The yoga tradition
Of the many breathing techniques currently being recommended, the majority derive from the ancient yogic tradition. The origins of yoga have been traced as far back as the ancient rishis, 8000 years ago (Feuerstein, 1998). Over many centuries different forms of yoga developed that have been used to restore and maintain health and to elevate self-awareness and consciousness. (Brown, and Gerbarg, 2005) The ancient science of breath in the yogic tradition is called pranayama which means to control or direct the life energy (prana). Brown and Gerbarg (2005) found that
Yogic breathing provides a unique and powerful tool for adjusting imbalances in the autonomic nervous system and thereby influences a broad range of mental and physical disorders.
The Mayo clinic, one of the most prestigious health care provider facilities in the USA, makes a point of recommending yoga breathing as part of their alternative therapy program.
Yoga teaches that controlling your breathing can help you control your body and quiet your mind.
Ujjayi: A specific technique
For the purpose of this paper, the author has chosen a specific pranayama: Ujjayi breathing. It is easy to learn, and its calming and relaxing effects on the nervous system are documented. In their research, Brown and Gerbarg (2005) propose
that Ujjayi breathing enhances parasympathetic activity and increases indicators of vagal tones.
As noted above, parasympathetic activity and increased activity of the Vagus nerve are both strong inducers of relaxation.
Ujjayi is is also unique. Once it is learned, it is not easily forgotten. Ujjayi is often called Victory Breath because of its “victorious” effect over states of mind such as anger, fear, anxiety, irritation, etc. It is also called Ocean Breath because of the soothing sound of the sea that its practice emulates.
The practice of Ujjayi breathing
Ujjayi breathing is done through the nose with closed mouth. The characteristic ocean sound is produced by a slight contraction of the larynx, producing a soft “Haaa” sound as when one cleans one´s glasses. With a minimum of practice, it is possible to slow the breath rate to 4 or 5 breaths per minute, far below the 12 breaths per minute required to increase the relaxation response.
How Ujjayi supports the coaching process
With the fast pace of life today, many clients come into a coaching session literally on the run. A brief session of Ujjayi breathing can noticeably shift a client’s mood, soothing and relaxing, grounding them in the present moment, helping them to become centered and present, and opening the way to increased self-awareness, insights, and new perspectives. As noted by Dr. Weil, MD (2007),
Deepening the breath can foster a feeling of peace, well-being and calm, and allow clear thinking and decision making to emerge.
Clear thinking and decision making are essential components of the coaching process. In the experience of
Andrea Winzer, Life Coach and Spiritual Director (2012),
When we are stressed out and thoughts are wildly bouncing around in our heads, it is difficult to focus and experience the present situation in a calm and objective way. It is always very powerful for me to witness the amazing effect of that moment, when we consciously focus on our breathing, come to the here and now, and deeply connect with our body as well as our spirit. As a coach, I can facilitate that for my clients and help them shift into a space where they can tap into their own wisdom, and start listening to their heart. I am amazed again and again how well that works and how the breath work can help to shift perspectives and open doors to new experiences.
Suggestions for the coach
Breath work is like chocolate: it must be savored to appreciate it. In order to effectively apply Ujjayi in their coaching practice, coaches should first learn it and become familiar with its benefits, ideally integrating it into their own self-care program. Coaches will also discover that 5 minutes of Ujjayi breathing before a coaching session is an excellent technique to become fully present for their clients.
In addition, beyond the benefits of implementing breathing before and during the actual coaching process, the coach who teaches a client Ujjayi has the added satisfaction of knowing that the client has obtained a valuable tool for practical application in their lives. As mentioned previously, Ujjayi breathing, along with other breathing techniques, has a direct effect on emotional and physical wellbeing. By sharing this knowledge and encouraging clients to use it in daily life, a coach will add a unique value to his or her practice.
Whether one puts more faith on ancient teachings rooted in centuries of experimentation and observation, or modern day scientific-based evidence, at the end of the day, as the old saying goes
the proof is in the pudding.
To this end, the following 3 testimonials have been provided to add another perspective on the benefits of Ujjayi breathing.
Dawn Weaver, Career Transition Coach (2012):
Ujjayi breathing gave me such a powerful tool to find center and balance in my every day life. It always brought me to a place of calm and clarity. I loved having a coach on this because of the practice it gave me and the discipline as well. The most important part of the breathing was the spaciousness it brought inside of my being. That experience grounded me in the moment, which I find extremely important. I use it in my daily life when I feel a sense of being scattered to find peace and clarity.
Lorna C. Poole, RN CPC ACC Professional Coach:
I found that starting the coaching session with Ujjayi allowed me to disconnect from the busy-ness swirling around my life and settle into the experience of receiving coaching. It was a perfect place in which to become centered and ready for the power of the coaching experience. I felt connected to the primal force of my breath – it reminded me of walking on an ocean shore and feeling the power of the wave movement. I find it a particularly useful combination when I am feeling stressed or out of control of my circumstances. I find 10 minutes of breath work helps to re-center me and makes coping with daily demands easier.