Teaching Ujjayi Pranayama Versus “Belly Breathing”

Are belly breathing and Ujjayi the same? And can the have the opposite of their intended effect on some students?

I have a student who says that practicing the Ujjayi pranayama during the asanas actually creates tension for her. She feels anxious doing the belly breathing and can’t wait to come out of the poses. Since this is having the opposite effect than intended on her nervous system, I suggested she just leave this practice aside for now. Do you have any explanations and/or suggestions? — Gautam

Read Aadil Palkhivala’s reply:

Dear Gautam,

Ujjayi Pranayama is not belly breathing. Belly breathing is not yogic breathing, but a variation used for people who have excessively shallow and high breathing in the upper thoracic cavity, so that they may learn to move their breath lower into their lungs. (Remember that there are no lungs in the abdomen, so to refer to “breathing” there makes no sense technically, although such phrases are common.)

Also seeWhat Is Ujjayi? 

In martial arts, “belly” breathing is done because the aim is the cultivation of the lower vital force for combat. Yoga does not promulgate combat; hence we breathe in the chest cavity, where the Soul and the wisdom of the heart dwell. Our aim is to expand the potential for access to the Divinity within.

Ujjayi pranayama is the smooth, deep breath with the “S” sound on the inhalation and the “H” sound on the exhalation. For this reason, it is also called “So Hum” breathing. This breathing, if done peacefully and NOT forcefully, will soothe the nerves of your students.

Have your student breathe in her lungs in a smooth and gentle manner (without lifting her collarbones or shoulder blades), making a gentle “S” sound on the inhalation and the “H” sound on the exhalation, and she will feel peaceful again.

Also seeTeaching Ujjayi Breath


Recognized as one of the world’s top

yoga teachers

, Aadil Palkhivala began studying yoga at the age of seven with B.K.S. Iyengar and was introduced to Sri Aurobindo’s yoga three years later. He received the Advanced Yoga Teacher’s Certificate at the age of 22 and is the founder-director of internationally-renowned

Yoga Centers

in Bellevue, Washington. Aadil is the director of the College of Purna Yoga, a 1,700 hour Washington-state licensed and certified teacher training program. He is also a federally certified naturopath, a certified


health science practitioner, a clinical hypnotherapist, a certified shiatsu and Swedish bodywork therapist, a lawyer, and an internationally sponsored public speaker on the mind-body-energy connection.