Ujjayi Pranayama

Ujjayi Pranayama

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The prefix ‘ud’ means upwards or expanding. It also conveys the sense of pre-eminence and power. ‘Jaya’ means conquest or success, and, from another point of view, restraint. In ujjayi the lungs are fully expanded, with the chest thrust out like that of a mighty conqueror.

All stages of this pranayama except those with retention (kumbhaka) may be done at any time. However, if the heart feels heavy, full or painful, or the diaphragm is hard, and if you are agitated or the hean-beat is abnormal, lie down after laying two wooden planks on the floor, (each about one foot square and 1 1/2 inches thick) on top of each other. Rest the back on the planks, with your buttocks below them and arms stretched downwards. You can also lie with a bolster. Keep the weight on the legs for comfort and relaxation. Two cushions may be used instead of planks. If the legs cannot be stretched out, because of infirmity or disease, bend the knees and rest the lower legs on a bolster or a stool.

When the back is thus rested, the pelvic muscles initiate inhalation. This relieves any tension and softens the diaphragm. The lungs and the respiratory muscles function smoothly and breathing becomes deep. The practice of this pranayama brings amazing relief to patients with enlarged ventricles and congenital heart defects. Moreover, it stills the fears that beset heart patients who are afraid to make the least movement lest they aggravate their condition.

Note

  1. All stages of all pranayamas begin with exhalation (rechaka) and end with inhalation (puraka). First, you must breathe out whatever tidal air remains in the lungs, then start pranayama. Do not end it with exhalation, as this strains the heart,  but take a nonnal inhalation at the end of each stage of pranayama. Do not use force.
  2. The passages for in and out breaths differ in the sinus areas. In inhalation the breath touches the inner surface of the sinus passages at the bottom. In exhalation it touches the outer surface at the top.
  3. All inhalations are made with a sibilant sound ‘ssss’ and all exhalations with aspirate ‘hhhh’.
  4. When sitting for pranayama in the initial stages, use a support.
  5. Though savasana is suggested at the end of each pranayama, if you want to do more than one stage or different pranayamas in succession, it should be done only at the end of the practice.

Stage 1

This preparatory stage trains one in the art of being aware of sensations in the lungs; it leads to even breathing.

Technique

  1. Spread a blanket, folded lengthwise, on the floor. Over it, at the head and exactly in line with the edge, lay another blanket folded three or four times so that it fits the back of the head and trunk.
  2. Lie flat on the back on the folded blanket, keeping the body in a straight line. Do not cave in the rib-cage. Close the eyes and lie quietly for a minute or two. Cover the eyes with a soft cloth for quick relaxation of the facial muscles.
  3. Breathe normally. Consciously observe and feel the flow of breath throughout.
  4. As you breathe in, make sure that both lungs fill evenly. Feel the chest expand upwards and outwards. Synchronise the two movements.
  5. Breathe out quietly, emptying the lungs evenly on both sides. Correct it if the lungs move unevenly.
  6. Continue in this way for ten minutes, keeping the eyes closed throughout.

Effects

The above practice makes one attentive, invigorates the nerves, loosens any hardness in the lungs and prepares them for deep breathing.

Stage 2

This preparatory stage trains one to lengthen the duration of each out breath and to learn the an of exhalation.

Technique

  1. Lie down, following the instructions given in Paras 1 and 2 of Stage 1.
  2. Close the eyes without tensing the eye-balls, keep them passive and receptive, and direct the gaze inwards.
  3. Keep the inner ears alert and receptive.
  4. First exhale quietly until lungs feel empty, but without pressing down upon the abdominal organs.
  5. Inhale normally through the nose. This is inhalation (puraka).
  6. Exhale slowly, deeply and steadily until the lungs feel empty. This is exhalation (rechaka).
  7. Continue for ten minutes and then relax. The emphasis here is on slow, deep and steady exhalation.

Effects

This stage soothes the nerves and calms the brain. Its slow, steady and deep exhalations are ideal for sufferers from cardiac disorders and hypertension.

Stage 3

This preparatory stage trains one to lengthen the duration of each in breath and to learn the art of inhalation.

Technique

  1. Lie down, as described in Stage 1. Then follow the instructions given in Stage 2. Relax the diaphragm and stretch it sideways while you breathe in, without inflating the abdomen. To prevent this, do not allow the diaphragm to roll or to move above the floating ribs.
  2. Take a slow, deep, steady and sibilant in-breath carefully through the nose. Make sure that both lungs fill evenly.
  3. Listen to the sound attentively, and maintain its rhythm throughout.
  4. Fill the lungs completely till the sound of inhalation becomes inaudible. Deep inhalation tends to move the eyeballs up. Consciously draw them down and gaze into the lungs.
  5. At the start of exhalation immobilise the diaphragm, then breathe out slowly but not deeply. Here the out-breath will be slightly longer than normal.
  6. Continue in the same way for ten minutes, then relax. The emphasis here is on slow, deep and steady inhalations. Once more, listen to the sound and maintain its rhythm throughout. In order to get better rhythmic deep breathing, it is advisable to use two planks for the back, as described at the beginning of this chapter.

Effects

This preliminary practice is good for those suffering from low blood pressure, asthma and depression. It invigorates the nervous system and Instills confidence.

Stage 4

This preparatory stage trains one to prolong the length of each in-breath and out-breath. This helps to master the arts of deep inhalation and deep exhalation.

Technique

  1. Lie, as described in Stage 1. Then follow the instructions given in Stage 2.
  2. Now breathe in, following the techniques given in stage 3.
  3. Grip the diaphragm and release it gradually, exhaling slowly, deeply and steadily until the lungs feel empty.
  4. This completes one cycle. Repeat such cycles for ten to fifteen minutes, then relax.

Effects

This stage gives energy, soothes the nerves and tones them. Stages 1 to 4 are preparatory to ujjayi pranayama, performed while lying down.

Stage 5

The breathing here is similar to that in Stage 1 but is done while sitting. It trains one in the art of observation and leads to even breathing.

Technique

  1. Sit in padmasana, siddhasana or virasana, or in any convenient and comfortable position.
  2. Sit quietly for a while, keeping the back and the spinal column firm, but the spinal muscles soft and mobile for adjusting the torso. The firmness of the spine has ro be evenly balanced with the mobility of the back muscles, which expand and contract with the flow of in and out breaths. The absorption of the breath should synchronise with the mobility of the hack muscles. The slower their movement, the better the absorption of the breath.
  3. Lower the head towards the trunk and lift up the inner frame of the chest towards the descending chin. Rest the chin in the notch just above the breastbone. This is the chin-lock (jalandhara bandha). If you cannot do it completely, keep the head down as low as you can without strain and continue the practice.
  4. Keep the arms down and rest the back of the wrists on the knees or join the tip of the index finger of each hand with the tip of the thumb and keep the other fingers extended (jnana mudra).
  5. Do not tense the eye-balls, but keep them passive as well as receptive. Close the eyes and direct the gaze inwards.
  6. Keep me inner ears alert and receptive.
  7. First exhale quietly as far as possible, without pressing down upon the abdominal organs. Note the dots on the torso, which show skin movements for out-breath, in-breath and retention.
  8. Follow the techniques given in Stage 1, observing the flow of breath. Do this for ten minutes and then rest in savasana for a few minutes.

Stage 6

Here, the breathing is similar to that in Stage 2, but done while sitting. It trains one to lengthen the duration of each out-breath and to learn the art of exhalation.

Technique

  1. Sit in any comfortable position, following the techniques given in Stage 5. Exhale whatever breath is in the lungs.
  2. Inhale normally through the nose.
  3. Exhale slowly, deeply and steadily until the lungs feel empty.
  4. Attend to the posture while exhaling and listen carefully to aspirate sound of the breath. Maintain its rhythm and smoothness throughout.
  5. This completes one cycle. Repeat such cycles for ten minutes, inhale, then rest in savasana. The emphasis here is on slow, deep and steady exhalations.

Stage 7

The breathing here is similar t o that in Stage 2, but performed while sitting. It trains one to lengthen the duration of each in-breath and to learn the art of inhalation.

Technique

  1. Sit in any comfortable position, following the techniques given in Stage 5 and exhale.
  2. Take a slow, deep in-breath carefully through the nose, following the techniques given in Stage 3.
  3. Breathe out slowly but not deeply, making the exhalation slightly longer than normal.
  4. This completes one cycle. Repeat such cycles for ten minutes, inhale and then rest in savasana. Stages 5 to 7 are preparatory ro ujjayi pranayama practices, done in a sitting position.

Stage 8

Now begin ujjayi pranayama proper, with deep in and out breaths.

Technique

  1. Sit in any comfortable position, following the techniques given in Stage 5 and exhale whatever breath is in the lungs.
  2. Take a slow, deep, steady in-breath through the nose.
  3. Listen to the sibilant sound of the breath. Control, adjust and synchronise its flow, tone and rhythm. The flow is controlled by the resonance of the sound, and the tone by the flow. This is the key to success in pranayama.
  4. Fill the lungs from the bottom to the top, right up to the collar-bones. Consciously try to channel the breath to the remotest parts of the lungs.
  5. Be continuously aware of the inflow of breath.
  6. As you breathe in, your body, lungs, brain and consciousness should be receptive rather than active. Breath is received as a divine gift and should not be drawn in forcefully.
  7. Do not inflate the abdomen as you inhale. Keep the diaphragm below the ribs throughout. Observe this in all types of pranayama. If the diaphragm is lifted above the floating ribs, the abdomen gets inflated instead of the chest.
  8. The movements described above are made by drawing the entire abdominal area from the pubis to the breastbone towards the spine, and then up towards the head. This automatically massages the internal organs.
  9. In deep inhalation, the inner intercostal muscles at the front are lifted up. Just before exhalation, there is a further lift of these muscles, which prepares one before breathing out.
  10. Now begins the process of deep exhalation, in which the trunk and diaphragm play an active role.
  11. Maintain the lift of the intercostal muscles along with that of the diaphragm, and start exhalation. Allow the breath to go out slowly, deeply and steadily.
  12. After a few seconds the grip of the trunk relaxes by itself gradually, until the lungs have been passively emptied. Maintain a continuous awareness during the outflow of breath.
  13. This completes one cycle. Repeat for ten to fifteen minutes keeping the eyes closed and the limbs relaxed. Inhale and then lie down and rest in savasana.
  14. Inhale with warmth, elation and joy as if you are receiving the life force as a gift from God. Exhale with a sense of gratitude, silently expressing your humbleness as a surrender to the Lord.
  15. At each inhalation and exhalation there is a fractional pause when the muscles of the torso adjust themselves. Learn to be aware of this.

Effects

This pranayama aerates the lungs, soothes and tones the nervous system. As a result of the deep respiratory action, the blood carries the supply of life-giving energy to the minutest parts of the tissues. It reduces phlegm, relieves pain in the chest, and the voice becomes melodious.

Stage 9

This is a stage for beginners, introducing retention of the breath when the lungs are full. It is a deliberate internal retention (sahita antara kumbhaka).

Technique

  1. Sit in any comfortable position following the techniques given in Stage 5, and exhale.
  2. Breathe in and hold the breath. Keep the trunk firm and alert.
  3. Do not raise the bridge of the nose or the eyes or the head throughout retention.
  4. Feel the breath percolating to me remotest pores of the skin of the torso and become aware of the process.
  5. After a few seconds, this awareness begins to lose its grip. The moment this happens, exhale normally. This is one cycle, so practice ten to fifteen of them.
  6. If any fatigue is felt during this practice, these cycles may be alternated with normal breathing.
  7. When this practice becomes easy, intensify it until you can comfortably hold the breath for ten to fifteen seconds at a time. To increase the length of retention, lift the diaphragm towards the lungs, hold it firmly, and draw the abdomen in and up towards the spine. Then hold the breath without raising the bridge of the nose.
  8. If hardness is felt in the lungs, or tension in and around the temples or in the head, it is a sign that you are exceeding your capacity; if so, reduce the length of the internal retention. The transition from internal retention to exhalation should be smooth.
  9. Breathe out slowly, without losing control of the trunk, diaphragm, and lungs. After completing the practice take a few deep breaths and then rest in savasana.

Note

Internal retention may also be done while lying down, keeping pillows below the head to simulate jalandhara bandha.

Effects

The practice of sahita antara kumbhaka develops harmony between the breath and the lungs, and between the nerves and the mind. If correctly performed, it induces a dynamic state in which the body feels filled to the brim with energy. It increases one’s capacity for work, removes despair and creates hope. Through the creation of energy, it invigorates the nervous system and develops endurance. It is ideal for those who suffer from low blood pressure, languor, laziness and doubt. However, antara kumbhaka is not advisable for those suffering from high blood pressure, hypertension and cardiac disorders.

Stage 10

This is a stage for beginners, introducing retention of the breath when the lungs are empty. It is called deliberate external retention (sahita bahya kumbhaka).

Technique

  1. Sit in any comfortable position, following the techniques described in Stage 5, and exhale whatever breath is in the lungs.
  2. Breathe in normally and out steadily and slowly, emptying the lungs as far as possible without straining. Remain passive and hold the breath as long as possible, then inhale normally. This is one cycle. Repeat ten to twelve of them or continue for ten minutes.
  3. Constriction in the abdomen, pressure at the temples or gasping for air indicate that you have reached you r capacity in external retention (bahya kumbhaka); in which case reduce the length of the retention. The transition to inhalation should be smooth. If any fatigue is felt during this practice, cycles of this stage may be alternated with normal breathing.
  4. Take a few deep breaths and lie down in savasana.

Note

External retention may also be done while lying down, keeping pillows under the head.

Effects

Bahya kumbhaka is especially good for people who are overtense or suffering from high blood pressure, as it relieves nervous tension. It brings about a passive state, a feeling of quietness, as if one were an empty vessel floating on water. However, it is not advisable for those suffering from depression, melancholia and low blood pressure.

Stage 11

This is internal retention (antara kumbhaka) for advanced students.

Technique

  1. Sit in any comfortable position, following the techniques described in Stage 5 and exhale.
  2. Take a strong, deep breath without any force, jerk or harshness, keeping the trunk alert.
  3. Hold the breath for ten to fifteen seconds.
  4. In a few moments the body loses its grip. To maintain this grip, raise the side ribs. Now contract the lower trunk from the pubis, perineum and anus and lift it up towards the chest along with the spine. This is mula bandha.
  5. This lift of the torso creates tension in the head. Lower the head from the base of the back of the neck. This gives a better jalandhara bandha and relieves tension in the head.
  6. Feel the breath percolating to the remotest pores of the skin of the torso, arousing awareness everywhere.
  7. Keep the eyes, ears and tongue passive, and the brain quiet.
  8. If the duration of retention is too long, the throat feels strained and the facial muscles and temples become taut. This means that you are losing your grip. So, recharge the energy of the torso as instructed above.
  9. If tension is still felt in the head and trunk and the face feels flushed, it means you are not maintaining the correct grip or have exceeded your capacity. This may lead to injury to the nervous system. In which case, do not continue the retention.
  10. Breathe out normally or deeply without losing grip on the trunk, diaphragm and the lungs.
  11. This is one cycle of retention. Practise ten to twelve such cycles, maintaining the same awareness throughout as in the first cycle. Since the capacity for retention varies with individuals, it is not possible to mention the duration of breath retention. It is advisable to do internal retention after an interval of three or four breaths.
  12. After completing the practice, inhale and lie in savasana. In this stage the emphasis is on retention of breath rather than on in and out breath.

Effects

This stage is good for persons suffering from dullness, nausea, and physical fatigue. It keeps the body warm, removes phlegm, and creates exhilaration and confidence. It leads to better concentration. Faulty practice causes irritation, throbbing, short temper and exhaustion.

Stage 12

This is external retention (bahya kumbhaka) for advanced students.

Technique

  1. Sit in any comfortable position, following the techniques given in Stage 5, and exhale.
  2. Breathe in normally, and out steadily and strongly. Empty the lungs as far as you can without force, jerk or harshness.
  3. When exhalation is complete do not inhale, but pause and draw in the entire abdominal area back towards the spine and up towards the chest. This is uddiyana bandha.
  4. Retain this grip as long as you can. When tension is felt, relax the abdomen, bring it to normal and then breathe in.
  5. This is one cycle. Repeat eight to ten such cycles, then inhale and lie in savasana.
  6. A s the practice improves, increase t h e duration o f retention after exhalation. The duration varies with each individual. Watch your own capacity to increase it.
  7. Never breathe in during uddiyana bandha, as this may make you gasp and strain the heart.
  8. At the beginning it is advisable to do external retention after an interval of three or four deep breaths.

Effects

This stage cleanses the abdominal organs and prevents their prolapse.

Stage 13

This advanced stage combines both internal (antara) and external (bahya) retentions (kumbhakas) with two or three in and out breaths.

Technique

  1. Here, first exhale.
  2. Breathe in deeply. After full inhalation, retain the breath (antara kumbhaka) for ten seconds.
  3. Breathe out deeply. After full exhalation, hold the breath (bahya kumbhaka) with uddiyana bandha for five seconds and inhale deeply. This completes one cycle.
  4. Exhale, and take two or three deep in and out breaths. Then repeat the cycles of kumbhakas, followed again by two or three deep in and out breaths.
  5. Do five to six cycles, ending with inhalation. Then lie down in savasana