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Breathing is key in all forms of yoga, but ashtanga yoga engages the breath in a distinctive way. When you go through a series of ashtanga yoga poses, the goal is that each movement has one breath. The breathing technique used in ashtanga yoga postures is called ujjayi, which means “victorious breath.” In ujjayi breathing, the length of each inhale should be the same as the length of each exhale.
Here's an example of how to incorporate ujjayi breathing into ashtanga yoga poses. The sun salutation (surya namskar) consists of nine movements, called vinyasas. For the first movement, stand up tall with feet together. Inhale slowly as you raise your arms over your head. Continue the inhalation until you complete that movement. Then, bend forward from your hips as you exhale, and make the exhalation last for the entire time it takes you to complete the forward bend.
The goal of the synchronized breathing and movement in ashtanga yoga is to bring heat into the body and to improve circulation. Better circulation can help release toxins from the body and relieve joint pain. And there's a mental element, too—focusing on the ujjayi breathing helps you focus your attention away from the concerns and distractions of your day and puts the emphasis on your yoga practice.