A relaxed young man leaning against a sunny white wall while closing his eyes and practicing ujjayi breathing.

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Ujjayi Breathing Helps You Find Calm During Yoga, Meditation, or Everyday Life—Here’s How to Try It

This breathing technique (sometimes called ocean breath or victorious breath) can help you focus, relax, and de-stress.

By Michele RossMay 2, 2024


When you think of yoga, you might envision yourself flowing through different poses—but the physical practice (aka asana) is just one of the eight limbs of yoga. In case you missed it, breath regulation (aka pranayama) is another one of the eight limbs that’s essential to incorporate throughout your daily life—no matter if you’re sweating it out in a rigorous Vinyasa class, quieting your mind in a morning meditation, or simply going about your everyday routine.

“The objective of these [breathing] techniques is to stimulate the vagus nerve, a key nerve responsible for transitioning the body from a state of fight-or-flight to relaxation,” says Chiti Parikh, MD, an integrative medicine physician and assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College. Ujjayi breathing is among the most well-known pranayama techniques of the bunch, which you can employ not only during yoga, but also during meditation and times of stress.

Ahead, discover the ins and outs of ujjayi breath—including what it is, the benefits involved, and tips and tricks for practicing it.

What Is Ujjayi Breathing?

“Ujjayi breathing, also known as the victorious breath or ocean breath, encourages deep abdominal breaths instead of the shallow breathing common to most individuals,” Dr. Parikh explains. 

Ujjayi breathing has a distinct oceanic sound. “It is a deep diaphragmatic breath in and out through the nose with the back of the throat slightly constricted so you sound almost like Darth Vadar,” says Peloton instructor Kristin McGee.

Both experts say that ujjayi is distinctive from other styles of yoga breathing—including but not limited to Kumbhaka Pranayama (a form of breath retention) and Kapalabhati Pranayama (which uses rapid exhalations to create heat in the body)—in that others don’t involve constricting the back of the throat.

How to Practice Ujjayi Breathing

Try ujjayi breathing on your own by following these pointers from Kristin:

  1. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth, restricting the back of your throat and creating a “ha” sound on the exhale. (You can imagine that you’re fogging up a window with your exhale.)

  2. Create the same “ha” sound on the next exhale, but now breathe through your nose and keep your mouth closed throughout.

  3. Maintain full and even inhales and exhales throughout your yoga or meditation practice.

When to Use Ujjayi Breath

Ujjayi breathing is most commonly practiced during yoga and meditation, but you can also do it whenever you need to de-stress. 

When you’re taking a yoga class (in person or on the Peloton App), your instructor will typically cue when to start and stop ujjayi breathing—typically beginning during your warm-up and returning to your normal breath as you wind down into Corpse Pose (Savasana). They’ll likely remind you to stick with ujjayi breath throughout the practice, as it’s common to stray from breath awareness as you move from one posture to the next or if a pose becomes too challenging.

Not all practices call for ujjayi breathing, but it’s suitable for just about any type of yoga. According to Kristin, ujjayi breathing can be ideal for all yoga poses, “especially deeper-held ones or ones that require a lot of focus, strength, and concentration.” These include but go well beyond:

Yoga aside, Dr. Parikh recommends performing ujjayi breathing (among other deep breathing exercises) as part of a meditation practice. She “prescribes” this style of pranayama for five minutes first thing in the morning and five minutes before bed. 

“Upon waking, our cortisol levels are naturally elevated as part of our circadian rhythm,” Dr. Parikh says. “Many of us often start our day in a state of stress or anxiety, hurrying through our morning routines or getting caught up in our phones.” Starting your morning with deep breathing exercises, on the other hand, can lower your levels of the stress hormone and help you kick off the day in a more calm, positive state. “Similarly, practicing deep breathing before bed stimulates the vagus nerve, aiding in falling asleep faster and improving the quality of our sleep,” Dr. Parikh adds.

Last but not least, ujjayi breathing can come to the rescue if you need a (literal) breather when you’re under pressure. “One can also practice this technique in moments of stress, where it can have a rather immediate effect in reducing our cortisol levels and heart rate,” Dr. Parikh says. 

Benefits of Ujjayi Breathing

Deep breathing exercises such as ujjayi help the mind and body shift from stress to relaxation mode—but that’s far from all you can expect from the technique, Dr. Parikh says. Here are a few notable ujjayi breath benefits:

1. Enhances Your Yoga and Meditation Practices

“Ujjayi breathing helps to build heat, calm the nervous system, and help with focus and relaxation,” Kristin says. “The slow, steady breath also makes it easier to let go in restorative yoga and get into a more meditative state.” 

Ujjayi breathing also helps you maintain your composure and concentration during more demanding yoga poses, which can help you foster discipline to stay in a posture you otherwise might want to back out of early.

2. Improves Mood and Mental Health

Ujjayi breathing “reduces anxiety and improves emotional regulation, leading to better overall well-being,” Dr. Parikh says. 

Research backs this up. A 2023 randomized control trial published in Explore: The Journal of Science & Healing found that women who practiced ujjayi breath during a single session of low-to-moderate intensity Vinyasa reported significantly reduced anxiety scores. (Women who practiced yoga without breathing instructions also logged similar results, which demonstrates the mental health benefits of yoga on its own.)

3. Promotes Cardiovascular Health

“Deep breathing can lower heart rate and blood pressure, and it increases heart rate variability, indicating improved stress response,” Dr. Parikh explains. In a 2013 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine of 17 young yoga beginners, slow and steady ujjayi breathing was found to increase cardiac-vagal baroreflex sensitivity (which is important for blood flow stability and cardioprotection) as well as improve oxygenation.

4. Bolsters Lung Health

According to Dr. Parikh, engaging in deep breathing exercises not only improves lung capacity, but also strengthens the muscles around the lungs and rib cage. “This leads to better oxygenation of the blood and tissues,” she says—and this oxygenation helps the entire body function properly.

5. Supports Gut Health

Did you know that breathing exercises like ujjayi can positively influence digestion, too? Dr. Parikh says this comes courtesy of the technique’s impact on the vagus nerve, which is involved in digestion. “Deep breathing exercises can aid in managing conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),” she adds.

Tips for Practicing Ujjayi Breathing

Whether you’re new to ujjayi breath or have practiced it for years, these expert-approved tips will help you maximize its mind-body benefits:

  • Don’t go overboard with creating sound. According to Kristin, one of the most common misconceptions is that ujjayi breathing needs to be loud and labored. “Let it be easy and light—think of the sound you hear when you hold a seashell to your ear,” she says. (For additional context on how to get the sound right, Dr. Parikh says that it should produce a soft hissing sound similar to humming, but without vocalization.)

  • Keep your cool. Although ujjayi breath is also known as the victorious breath, you don’t need to huff and puff—i.e., exert too much effort—to practice it. “You want to feel calmer from it, not agitated,” Kristin says.

  • Breathe deeply. If your breathing is shallow and comes more from the chest (which can happen when you’re under stress), focus on breathing from your abdomen instead.

  • Slowly build up your practice. Dr. Parikh advises starting with ujjayi breathing for a few minutes at a time and gradually building up your endurance. “It’s crucial to approach these exercises gently without forcing or rushing,” she explains.

  • Get your timing right. Ujjayi breathing is ideal upon waking up, before bed, and during a yoga practice—and less than ideal right after eating, which could lead to distractions (like a rumbling tummy) or discomfort, according to Dr. Parikh. 

  • Keep at it. Ujjayi breath may feel unfamiliar at first, but “just keep practicing and it will start to feel easier,” Kristin says.

Dr. Parikh says that ujjayi breathing is safe for most people. But “for those who have recently undergone abdominal or lung surgery, it is advisable to refrain from deep breathing exercises until receiving medical clearance,” she says.

The Takeaway

Although breathing is something we do reflexively all our lives, being more mindful of our inhales and exhales has the power to enrich our yoga practice, meditation routine, and ultimately our lives. “Incorporating deep breathing into daily routines can significantly enhance both physical and mental health by leveraging our body’s natural relaxation and healing mechanisms,” Dr. Parikh says.

Ujjayi breath is only one of the many powerful pranayama techniques at your disposal, yet its accessibility, simplicity, and mind-body benefits make it among the most popular and rewarding ones. To practice ujjayi breathing, inhale through your nose, restrict the back of your throat, and make a “ha” sound as you exhale first through your mouth, and then through your nose for the remainder of your yoga or meditation practice. You can try ujjayi breath (aka ocean breath) with a guided class on the Peloton App.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical evaluation, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician for questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. If you are having a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.


Featured Peloton Instructor

Headshot of Peloton instructor Kristin McGee. She's wearing a red two-piece Peloton workout outfit and smiling.

Kristin McGee

Growing up in Idaho, Kristin had dreams of pursuing dance and acting in New York, but ended up as one of the most sought after yoga instructors in the city.


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