Listening to Your Breath
Episode #2 of the course Breathing techniques by Hannah Faulkner
Welcome to the second lesson of this breathing course! Today, we’ll talk about listening to the sound of our breath to increase awareness and develop mental clarity.
What Is Oceanic Breath?
Have you ever held a seashell up to your ear?
If you happen to have one lying around, I recommend picking it up, placing it to your ear, and closing your eyes. This constant fuzzy, airy noise resembles the distant sound of the continuous motion of the ocean waves. This is also a sound we can use to monitor our deep breath.
Ujjayi (pronounced oo-jai), in Sanskrit, means to raise upward. It is commonly referred to as the oceanic breath, as a method from ancient yogic practices of Pranayama (Sanskrit), breath control.
This victorious sound helps us synchronize breath with movements in a slow and rhythmic nature. This technique encourages the free and healthy flow of oxygen (prana), known as Life Force Energy in the East. Inhalation is metaphorically seen as drawing energy in, and exhalation is a release of energy.
When we consciously stay present, making this sound on every inhale and exhale, this form of meditation and self-awareness leaves no more room for mind chatter. We can let go of the chaos, frenzy and stressful thoughts from our To-Do list, or annoyances from earlier in the day. This creates a space or distance from fear and frustration. According to The Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga, studies have shown that through meditations (directed at breath awareness), brain areas related to fear and anxiety shrink.
How to Ujjayi
To begin Ujjayi breath, come into a comfortable sitting position (see the previous lesson). Close your eyes and relax.
You can also practice this technique standing in mountain pose, and if you practice yoga, all asana postures are appropriate. To come into mountain pose from standing casually, parallel the outer edges of your feet by slightly tilting your big toes inward. Engage the activity in your legs by rotating your inner thighs back in space. Zip your lower belly in and roll your shoulders back and down. Bring your chin parallel to the ground while the crown of your head extends to the sky.
Seal your lips, and start to breath in and out through your nose. Take an inhalation through your nose that is slightly deeper than normal. Send the air all the way to the back of your throat behind the tongue. Exhale slowly through your nose while constricting the muscles in the back of your throat, a very slight closing of the vocal cords, or glottis.
If you don’t hear anything, then try again with your mouth open. Exhale the sound “haaah”—it’s similar to the sound you make when you’re trying to fog up a mirror. Practice a few more times with an open mouth to familiarize yourself with the muscles in the back of your throat.
Then, close your mouth and attempt a similar sound, feeling the exhale of air through your nostrils. Once you have mastered this on the exhale, use the same method for the inhale breath, gently constricting the back of your throat.
Can you hear as slight “sss” on inhalation and “hmm” on exhalation? This sound should be loud enough so someone standing next to you could hear it.
Continue this breath for at least ten cycles. You might have fun imagining that you sound like Darth Vader from Star Wars.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about using counting and essential oils to extend our breath.
To your continued success,
Yoga Mind, Body, and Spirit: A Return to Wholeness by Donna Farhi
The Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga by Marlynn Wei, MD, JD and James E. Groves, MD
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