When the instructor asked what we would like to work on, I was quiet.
The woman on the mat, next to me, responded asking, “Can we work on ujjayi breath?”
The instructor agreed, “Ujjayi can be hard. I still have trouble with it. But yesterday, I really had a good practice using ujjayi. It was a good day. So sure. Let’s practice a little.”
“Really?” I thought to myself.
I didn’t exactly think class was the place to work on this. It was easily done at home. I had practiced this kind of breathing many times before. I kept trying to get my breathing to reflect the strong rumbling exhales of the first instructor I ever had. Her breathing was surprisingly loud.
I didn’t even know what ujjayi breath was, then.
I always wondered if the sound was coming from the person on the mat next to me, and hoped they were okay because it sounded rather strange. All the while it was Sarah at the front of the room.
The first time I realized this I was so amazed that I described it to my husband, trying to replicate it all, without success. I’m pretty sure he thought it was a little odd, even though he never said so.
After a bit of practice, I found myself breathing in and out, not so loudly, but definitely with the hissing sound of the ujjayi way.
So as this instructor invited us to sit on our mats in a seated position, legs crossed, with our hands resting on our legs saying, “Take a deep breath in. And breathe out. Breathe in through your nose. And as you breathe out constrict your throat, just slightly, so that you make a deep breathy sound as you let the air escape from your body,” I breathed along, while my mind wandered.
Ujjayi is this slow and rhythmic breath—in & out and in & out—that each movement is tied to. Breathe in—arms up. Breathe out—arms come to center. Breathe in—arms out. Breathe out—forward fold. Breathe in—come to plank. Breathe out—take a vinyasa. In. Out. In. Out.
It is this breath that helps deepen a pose and hold just a little bit longer. I never would have thought that was possible in my gymnast days, but then we never talked about the way we breathed through "conditioning." Yet, through yoga practice, I discovered it to be so. Somehow it makes it easier, keeping the focus on this deep breath in and deep breath out.
Is it any wonder?
In breathing, we say the name of God.
In Exodus, as he stands before the burning bush, Moses asks God what he shall tell the Israelites His name is:
“But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”God replied to Moses, “I Am Who I Am. Say this to the people of Israel: I Am has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.” Exodus 3:13-15 NLT
With my VINE’S, I find the phrase “I AM” is the word hāyāh or “to live” in Hebrew. And Ray Vanderlaan describes the transliteration of the Hebrew letters for the name of God in this passage—YHVH.
And those same letters in Hebrew? Yod—hey—vav—hey. They are like the sounds that our breathing makes.
There are a few different people like Jason Gray and Rob Bell who have talked about how every moment we live we breathe His name. I know Bell can be controversial, but on this I think he is wise. God’s name is our life source.
I think the ujjayi breath accentuates the sounds just so.
As we sit breathing deep, I consider this.
His name is what gets me through the difficult moments.
It’s His name that brings rest as I move through the fluid movements.
So as I read on a yoga site about ujjayi that “without breath there is no life,” I think apart from speaking God’s name we cannot live.
How gracious of Him.
He has crafted us to speak His name each moment of our lives.
Ujjayi reminds me to celebrate this and to delight in saying His name.
In speaking His name, I honor God.
Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we speak His name, breathing deep in and out. May we celebrate each breath of this life as an opportunity to honor Him.