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Sounds like yoga: it's okay to imitate Darth Vader during yoga practice, says instructor Bill Hufschmidt.

As an elective for my senior year of high school, I assisted my French teacher for a semester. During one class when the students were practicing their conversational French skills, Mademoiselle Miller whispered to me, "Listen to the room. They ate speaking English, not French--the room sounds different." Her instruction that day expanded my ability to 'zoom in' and 'zoom out' to notice more subtle information about my environment. As a yoga teacher, this lesson still benefits me today when I notice that the practice room sounds different because students are breathing shallowly, or not at all.

When we practice our yoga postures, we want our mind to join us in the experience rather than think about dinner, a past memory or a future endeavor. On and off the yoga mat, our mind can behave like a monkey, randomly and inconsistently jumping from one thought to the next without focus of choice. We've likely all experienced reading a book of driving down the road or practicing yoga and suddenly realizing that we have no idea what we just experienced or how we got to this new place.

During most yoga classes, participants are encouraged to use a breathing technique called "Ujayii Pranayama," which translates from Sanskrit as the "victorious breath." Some people call this "sea-shell breath" or "Darth Vader breathing." The name victorious breath refers to the intention of the sound: by listening to the breath and its subtle and changing qualities of length, duration and pitch, your mind becomes more focused and present. The breath is thus victorious over your ever-wandering monkey mind and its incessant stream of thoughts and ideas. The technique's other names refer to what it sounds like: listening to a sea-shell of creating an impersonation of Darth Vader breathing behind his mask!

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a 14th century yoga practice manual, describes this technique: "closing the mouth, inhale with control and concentration though both nostrils, so the breath is felt from the throat to the heart and produces a sonorous sound." Channeling the breath this way with a steady, consistent rhythm and a focus on the airflow through the sinuses, throat and lungs creates a mental anchor to notice and hear. When a room full of yogins use this technique, the room's energy becomes buoyed and magnified by the sound created. Each individual's concentration is enhanced by the sound generated by all practitioners.


Each breath has four distinct phases: the out-breath, a silent pause, the in-breath, and then another pause. During the pauses, the lack of sound offers us a valuable gift. Ironically, most people don't create or notice the pauses between air movements. In her book Bringing Yoga to Life, Donna Farhi describes these pauses as "the windows into a field of silence that lies beneath the breath and is always present as a backdrop to the breath. Not only is this field of silence a backdrop to the breath, it is the backdrop to all our thoughts, feelings and sensations." Silence is golden, and many of human cultures' mystical traditions say that life began with a holy word, of sound. All sounds emerge from silence, the neutral background that supports and underpins all experience. In silence, we can find the magic and mystery life offers us for learning and evolution.

As we learn to observe the neutral silence between and behind all thoughts, we learn to witness our thoughts and our lives. Cultivating an appreciation for the textures and variations of breath sounds as we move through life on and off our yoga mat, we can also learn to notice unconscious breath holding and moments of shallow breathing. When we clearly see the patterns that show up in our day-to-day, we can consciously choose to change how we live and show up in each moment.



Ujayii for beginners:

* Pretend that you are going to fog your glasses, creating a throaty, airy sound as you exhale through your mouth. Then, try to create a similar sound as you inhale. Try not to breathe faster on the inhale.

* After creating the sound a few times with an open mouth, try to create a similar sound with your lips together, directing breath flow through your nostrils.

* A few attempts may be needed to create the sound, especially during the inhale.

* After you're finished, notice how you feel.

Note: The technique gets easier with regular practice. If you find yourself making a vocalized or snoring or snorting sound, then you're expending too much effort.

Ujayii for experienced yogins:

* Start with five inhales and exhales, generating a strong and non-forced Ujayii sound.

* For the next five breaths, create the sound only on the out breaths, using a more silent inhale.

* Then, for five breaths, only create the sound on the inhale, letting the exhales be more silent.

* Follow with five breaths using a very silent and subtle Ujiiyii during inhale and exhale.

* Try not to lose count during these sequences.

* After you're done, notice how you feel.

Bill Hufschmidt, a Kripalu Yoga teacher, has practiced yoga for 19 years as a salve to focus monkey mind and bring meaning and direction to his terminal human condition called Life. For five years now, in addition to practicing the healing art of Thai Yoga Therapy, he has owned Jai Shanti Yoga, an eclectic yoga studio in Atlanta, GA. Visit Jai Shanti Yoga on the Web at
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Title Annotation:breathe in
Author:Hufschmidt, Bill
Publication:New Life Journal
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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