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Ocean Breathing

          We find ocean breathing to be one of the most effective and enjoyable of all the breathing techniques. It can be either relaxing, or energizing (or both), depending on how you use it.  It’s also a fast way to focus your mind when you’re distracted. And it just feels good!

           To practice ocean breathing, you partially constrict your throat as you breathe.  This narrows the passageway through which air flows, creating a kind of "rushing" sound. That rushing sound resembles what you hear when you hold a large seashell up to your ear.

          Some instructors tell their students that ocean breathing sounds like Darth Vader (others prefer not to plant that the kind of image in their students’ minds).

In the yoga tradition, ocean breathing is known as ujjayi, a Sanskrit word meaning “the victorious breath.” We’ve usually heard it pronounced with three syllables, oo-JIGH–ee, but we’ve also seen it as two syllables, oo-jay. In any case, you may find “ocean” a little easier to pronounce.

We figure if thinking of Darth Vader makes it easier for you to learn the technique, that's great.  But if not, you may prefer to bring to mind the sound of the ocean in a seashell.

         When we first started teaching ocean breathing, we quickly discovered that people had no idea what it meant to constrict their throat. And on top of that, just the thought of having to constrict their throat made them kind of tense.

          So here’s what we’ve found to be the most effective way of learning ocean breathing:

Audio Instructions

If you'd like to listen to an audio that guides you through the process of learning ocean breathing, click below:

Written Instructions

(Use abdominal breathing throughout)

  • Hold your palm up facing your mouth. Take a normal breath in, then exhale with your mouth open as if you were trying to fog up a mirror. That will create a breathy sound, "hahhh." (That's the rushing sound we referred to that's created by constricting your throat).

  • Inhale normally and do that a few more times, each time exhaling and making the sound “hahhh,” as if you’re trying to fog up a mirror.

  • Now this time, keep your mouth open as you inhale and exhale, and try to make that same breathy sound, “hahhh,” with both your inhalation and exhalation. 

  • OK, now you’re ready to start ocean breathing. Just keep making the same breathy “hahhh” sound as you inhale and exhale, but now do it with your mouth closed.

       Ocean breathing should feel comfortable and relaxing, so if you notice yourself starting to tense up, see if you can release the tension. Remembering to use abdominal breathing will help you to stay relaxed.

Benefits of Ocean Breathing

          The ancient yoga textbooks talk about a whole host of benefits you can derive from ocean, or ujjayi, breathing - anything ranging from greater relaxation, to better concentration, to the power to conquer death (hence, the term “victorious” breath)! The only scientific research we’re aware of confirms that ocean breathing will help you relax.

          Over the years, we’ve found it to be helpful in many ways and in a variety of situations. You don’t have to worry about people thinking you’re weird, because after you’ve practiced a bit, you’ll see that you can do ocean breathing so quietly, that even someone right next to you won’t know you’re doing it. Here are a few examples of how we’ve used it during the day:

  • In the midst of a particularly busy day, we find it refreshing to pause for a few moments for a few rounds of ocean breathing. It’s surprising what a quick difference just a few ocean breaths can make.

  • When we feel stuck with regard to something we’ve been working on - like writing a page for this site - taking a brief break for ocean breathing can sometimes be enough to give us a fresh perspective and get past the block.

  • For reducing tension in a stressful situation – like before an exam or performance, or before what we imagine is going to be a challenging interpersonal interaction.

  • When we’re tired and want a quick energy boost - and that works especially well when we combine it with some slow movement.

  • For muscle tension and mild pain, a minute or two of gentle ocean breathing has been helpful, though it’s not always been effective with severe pain.

  • When we’re distracted or unfocused in the midst of a project, ocean breathing helps us get refocused

  • If we’re working in a place where we’re not self-conscious about other people’s reactions (although we’ve been known to do it in a Starbucks or Barnes and Noble), we generally find the effects of ocean breathing are intensified when we combine it with some kind of movement like Qigong or yoga postures. 

Effortless Breathing


         Ideally, breathing exercises should done with a minimal amount of effort.  If you’re feeling tense or being too “effortful” when doing a breathing exercise, you may actually be creating more tension, which will make it harder for you to breathe.  So in order to get the full benefit of the breathing exercise, think of it as a relaxing and enjoyable experience. (One reason we’ve created the breathing videos with calming images and relaxing music is to help create that sense of ease and relaxation.)

        Rather than thinking of breathing exercises as just one more item on your to do list, try doing them when you really want to relax or have more energy.  And let it be fun. Experiment with incorporating ocean breathing, spinal breathing and other breathing exercises into your life in ways that are specially tailored to your needs and circumstances.