How to Do Ocean Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama) in Yoga

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Woman on yoga mat showing ocean breath

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Also Known As: Hissing Breath, Victorious Breath, Darth Vader Breath

Targets: Breathing

Level: Beginner

Ocean Breath (Ujjayi Pranayama) is most often used in support of yoga postures, especially in the Vinyasa style. In this breathing technique, you reduce the amount of air that can pass through your throat, lengthening your breath cycle. Each inhalation and exhalation is long, full, deep, and controlled. You can learn this breath while seated in a comfortable cross-legged position. Once you get the hang of it, begin to use it during your yoga practice.

Benefits

Ocean Breath concentrates and directs the breath, giving asana practice extra power and focus. It increases oxygen consumption. A clinical study from the Department of Neurophysiology at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bangalore, India found ujjayi pranayama can increase your oxygen consumption during practice by about 50%.

Practicing this breathing pattern also calms your body’s flight or flight response. Your body is telling you that it wants to get out of a pose as soon a possible, but with deep breathing you are saying in resonse that everything is OK and you can hold for longer.

Another way to think about ujjayi breath is to visualize your throat as a garden hose, with the breath passing through like a trickle of water. If you put your thumb partially over the opening of the hose, you increase the power of the water that is coming through. This is the same thing you are doing with your throat during ujjayi breathing. The air that comes in through your constricted throat is a powerful, directed breath that you can send into the parts of your body that need it during your practice.

Vinyasa yoga is often called the breath-synchronized movement, which means you move from one pose to the next on an inhalation or an exhalation of the breath. But this breathing patterns not just for flowing yoga styles—it’s a full deep slow breath that can call upon to help you find your reserve tank in long holds.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Sit up tall with your shoulders relaxed away from your ears and close your eyes. To prepare, become aware of your breath without trying to control it at all. The begin to inhale and exhale through your mouth if you have been breathing through your nose.
  2. Bring your awareness to your throat. On your exhales, begin to tone the back of your throat (your glottis or soft palate), slightly constricting the passage of air. Imagine that you are fogging up a pair of glasses. You should hear a soft hissing sound.
  3. Once you are comfortable with the exhale, begin to apply the same contraction of the throat to the inhales. You should, once again, hear a soft hissing sound. This is where the name of the breath comes from: it sounds like the ocean. (It also sounds like Darth Vadar.)
  4. When you are able to control the throat on both the inhale and the exhale, close the mouth and begin breathing through the nose. Continue applying the same toning to the throat that you did when the mouth was open. The breath will still make a loud noise coming in and out of the nose. This is ujjayi breath.
  5. Now start to use this breath during your practice. If the teacher tells you to move on an inhale, make it an ujjayi inhale. If you need a little something extra to support you while holding a pose, remember this breath and apply it.

Common Mistakes

The most common mistake in Ocean Breath is tightening your throat. You only want a slight constriction.

Modifications and Variations

Practice Ocean Breath frequently as you are becoming familiar with the practice. You want to be able to use it in your yoga sessions without having to pause. Have your yoga instructor give you feedback as to whether you are doing it correctly or need further cues or modifications.

Advanced practitioners can explore other variations with proper instruction. Using muscular locks (bandhas), such as the throat lock, is one advanced technique, as are breath retentions (kumbhakas).

Safety and Precautions

If you have breathing difficulties or a condition such as asthma, this breathing pattern may be difficult. Ensure you are breathing enough and end the practice if you feel dizzy or lightheaded. You should not feel any pain during this practice.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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Article Sources

  1. Telles and Desiraju. The Indian Journal of Medical Research: Oxygen Consumption During Pranayamic Type of Very Slow-Rate Breathing (1991). PMID:

    1794892