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The Breath of Soft Power

Did you ever put a seashell up to your ear and marvel at how it created the sound of the sea?

It was one of those “perfect” days in my childhood when my Daddy brought home an oily-black, slick and shiny, conch shell. He put it on the kitchen table. “Put this up to your ear,” he instructed. I did, and then his eyes lit up, mimicking the wonder reflected in my own. “That’s the sound of the ocean,” he told me. I’d never heard the ocean, hadn’t even considered that it might have a sound. I couldn’t imagine that what I was hearing was the sound of any big sea I’d seen in picture books. It was small enough to fit into my tiny hand. It was black, with white spots; it looked nothing like the sea. How could it hold the sound of the sea and share that with me in my family’s kitchen?


The conch shell.

Daddy’s light.

All unified in song.

Years later, when I discovered yoga, I learned that I, like the conch shell, could also create the sound of the ocean. With fond memories of my Daddy, I loved to practice that ocean breath: Ujjai Breath.

This “breath that sounds like the sea” is Ujjai Breath, at once both relaxing and energizing. Ujjai breath calms the mind at the same time that it warms the body and provides a stable foundation.

What is the point of Ujjai Breath?

To practice Ujjai Breath, you have to think about it. You have to put your concentration on producing the steady flow of breath in, breath out. Breath in, breath out. Ujjai Breath doesn’t happen spontaneously; it isn’t the instinctual breath we produce most of the time when we are going about our daily tasks.

Conversely, Ujjai Breath happens as the result of your mental concentration and physical response. And this is precisely the purpose: Concentration. The point of Ujjai Breath is to focus your concentration on your breath – your beautiful, powerful breath.

How to Produce Ujjai Breath

Constrict the back of the throat so that effort is required to pull the air into your body through the narrowed passageway. And then, when you exhale, push the air back out of your body through the constricted space in your throat. You will hear your breath as it vibrates from the back of your throat; you will feel those vibrations into the curves and crevices in your brain.

Why We Practice Ujjai Breath

Because Ujjai Breath is both calming and energizing, it is a very effective tool in yoga asana practice. The energizing component supports the physical challenges of the poses. The energizing component is also what produces a sense of victory and power. Likewise, the calming component provides stamina, patience, and endurance to hold a pose for several breaths. There are other reasons as well. Ujjai Breath supports physical, mental, and emotional states while practicing yoga asana. And recently, because scientists have taken an interest in yoga, we now have scientific reasons to practice Ujjai Breath in yoga.

Physical Reasons

  • It enables you to stay in a physically challenging pose.

  • Ujjai Breath creates more fluidity to your movement.

  • It helps to release tightness and tension in your body.

  • Ujjai Breath keeps your focus on your practice and therefore, supports you in building strength, flexibility and balance.

  • Because ujjai breath requires mental concentration, it also serves to develop mental focus.

Mental and Emotional Reasons

  • Ujjai Breath allows you to concentrate on breathing so that your mind stays positive.

  • It keeps negative self-talk out of your mind.

  • Ujjai Breath provides a meditative quality to your practice.

  • It promotes self-awareness.

  • Ujjai Breath signals to us when we need to surrender in a pose and when we need to move out of a pose as well as supporting the ability to stay in a pose.

Scientific Reasons

  • It heats up your body from the inside because of the friction of the air passing through your lungs and throat.

  • The internal heat produced by Ujjai Breath triggers the release of toxins in the inner organs.

  • Ujjai Breath reduces pain, sinus pressure and phlegm.

  • It strengthens the nervous system.

  • Ujjai Breath strengthens the digestive system.

Bonus Reason

As you practice Ujjai Breathing in your asana practice, you develop the equanimity to effectively balance the highs and lows of life off your mat.

Ujjai Breath

In a single breath, I find me;

I find my Daddy’s light;

I find the innocent wonder of a child;

I find the cool, smooth feel of the conch shell;

I find the salty, windy, peace of the sea.

In a single breath, I am exuberant in my highs;

I am victorious in my lows.

In a single breath I am united with all that is.

Ujjai Breath.

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