Ujjayi – Graduating from Breathing to Pranayama

The flow of respiration can be equated with the rhythm of a pendulum. A pendulum does pause, though for just a fraction of a second, before reversing and so does our breath during its transition from inhalation to exhalation and vice versa. This ‘PAUSE’ can be termed ‘KUMBHAK’. Kumbhak or Breath Retention, in Yoga, is the pause between the inhalation and the exhalation. The role of Kumbhak becomes imperative, the moment we initiate Pranayama practice. Working on breathing is the preparatory stage for a pranayama practice. Only when we master the breath maneuverability, we begin to enter the realm of ‘Pranayama’ where Kumbhak or Breath Retention is mandatory.

According to B.K. S. Iyengar in Light on Yoga, the “retention or holding the breath, a state where there is no inhalation or exhalation“.u1

 The same is applicable in case of Ujjayi Pranayama as well. Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the classical yoga text by sage Svatmaram explains Ujjayi in four ways where Level -I & Level – II are performed without kumbhak (breath retention) whereas the next two levels – Level III & Level IV are performed with kumbhak and transforms it from a simple breathing exercise to the pranayama practice of Ujjayi.

Ujjayi at Level-I & Level-II can be performed for as long as one wants to without much restrictions. This discipline, however, changes as we enter Level-III & Level-IV which require another level of discipline.

Ujjayi Pranayama

Level-III Method

  1. Ujjayi at Level-III corresponds with Ujjayi at Level-I. Perform your Ujjayi breathing as you will do at Level-I while sitting with your spine in a neutral position.
  2. After inhalation in Ujjayi, hold your breath, block your nostrils with right hand using Pranav mudra so that you are blocking right nostril with right thumb and left nostril with right ring finger.
  3. Bring your chin to the chest to perform Jalandhar bandh
  4. Be there for as long as you can, holding your breath (below capacity)
  5. Raise your chin parallel to the floor
  6. Release the finger lock from the left nostril
  7. Exhale in Ujjayi from the left nostril alone
  8. This is one round
  9. Repeat few rounds of Ujjayi as per your comfort

Level-IV Method

  • Follow the steps in Level-III by applying Khechari Mudra

With this, you reach the highest point of your Ujjayi Pranayama practice.


Make sure to keep your throat region soft and strain-free. The flow of the breathing should be softly touching through the throat and the upper palate. If you are not enjoying this, you are straining yourself.u2

Ujjayi breathing at Level-I and Level-II is also performed during many asana practices to increase awareness and to stimulate sushumna nadi. In general, people with insomnia and high blood pressure find it very beneficial when practiced regularly. You can check the detailed description of Ujjayi and much more on www.shammisyogalaya.com

“Ujjayi is helpful for all ailments that originate from nervousness or chronic stress” – A systematic course in the ancient tantric techniques of Yoga and Kriya by Swami Satyananda Saraswati.

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Shammi Gupta, founder of Shammi’s Yogalaya holds an MA in Yoga Shastra, is a certified Yogic Therapist and Naturopath, has completed an Advanced Yoga Course and holds a Diploma in Yoga Education from Mumbai University. She is a certified trainer from American College of Sports Medicine and holds an MBA in HR & MBA in Finance from The University of Akron, Ohio, USA. She conducts Health Awareness Workshops for Corporate, Yogasana Workshops for Athletes and Yoga Therapy Workshops on different medical issues for patients. Among the celebrities Shammi trains are eminent personalities from the film and television industry and corporate world.

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