Of all yoga practices known to me so far, pranayama is my favorite. And of all the pranayama practices, Ujjayi tops the list. Here’s why: The word Ujjay means victorious in Sanskrit. One is not entirely certain why this particular pranayama has been named as such, but I imagine it generates so much prana, one has little choice but to conquer disease with it. And precisely because of the high energy state of mind that results from the practice of Ujjayi, it is also been given the name psychic breath.
Ujjayi has a special place in yoga therapy – it can effectively treat stress-related conditions and psychosomatic illnesses. It also releases endorphins and has a deeply sedating effect, especially when one is in pain. It is an awesome pregnancy practice and has far reaching effects during labour, and in the healing process after birth.
Ujjayi has a direct impact on the carotid sinuses located just behind the ear lobes, on the neck. These little pulsating organs are responsible for managing the body’s blood pressure, making this a more than ideal practice in the treatment of high blood pressure and related problems. It is a cure-all for the heart, including heart break and grief. It is a lovely practice for the anahata chakra (heart center) and the vishuddhi chakra (throat center). This pranayama impacts the mind with such immediacy and here is why I associate it with alchemy.
The tranquilizing effect of the practice, I have experienced several times. I have come to Ujjayi in a state of confusion or anxiety, maybe even despair and I have found that its effects were immediate and transforming. Literally like turning base metal into gold.
The transformative effects of Ujjayi are so tremendous, my teacher used to say that it is possibly the only breathing technique in yoga that can transport prana from one part of the body to another – and in doing so can help heal a hurt, broken or affected body part or system. The same applies to emotional crises, anxiety, stress or even seasonal affective disorder for that matter. I find that it instantly raises my vibration and makes me happy, and for no reason in particular.
Ujjayi is alchemy in action, and unfortunately one of the lesser taught techniques for metamorphosis. The next time you go to a yoga class, remember to ask your teacher about it. If not, find someone who can show you how it’s done.
Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha, by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, published by yoga publications trust