The art of developing balance best begins with a deep, healthy breath of fresh air. The breathing practice known as Yoga breathing, or more formally as Ujjayi breathing, is a time tested holistic alternative to achieving focus, rhythm, and positive thinking. In addition, the Ujjayi breathing technique brings a host of health benefits with every breath.
We were lucky enough to meet up with Rachelle Ballard for guided coaching on where to begin. Rachelle is the the passionate owner of Into the Woods Wellness and offers services dedicated to teaching health and mindful living. Rachelle has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology: emphasis in Wellness Coaching and Nutrition, and is a 500 hr yoga certified instructor.
So, how do you pronounce that breathing technique? Ujjayi, is pronounced “oot – jie,” where “jie” rhymes with “pie” depending on the dialect your prefer. The word Ujjayi means “one who is victorious.” A Ujjayi Breath would translate to mean “victorious breath.” The yoga practice is commonly used as form of meditation in yoga poses, and what better mindset to be in than “one who is victorious!” When correctly practiced the yoga breathing technique can inspire great confidence and mindfulness that can be translated into other areas of health and mind body balance.
To begin this beginner breathing yoga practice, Rachelle suggests looking at your hand as you would a mirror, then fogging it up with your breath. The ujjayi breathing technique is a different form of breathing meant to slow your breath down, thus reducing stress and improving body balance.
The goal in Ujjayi breathing is to develop mindfulness and health through a holistic control of the body’s nervous system. You might recall learning about the body’s two nervous systems, one being the sympathetic nervous system and the other being the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is most commonly associated with the term “fight or flight.” Think of the sympathetic nervous system as way for the body to tune up or down homeostatic functions of the body. This might mean charging the body right before a sprint, or the coaxing body functions to a calm after an intense run. Notice how Allyson Felix’s body is completely engaged while doing sand sprints? When the sympathetic nervous system is at play the body is typically on an extreme and seeking to balance and regulate.
The parasympathetic system, on the other hand, regulates all the body’s unconscious actions ensuring homeostasis. Consider the state of mind Liukin Nastia had to achieve to successfully take get the shot above. Our lives are consumed by sympathetic responses and actions that often can be traced directly to stress. Ujjayi breathing as a technique trains the body in achieving a homeostatic balance. Learning to feel this transition will come over time, and allow for feelings of relaxation and calm to flow as control over sympathetic responses in the body become more apparent. This balance of body can be channeled into positive thinking, confidence, relaxation, and other personality developments that reduce stress and provide for healthy living. Mindfulness around such internal wellbeing will increase motivation and translate directly into physical feats not yet achieved.
Notice that you are using your back epiglottal muscles. This muscle is covered with taste buds and acts as the gatekeeper of the throat. It is made up of an elastic cartilage and is covered in a mucous membrane. Though the main purpose of this muscle serves to prevent food and liquid from entering the trachea (windpipe) learning to control it will aid in proper yoga breathing and allow greater control as you progress in your yoga practice.
As you breath, keep the engagement with your epiglottal muscle. This will harness body balance by increasing parasympathetic responses. Like anything, the technique will require practice. So, try it out. Ujjayi breathing is a great step towards unifying mind, body, and spirit. It can be very rewarding and is a great first step towards healthy living that can be felt immediately.
There are also a number of less well known health benefits to yoga breathing. Breathing is designed at its core to release toxins from the body. After passing through your lungs and bloodstream carbon monoxide is released through each exhale. At the same time, each breath is oxygenating the brain allowing fresh air to enter the lungs and bloodstream. Oxygenated air attaches itself to hemoglobin in red cells enabling the body to metabolise nutrients required for healthy body function.
Fully oxygenated organs allow for optimal function and increase the nutritional value of bodily process. This translates into more efficient absorption of nutrients and vitamins. The brain and spinal cord are other primary sources of oxygen absorption from where feelings of wellbeing and relaxation can flow, particularly during stressful times. Breath deep and slow – with purpose – as you seek for clarity, focus, power, or strength.
Consider the body’s reaction to a physical or emotional challenge – muscles tighten and breath becomes shorter. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Breath into your stress using the Ujjayi breathing technique to ease tension, no matter the source. The result can be relaxation and calm resulting in a mindfulness that allows for and clarity of mind body spirit.
As you practice Ujjayi or Yoga breathing consider your posture. Notice how Rachelle straightens her back. This alignment increases airflow and enables circulation in the body. As control over each breath is exercised posture will improve. When practiced over time yoga breathing will encourage good posture.
The list of health benefits tied to Yoga and Ujjayi breathing is long. Give it a try. Its a great way to begin your fitness or yoga journey. You will develop focus and discipline whiling finding confidence and experiencing personal development. Positive thinking in meditation will provide a greater sense of wellbeing and body balance. Use the power, strength, and poise that will follow to be victorious!
What is Rachelle wearing?
Before starting we had Rachelle try on one of our cute yoga outfits. For bottoms she chose a pair of comfy Swoob workout yoga leggings made of soft high quality polyester spandex material. The legging has a brush finish on the inside creating a fleece like feel. These leggings will keep you warm; however, they breath very nice and will not feel hot. The fleece like lining will have you swearing these leggings are the most comfortable you own. Swoob leggings are not see through, do not restrict movement, and made of fabric that doesn’t have odors. The leggings are great for wearing around the house, yoga, or more intense activities like biking or running. Try them out, and if you are not instantly in love we will give you your money back!
For a top Rachelle is wearing our new Gecko Hot Yoga Quick Dry Pocket Bralette in plum color. This bra is made of a 4-way stretch quick dry material perfect for hot yoga. The sports bra fabric is soft and flexible yet supportive, perfect for low to mid intensity workouts. Some have chosen this bra for triathlons because of the supportive, quick drying features. The bra is very versatile even has a touch fashion. The sports bra has cutouts on each side, a unique fashion feature that makes this yoga sports bra a super cute must have. Like all of our sportswear, this sports bra has pockets to conveniently stash money, store a credit card, or hold a key during a workout. The bra comes in colors plum and neon green. Both colors are fun to pair with a variety of workout outfits or Swoob leggings and capris. We love the fitness fashion appeal this bra has and because it is so comfortable recommend it as the perfect fit for those beginning yoga or starting their fitness journey.