The 'Ojai' the single most important thing you need to know about Yogic Breathing
Some people make the 'Ojai' naturally and they have no trouble with Yogic breathing, Chi Gung, meditation, or singing. Unfortunately, many more do not and cannot ever get these techniques quite right. The 'Ojai' is a small block that you make in your throat. To find the Ojai is easy, if you fill your lungs and hold your breath it is the Ojai that is blocking the throat and preventing the air from escaping; release the Ojai and the lung deflates.
The Ojai function we are interested in here to make the pressure even at all times in the lung. To accomplish what is require a ‘partial Ojai’; anything from 25-75% of the airflow. It takes a little practice to get this partial block right, and it is something of an art that you can develop to a very high and precise standard.
For singers and wind players this is clearly necessary as without a partial Ojai you cannot sustain a clear steady note. The technique is to decrease the size of the wind pipe steadily as the air decreases in the lung, in this way you can get a pure and even sound right to the last grasp of air in the lungs.
For Yoga, Chi Gong, and Tai Chi using a partial Ojai is also vital for a number of reasons;
- To support the back, if the pressure is low in the lungs the back is weak and easily injured.
- To control the displacement pressure made when by the process of breathing. (I cover this in the ‘Abdominal Breathing’ section later in this section.)
- To improve smoothness and power movement, changes in pressure cause the body to become slightly unstable making the movements shaky and ugly.
- To massage the internal organs and improve overall vitality
Basic Ojai breathing for Yoga, Chi gong and Tai Chi
Try it, first an in-breath; close the Ojai 30% and breathe in. Feel the resistance of the Ojai making your lung work hard to draw in air. The effect should cause you to feel pressure in the abdomen. Release the Ojai and let the air go as normal.
Next try an out-breath, breath in normally, then apply to Ojai at 30% as the air leaves your lungs. Once again, feel the resistance making pressure in the abdomen.
First steps in practicing Ojai breathing.
This time when you breathe using the 30% Ojai, only breath in half way then release the Ojai, open the throat and completely fill the lungs. Release the Ojai and let the air out. Practice this a few times.
Now the out-breath. Breathe in normally, then start the out-breath with the throat still fully open. Do not apply the Ojai until the lung is half empty. Practice this few times.
Full Ojai breathing
Now, you are ready to practice the in-breath and out-breath together. Breathe in with the Ojai at 30% until the lungs are half full, release the Ojai and completely fill the lungs. Begin the out breath with the throat fully open, then apply the Ojai when they are half empty. Do not release the Ojai and begin the next in-breath, when the lungs are half full release the Ojai and so on.
At first, you should practice this simple type of Ojai while sitting, lying down or standing. After practicing this for while each day, you will find that it feels better and better and more and more natural. You are then ready to try the Ojai breathing with selection of Yoga postures of your choice. Once this has been mastered you may like to use the Ojai breathing for some Chi Gong or Tai Chi.
There are various variations of Ojai technique, for different practices: for singing and wind instruments, the throat is fully open during the in breath as you need to breathe in quickly. On the out-breath you need to apply the Ojai straight away to control the note and gradually increase the block until the end of the note. Tai Chi requires more pressure than Yoga, and the Ojai is more intense. You can experiment with the Ojai and find the best way to apply it to different exercises. In particular you can try gradually increases and decreasing the Ojai instead of just on and off. The Ojai is an art in itself and you will have fun explore this vital and powerful technique. You will be amazed at how at better your exercise feels and how rapidly your strength and stamina improve as well.
The Ojai is particularly useful in meditation.
In meditation the Ojai gives the ability to sit for much longer without becoming stiff and uncomfortable. Different meditations techniques require different breath lengths, and the Ojai allows you to lengthen or shorten the breath simply by adjusting the size of your windpipe. This saves having to concentrate on controlling the length of breath and allows your mind to be free. It also causes less tension in the diaphragm.
To clear up another point about Yogic breathing I would like to discuss the phenomenon of 'abdominal breathing'. Many teachers tell you to breath with your abdomen, but this is actually impossible as the lungs are the chest. What happens in the abdomen and other places is that pressure caused by the act of breathing can be felt. It is important to separate these events as otherwise you may constrict your chest to make more pressure in the abdomen thinking that you are 'breathing in the abdomen' - don't do this as it decreases oxygen intake and creates unnecessary tension. Try to be aware of the air flow in your nose, throat, and your lungs opening and closing naturally. The only regulation this action requires is the application of the 'Ojai'. As for the pressure created by the act of breathing, this can be directed to just about any part of the body. In Chi Gung, Tai Chi we use this pressure to help move the limbs by first directing it to the 'Dan Jen' and routing it from their to the wrists, or ankles.
In Yoga and meditation the pressure is often directed into the abdomen to massage the inner organs and this is the origin of the false notion of ‘abdomen breathing’.
The Three Patterns of Breath
To be more specific there are three major patterns of breathe:
1 ‘Yin Pattern’ expands the lungs into the ribs at the front of chest. This moves the weight of the torso forward and creates a corresponding displacement pressure in the buttocks and back of the legs. The chest swell and buttocks stick out like a women’s figure, the head tilts back slightly lifting the face like a model on the catwalk, which is why I call it ‘yin pattern’. Yin pattern breathing is good when walking as it keeps the weight forward, keeping the weight forward means that gravity does a lot of the work and ‘fall forwards’ as they teach in Alexander technique. It is also good for swimming breast stroke and many other things; you can experiment.
2 ‘Yang Pattern’ Breathing. This spattern of breath is to open the lungs into the ribs of the back. This causes the weight of the torso to move backward and thrusts the pelvis forward, with the head tilted slightly down, like Elvis Presley looking mean, which is why I call it ‘Yang Pattern’.
Yang Pattern breathing is good as preparation for powerful forward motion and is popular with marshal artists. It is also the main breathing pattern used in Chi Gong, (This breathing is the principle pattern used when pushing from the Dan Jen and causing the circulation of chi in the inner orbit) Tai Chi etc. The ribs of the back are stronger than those of the front and more pressure is needed to open them, so it needs a really strong deep in breath to work. Once open though the elasticity of the back ribs means the out breath requires little, or no muscular effort. Then on the out-breath you can use the Ojai and just let the whole body 'coast' on the power of the ribs closing. Alternatively, if you want to make a really hard strike, you can add the muscular closing of the lungs to the elastic closing of the ribs and make a massively powerful strike.
The third way to breath is open the ribs front and back at the same time. This breathing is the standard breathing we do most of the time. It can be made slow and can be used in Yoga for really full breath (Yoga uses all three breathing patterns according to the posture) or to hyper ventilate in preparation to hold your breath for long time.