What is that Darth Vader Breath in Yoga Class?
The Darth Vader breathing is called Ujjayi Pranayama (ooh-JAH-yee prah-nah-YAH-mah). It is one technique that helps calm the mind and warm the body. When practicing Ujjayi, you completely fill your lungs, while slightly contracting your throat, and breathe through your nose. This breathing technique is used throughout Ashtanga and Vinyasa yoga practices.
The sound of Ujjayi is created by gently constricting the opening of the throat to create some resistance to the passage of air. Gently pulling the breath in on inhalation and gently pushing the breath out on exhalation against this resistance creates a well-modulated and soothing sound, like the sound of ocean waves rolling in and out.
It is important to remember that the key to Ujjayi breathing is relaxation. The action of Ujjayi naturally lengthens the breath. Some small effort is required to produce a pleasing sound, but too much effort creates a grasping quality and an annoying sound especially to your yogi neighbors.
To practice the inhalation, focus on creating a soothing and pleasing sound that is unhurried and unforced. I suggest working on your Ujjayi breathing in a seated, relaxed cross-legged position. Inhalation and exhalation are both done through the nose. The "ocean sound" is created by moving the glottis (the thin opening between the vocal cords) as air passes in and out. As the throat passage is narrowed so, too, is the airway, the passage of air through which creates a "rushing" sound. The length and speed of the breath is controlled by the diaphragm, the strengthening of which is, in part, the purpose of Ujjayi. The inhalations and exhalations are equal in duration, and are controlled in a manner that causes no distress to the practitioner.
Once Ujjayi breathing is mastered in a seated position, the challenge is to maintain the same quality of breathing throughout your asana (the physical practice of yoga) practice.
Throughout your practice, try to maintain the length and smoothness of the breath as much as possible. Once you find a baseline Ujjayi breath in a pose that is not too strenuous (Downward-Facing Dog for example), endeavor to maintain that quality of breath throughout the practice. Some asanas require great effort, and you may begin to strain in your breath.