with your mind and spirit. Child’s pose or Balasana in Sanskrit is a position to come to at any time during your practice to catch your breath, slow down, assess, and rest. It is also a great pose to help clear distractions.
Here are a few benefits of Child’s Pose:
· Calms the mind and body
· Encourages strong and steady breathing
· Helps alleviate stress and anxiety
· Lengthens and stretches the spine
· Gently stretches the hips, thighs and ankles
· Helps to relieve lower back pain
· Normalizes circulation throughout the body
· Increases blood circulation to your head which reduces headaches
· Massages the internal organs, aiding in digestion
How to do Child’s Pose:
· Begin in an all fours position on the hands and knees (tabletop) with the tops of the feet down.
· Release hips towards the heels, resting the upper body and head down towards the mat.
· Knees can be wide –allowing the torso and chest towards the floor (or ) keep the knees together to provide support for the upper body and back.
· Arms can be extended over the head-reaching towards the top of the mat (extended child’s pose) or along side the body reaching back towards the heels (resting child’s pose).
Your yoga practice can be as much of a meditation as sitting still in Lotus Pose. You can reap the same rewards while you are practicing---a sense of grounding, focus, balanced energy, and stress release.
Here are four tips to a more mindful practice:
1) A Sense of Grounding: During your yoga practice assess which parts of your body are touching the floor as you practice. Mindfully push those parts into the floor as a way to engage your whole body and build strength.
2) Focus: We all struggle with staying present but the more we work at it the easier it gets. Just like our yoga practice! Be present and aware of your surroundings and let everything else go…the bills to pay, the presentation you have in the morning, the kids to pick up at school. You owe it to yourself to enjoy and experience the benefits from your practice.
3) Balanced Energy: As you transition between poses be aware of how your body moves. Pay attention to the opposite energies working together to hold your body up---such as in tree pose: you’re feet are rooting down to the earth while the crown of your head and your arms are moving towards the sky.
4) Stress release: Breathe! Check in with your breath while you are practicing. Is it rhythmic? Consistent? Or are you finding yourself holding your breath? Allow the prana to help you release stress and ease into the poses. Inhale. Exhale. Just Breathe!