Benefits of Ujaya Breathing on Respiration

Ujaya breathing, or “whisper breath” is a fundamental part of asana practice.  This type of breathing is achieved by partially closing the epiglottis upon both inhalation and exhalation, resulting in a whisper or snoring sound. 

Ujaya breathing accomplishes several things:  Slows the breath, evens the length of inhalation and exhalation, warms the air entering the body/creates heat, and the sound creates an auditory focal point during asana practice.  This makes it particularly helpful for beginners who often hold their breath in challenging poses and tend to lose focus easily.  By breathing in this way, we can also “measure” the length of time to hold an asana—counting the number of ujaya breaths. 

When the inhalation occurs slowly and deeply, the ribs will expand in all directions as the lower lobes of the lungs are filled.  This is accomplished through the action of the external intercostals (lifting and expanding ribcage), the diaphragm relaxing down into the abdominal cavity, and the internal intercostals relaxing and stretching.  The Ujaya breath is particularly helpful to increase lung expansion upon inhalation—by simply conditioning (strengthening/stretching) the muscles involved.  Upon exhalation, the diaphragm contracts, forcing the air out of the lungs from the bottom.  Internal intercostals engage and contract to “shrink” the ribcage and the externals must stretch/relax. 

Practicing controlled Ujaya breathing will create balance in the muscles used for respiration.  This is done through the lengthening and evening of the breathing process, so that all muscles involved are both engaged and stretched equally.  By training our bodies to take deeper breaths, more oxygen is forced into the lower lobes of the lungs, which is where more alveoli are present.  This makes the breath more efficient and more oxygen can be absorbed.