The Why & How of Ujjayi Breath in Yoga

Yoga is the unity of mind and body and to achieve this unity, we often focus on our breath as we move through postures. Previously, I talked about How Pranayama Breathing Relieves Anxiety, but now let’s look at a type of Pranayama known as Ujjayi breath. In Sanskrit, Ujjayi breath means “victorious breath.”

Ujjayi breath is relatively easy to practice by constricting the back of the throat (just as you would while whispering) and forcing the breath to pass through the nostrils. The breath can be heard, and some compare it to the sound of the ocean. You may hear some practitioners even refer to this type of breathing as “ocean breath.”

Happy breathing

There are a number of benefits to this type of breathing, including:

  • This type of breathing helps balance our chakras, or “energy centers” in the body
  • Ujjayi breath is calming
  • It helps in regulating blood pressure
  • It helps the lungs work freely to pass air to all parts of the body (even off the mat)
  • Aids in concentration and focus (you can hold a pose longer while using Ujjayi breath!)
  • It can release tension in tight areas of the body
  • Strengthens the nervous and digestive system
  • Helps relieve headaches and sinus pressure
  • It regulates the heat throughout the body

While any type of healthy breathing is beneficial to the body, we can practice different types of breathing during our yoga practice to benefit not just the body, but also the mind!



Meditation and breathing


How Pranayama (Yoga) Breathing Relieves Anxiety

We can all agree, breathing is important. It’s the first thing we do when we are born. We take our first breath, and we continue to breathe the rest of our lives. Without breath, we have no life, but how can the WAY we breathe help our daily lives and the anxiety we face?

Focused breathing, known in the world of yoga as “Pranayama,” can help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with anxiety. Pranayama is the Sanskrit word for “breath or life force.” Alternatively, it also means “breath control.”

Understanding how Prananyama works, will allow you to use focused breathing for anxiety relief.

Breathing 4

“The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).

When something happens causing people to panic, concerned people around them will remind them to “just breathe,” but why do they do this? It’s because the breath can be calming and restorative.

It works a number of ways. In another post we will talk about methods for using the breathe to calm ourselves, but for now let us explore the “how” of breathing and finding relief for anxiety.

So let’s start with what anxiety feels like. Everyone is different, but you might feel some or all of these things during an anxious episode:

  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feelings like choking (or a lump in the throat)
  • Chest Pain
  • Nausea
  • Chest Tightness
  • Fear of close-by danger
  • Fear of dying
  • Heart Palpitations
  • The need to escape
  • Feeling disoriented

Most psychiatrists/doctors need at least four of these elements to diagnose a panic attack.

It is with the breath, we are able to help control the feelings we are having during an anxiety attack. With slowed, rhythmic, concentrated breathing, your can reduce anxiety because proper breathing:

  • Slows your heart rate causing muscles to relax
  • Decreases blood pressure
  • Slows breathing
  • Decreases metabolism

Being aware of HOW you are breathing will help during an anxiety attack. Often in the panic of an attack, many people will breathe faster and shallow. This leads to the feeling of having a shortness of breath, fostering the symptoms further. Slowing the breath, and allowing the body to use the breath to calm the body naturally, is the best way to overcome anxiety naturally, wherever you are when you feel anxious.

I will post breathing techniques soon!
Namaste, Tina

Pigeon Pose for Trauma Release

When I first came to yoga, I used to dread hearing the yoga instructor (whom I was quite fond of!) start leading us into Pigeon Pose (known in Sanskrit as Eka Pada Rajakapotasana). The dread did not last long and invariably, something always would happen once I was in the pose. I started to feel wonderful…not just great….WONDERFUL. I mean this not just physically, but mentally. Having suffered the majority of my life with Major Depressive Disorder (depression), I was amazed at my mental clarity with this pose. Now I see my own students making “the face” when I tell them where we are going with our next pose. I tell them it’s okay….trust me on this one! The mental benefits far outweigh the awkwardness of getting into the pose when one is just learning.

Of course, I was sure it was the practice of yoga as a whole, which made me feel so amazing, but something about Pigeon soon had me doing the asana (pose) on my own, not just at the studio. I was addicted. Sometimes I was so busy, I had time for one pose in the morning to start my day, of course it was Pigeon! A beautiful pose, great for opening up hips, there is more to the posture than meets the eye.

According to those who have studied trauma, the hips are a place where many humans store emotions, including stress, fear, and anxiety. These are feeling the human body pushes down into the hips, causing them to be tight. This is much like how we clench our jaw in a stressful situation, or hold tension in our neck and back.

Not only do we as humans store our trauma in our hips, but this tends to be true mostly for women. Thinking about things women go through, such as giving birth, this should come as no surprise.


While the act of pushing negative emotions into the hips is not a conscious decision, it is primal, and we all tend to do it to some extent. I’ve heard several yogi’s refer to the hips as the “junk drawer to the body.”

Adding Pigeon in any of its variations to your yoga routine can help you release the pent up emotions held in your hips. For me, I would feel the benefit as soon as I was in the pose. For others, the relief may come later, such as during the drive home, for example.

It may take time to be able to get comfortable in the pose. In my own practice, it took several classes to become comfortable and do do the pose without the help of blocks.

Other poses to help open hips and process emotions:

  • Reclining Twist: Supta Matsyendrasana
  • Crescent Lunge: Anjaneyasana 
  • Garland Pose: (Malasana)
  • Goddess Pose: (Utkata Konasana)
  • Half Lotus: Padmasana
  • Bound Angle: Ardha Padmasana

We now know Pigeon Pose is great for our mental health, but there are physical benefits as well. These include:

  • Opens the hip
  • Improves alignment
  • Improves posture
  • Lessens sciatica pain
  • Relieves lower back pain
  • Lengthens the hip flexor
  • Helps with urinary disorder

I highly encourage you to add Pigeon pose into your regular practice so you can get the benefits of emotional release. It’s time to open up your “junk drawer” and add a pose to your yoga routine. You might just find yourself craving this pose!

Namaste, Tina