What Is Ocean Breath?



Ujjayi (one who is victorious)

Ocean breath Definition

The ocean breath yoga technique, also known as ujjayi or victorious breath, is a type of yogic breathing or pranayama which produces an audible whispering sound in the back of the throat.

The characteristic sound of ocean breath gives it its name because it sounds a little like the waves coming in and going out at the shore.

Ujjayi breath helps to keep the breath smooth and even, and it is considered a cleansing breath that can also help to strengthen the diaphragm.

The ocean breath yoga technique can be used as a stand-alone pranayama or breathing practice, and it is often used in more rigorous forms of asana classes such as vinyasa flow and Ashtanga.

a woman meditating on a beach

Ocean breath Deep Dive

Ocean breath is a type of Sama Vritti pranayama.  This means that the inhale and the exhale are the same length which helps to create a rhythmic and meditative anchor for practicing.  There are no holds or retention of the breath – it seamlessly flows from inhale to exhale and exhale to inhale. This is a breath of equanimity.

Ocean breath is performed by breathing in and out through the nose with the mouth closed.

The focus goes to the back of the throat which makes a slight constriction to make the whispering ocean sound –it is sometimes referred to as Darth Vader breath!

Students are often taught ocean breath by pretending to fog up a mirror with their breath. Doing this with the mouth closed maintains the restriction in the throat and helps to build heat in the body.

While the sound will be audible, it should be a soothing whisper and should not be forced – you should be able to maintain it without feeling like you are “sucking” in air.

The sound and sensation of the ocean breath yoga practice provide a great way to bring you into the present moment and can help some people in moments of anxiety. Think of it as a tool to help keep you grounded and embodied.

the ocean crashing against rocks

What styles of yoga use ocean breath?

You’ll mainly find ocean breath in dynamic style classes such as vinyasa flow, ashtanga, rocket and power yoga. In these types of classes, the inhale and exhale will mostly be matched with one movement, such as is found in sun salutations.

What poses use ocean breath?

Ocean breath is a practice in and of itself, and if you want to dive into ujjayi breath in one posture, any seated comfortable position is a great place to start.

You can even do it sitting at your desk as long as your spine is comfortably erect.

Benefits of ocean breath

The ocean breath yoga technique is a heating breath but is also considered calming and balancing.

When in a yoga class syncing your breath with fellow practitioners can be a beautiful thing and promotes community.

Some reported benefits of ocean breath include:

  • Relieving tension and stress
  • Regulates blood pressure
  • Encourages a meditative state
  • Increases energy
  • Detoxifies
  • Develops interoception and self-awareness
  • Promotes focus
  • Calms nerves
  • Diminishes distractions
  • Teaches you about your own breathing patterns
a yoga class practicing ocean breath in lotus position

When not to practice ocean breath

Restorative yoga and Yin yoga don’t call for heating elements so you may want to give it a miss in these forms of asana practice.

Some pregnant people don’t benefit from the heating element of the practice so it should be approached with caution.

Skip this one if you have a head cold!

Ocean breath in your Life

Ocean breath is often something that we “pick up” in class and it’s always worth remembering to consult an experienced teacher before beginning a new practice to ensure you get the basics mastered. It takes time to gain comfort and ease with any new practice and Ujjayi breath or ocean breath is no different so be patient with yourself.

To begin it is recommended that you try ocean breath while static before integrating it into your yoga movement practice. Below you’ll find some step-by-step instructions to get you started.

1. Find a comfortable seat and take a moment to let yourself settle.

2. Make sure that you are breathing through your nose and that your mouth is closed.

3. Let your breath fall into an easy everyday rhythm and notice how it feels.  Are there any stops or gaps between the inhale and exhale? Does one part of the breath feel longer or shorter?

4. Start to smooth out the breath so that the inhales and exhales are the same length (you can count if that helps). Try to ensure that the inhale and exhale seamlessly meet without any retention.

5. When ready, begin to simulate an “ahhh” sound on your exhale while keeping your mouth closed but relaxed.

6. When you are comfortable with ocean breath on just the exhale start adding the constriction of the throat on the inhale too.

7. The sound should be gentle and something for you to focus on.  Try not to force the breath.

8. Continue this for a few minutes if comfortable, and then return to normal breathing.

9. Be sure to check back in with your normal breathing after doing ocean breath and see if it feels different in any way.

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Sarah is a Brighton-based yoga teacher and teacher trainer with a passion for teaching self-inquiry and rest.

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