Ujjayi Pranayama (the psychic breath)
Sit in any comfortable position, preferably a meditation asana.
Close the eyes and relax the whole body.
Take the awareness to the breath in the nostrils and allow the breathing to become calm and rhythmic.
After some time, transfer the awareness to the throat.
Try to feel or to imagine that the breath is being drawn in and out through the throat and not through the nostrils; as if inhalation and exhalation are taking place through a small hole in the throat.
As the breathing becomes slower and deeper, gently contract the glottis so that a soft snoring sound like the breathing of a sleeping baby is produced in the throat. If this is practised correctly there will be a simultaneous contraction of the abdomen. This happens by itself, without any effort being made.
Both inhalation and exhalation should be long, deep and controlled.
Practise yogic breathing while concentrating on the sound produced by the breath in the throat.
The sound of the breath should not be very loud. It should just be audible to the practitioner but not to another person unless they are sitting very close.
When this breathing has been mastered, fold the tongue back into khechari mudra (refer to the section Mudra).
If the tongue becomes tired, release it, while continuing the ujjayi breathing. When the tongue is rested, again fold it back.
Duration: Practise for 10 to 20 minutes.
Contra-indications: People who are too introverted by nature should not perform this practice. Those suffering from heart disease should not combine bandhas or breath retention with ujjayi.
Benefits: Ujjayi is classified as a tranquillising pranayama and it also has a heating effect on the body. This practice is used in yoga therapy to soothe the nervous system and calm the mind. It has a profoundly relaxing effect at the psychic level. It helps to relieve insomnia and may be practised in shavasana just before sleep. The basic form without breath retention or bandhas slows down the heart rate and is useful for people suffering from high blood pressure. Ujjayi alleviates fluid retention. It removes disorders of the dhatu, which are the 7 constituents of the body: blood, bone, marrow, fat, semen, skin and flesh.
Advanced practice: After becoming proficient in the practice, ujjayi may be performed with jalandhara bandha and moola bandha in conjunction with internal and external kumbhaka (for details of these practices refer to the section Bandha). Do not strain when performing kumbhaka, one or two seconds is sufficient at first. The duration may be increased gradually as the technique is mastered.
Practice note: Ujjayi may be performed in any position, standing, sitting or lying. Those suffering from slipped disc or vertebral spondylitis may practise ujjayi in vajrasana or makarasana. Many people contort their facial muscles when they do ujjayi. This is unnecessary. Try to relax the face as much as possible. Do not contract the throat too strongly. The contraction should be slight and applied continuously throughout the practice.
Note: The Sanskrit word ujjayi means 'victorious'. It is derived from the root ji, which means 'to conquer' or 'to acquire by conquest', and the prefix ud, which means 'bondage'. Ujjayi is therefore the pranayama which gives freedom from bondage. It is also known as the psychic breath, as it leads to subtle states of mind and is used together with khechari mudra, the tongue lock, in tantric meditation techniques such as mantra japa, ajapa japa, kriya yoga and prana vidya.