What’s that yoga breath?
Updated: Dec 5, 2019
Nowadays the accurate way to refer to the breath used in the Ashtanga practice is “breathing with sound.” Not Ujjiya. Just deep free breathing. (rather than shallow breathing which won't purify the nervous system in the same way)
This caused a stir at a conference in 2013 that Sharath Jois (paramaguru/lineage holder) held in Mysore, informing students that the breathing they were doing in their practice is not actually called Ujjayi. He explained that his grandfather Pattabhi Jois (torch bearer of Ashtanga yoga) did not speak English well, and a student misunderstood his response about the breath, and that’s what led to the initial mislabeling. Sharath says that Pattabhi Jois never referred to the breath we do in practice as Ujjayi and in his very important book ‘Yoga Mala’ doesn’t say anything about Ujjayi during asana practice and, while teaching, he only said to ”Breathe freely”
[In fact Ujjiya Breath is one of the Pranayama techniques (breathing exercises) of Ashtanga yoga and is begun only when a practitioner has started the Advanced Series. And, because of the length of breath, and the fact that it is retained, it is not even possible to do Ujjayi Pranayama during practice]
Rather than ujjayi breathing, Sharath recommended when I trained with him, that our inhale and exhale sound "resembles the wind passing through the trees". This is still through the nose, but without constricting the throat and making the distinctive ‘Darth Vadar’ sound that used to be prevalent....
Sharath says, as long as "In our practice we are not forcing the breath. We should inhale and exhale smoothly as this will help to activate our digestive fire. We should not hold our breath in asana and instead try to have a flowing breath to help our circulation and nervous system.”
And of course we don‘t breathe into the belly during our Ashtanga practice as we engage bandha, the light contraction of the core muscles. This in turn supports the diaphragm and a full deep diaphragmatic breath, using the whole of the lungs.
And remembering it’s our practice and our breath. Free and natural, and always what is comfortable for the practitioner....