Recently I’ve been really enjoying a combined pranayama (breathing practice) which uses both a strengthening breath and a softening breath. I discovered this in Uma Dinsmore-Tuli‘s book Yoni Shakti which I have just finished (and will write a review of soon), and have used it several times in my own practice and also taught it last week in my classes.
Uma calls it ‘victory and surrender’ breath, and it combines the ujjayi breath for the inhale, with the golden thread breath on the exhale. (I’ll describe these further down.) Ujjayi is a strengthening, expanding, deep breath, and translates as ‘the victorious breath’. It is a stand-alone breathing practice and is also used throughout an ashtanga class. In contrast the golden breath is very soft, with the emphasis on letting on, releasing, relaxing. Both naturally extend the length of the breath and the combination of using the two together I found to be quite lovely!
We often have a lot of either/or conditions in life (female/male, good/bad, black/white, right/left, strong/weak) and people can get trapped into being ‘the strong one’ or ‘the late one’ or ‘the one who’ll get things done’ etc. Sometimes, therefore, it’s nice to be able to enjoy being both strong and soft within the duration of one complete breath.
The ujjayi inhale is strong, you feel your ribcage expand, your breath is deep and long, you feel victorious, powerful, then the exhale follows with the golden breath and you soften, you slow down, you release, the tension seeps away, there’s nothing to worry about, your shoulders relax, you let go, surrender. As Uma says “When both these pranayamas are partnered in this pattern, the breath moves in a metaphorical dance between the experiences of victory and surrender.” (p. 134 in Yoni Shakti.)
Interested in practising it? Here’s how to do it.
Sit in a comfortable position, spine lengthened and shoulders relaxed. Close or half-close the eyes and take some time to just breathe normally, becoming aware of your current breathing pattern. After a couple of minutes apply the ujjayi breath on the inhale, and the golden breath on the exhale. Breathe like this for as long as you wish, then return to normal breathing for a minute or so, then open the eyes and absorb the effects of the practice before moving on with the rest of your day.
The two breaths
Ujjayi – make a constriction at the back of the throat, semi-closing the epiglottis and breathe in over this restriction, making the sound of slight snoring.
Golden breath – open your lips a very tiny amount, the width of a piece of paper, and let the breath flow out slowly, like a golden thread slowly spinning out further and further. This pdf has detailed instructions.