In many yoga classes there is talk about the breath. It can be as simple as teachers just repeating the word “breathe” over and over. Or it can be as complex as a teacher teaching you specifically how to breathe. Whatever the method, the breath is one of the most important pieces of a yoga practice. This focus helps the mind clear so you can have a few moments of moving meditation. This breath also heats the body from the inside out. This breath also helps flood the body with fresh oxygen-rich blood. This breathing in yoga is called Ujjayi Pranayama, meaning victorious breath.
In our classes at Greenville Yoga, we teach the breath first with an open mouth, making a “ha”sound as you breathe in and out. The purpose is to get you used to making an audible sound with the breath. The second is so you can inspire your neighbors with the sound of your breath. As a students gets adepts at open mouth breathing (Ocean Breath), we teach him or her to close the mouth on the exhale and make the same sound, then add the inhale with closed mouth. This is the next stage of practice- closing the mouth and breathing ujjayi breath through the whole practice. The sound is the same, only air rushing over the tongue making a soothing sound like the ocean.
Here is the practice tip– When you can breathe consistently through class with the mouth open, it is time to move to closed mouth breathing. (Do not do this if you are overheated or pregnant as this will warm you up even faster.) Gently seal the lips and allow the air to flow over the tongue. Do not create tension in the throat. Let the tip of the tongue touch the roof of the mouth– not the teeth. First, if you press the tongue against the front teeth you will eventually need a retainer. Second, there is a direct connection with this spot on the roof of the mouth to the brain that calms the nervous system. Notice your breath with the mouth closed and see if you can feel a sense of calm here. If not, feel free to return to open mouth breathing at any time.
In my practice, I have to vary between the two styles of breathing. Some days I can breathe with ease through the nose, others I need to open my mouth and breathe. Either way suits as long as you are inhaling and exhaling with a sense of mindfulness and peace.