Heat Up Your Yoga Practice This Winter
Brrrr, it’s getting cold here in Sydney. We had such a warm start to Autumn I almost thought that we were going to skip winter this year. Alas, June has ushered in the bedroom heaters and hot water bottles in full force. This colder weather can make it harder to roll out your mat at home, or even to brave the streets in the dark to get to a yoga class before or after work. However, once you are practicing there is a surefire way to warm up – from the inside out.
If you are a regular to practicing any style of hatha yoga, you may be familiar with Ujjayi Pranayama (pronounced oooojayi). Ujjayi Pranayam, also called victorious breath is a style of breath work that is conducted throughout a physical yoga practice. This style of breathing has numerous benefits like clearing and focusing the mind, but the one we will focus on today is heat building.
When I lived in Vancouver I taught yoga at a homeless shelter. Vancouver, has a huge homeless population because it is one of the warmest parts of Canada. Now I know that by Aussie standards, no part of Canada is warm – but the temperature rarely drops below freezing in Van. When temperatures stay above the freezing mark, people can survive (although not pleasantly) living on the streets, whereas in other parts of Canada, they would die from exposure. The manager at the homeless shelter taught ‘Street Yoga’ – and one of the main components is Ujjayi breath. This breath actually helps people stay warm on the streets in winter. Pretty cool huh?
Ujjayi Breath creates a small amount of friction in the back of the throat, and in turn that friction creates heat. Just as you rub two sticks together (friction) to create a fire, we use ujjayi breath to stoke our internal fire. This can be especially helpful in the cooler months when we aren’t already warmed up from the environment around us. So, how exactly do you practice ujjayi breath? Well, I’m glad you asked, because I was going to tell you anyway.
Ujjayi breath is an audible breath, meaning you can hear it. The sound you make is subtle, and not forced, but if you are practicing next to someone chances are they will be able to hear a subtle sound emanating from your throat. If you are new to practicing ujjayi breath, here are some tips to help you get there:
- Find a comfortable seat, bring your palms together face up, and bring them about 6 inches in front of your nose. Now imagine your palms are a mirror. Take an inhalebreath, open your mouth and breath out onto your palms as if you were to fog up that mirror. Repeat that a few more times.Notice that you make a HA sound when you try to fog up a mirror?
- Now let go of the previous analogy for a moment, and imagine you have a birthday cake in front of you, all lit up with candles. Take a deep breath in, and as you exhale open your mouth and blow out the candles. Repeat a few more times. Notice you make a WHOOO sound when you blow out the candles?
- Come back to your mirror analogy, and repeat the same process, but this time when you exhale, still make the HA sound as if you were to fog up the mirror, but keep your mouth closed.Repeat that a few times.Did you notice a little rumble in the back of your throat as you kept your mouth closed?
- Inujjayi breath, we use theHAAA breath, like you were fogging up a mirror, but with the mouth closed. However, we also do it on the inhale. Stay in your seat, close your eyes, and for the next minute focus on creating thatHAAA sound as you exhale with your mouth closed.Once you feel confident creating the sound on the exhale, do it on the inhale as well.This usually sounds more like AHHHHH.
Ujjayi breath is on of the most essential ingredients in creating a well-rounded yoga practice. It does take a bit of practice to master this technique but once you do it will become like second nature. Now there you have it, a simple breathing technique to help you stay warm as you practice this winter!