The power of a simple breathing technique in hospice care
By Lauri Weiss, CRNP
In yoga class, we use a simple breathing technique called “Ujjayi Pranayama”, which translates to upwardly victorious breath. It is a breathing technique that if done properly can be both energizing and relaxing. The ancient yogis recognized the connection between the mind and body. They found that during challenging moments (physical or emotional) the ability to gain mastery over the breath allowed them to remain calm and triumph over suffering.
Ujjayi Pranayama (oo-jy [rhymes with "pie"]-ee prah-nah-YAH-mah) is a balancing and calming breath which increases oxygenation, helps to regulate blood pressure, and promotes relaxation. It can be used at any time to help control pain, ease feelings of breathlessness, decrease anxiety, and promote relaxation. Both hospice patients and caregivers can experience the benefits of this yogic breathing technique, which is easy to learn and can be done at any time. Ujjayyi Pranayama is not a substitute for medication or other interventions when symptoms are severe, but should be used along with other interventions or just practiced daily for its positive effects on mind and body.
Ujjayi Pranayama is characterized by long, slow, even and deep diaphragmatic breaths that fill the low belly first, then the side ribs and then the upper chest. Inhalation and exhalation are both through the nose. The goal is for the inhalations and exhalations to be equal in duration. As the breath passes through the airway, the throat is slightly narrowed causing a “rushing” or “ocean” sound as air passes in and out. Follow the steps listed below to learn Ujjayi Pranayama.
- Begin in a comfortable position, either seated or lying down. Relax your body and gently close your eyes. Make sure your torso is in a long line, with your shoulders over your hips and the crown of the head reaching up. Let your mouth drop open slightly. Relax your jaw and your tongue.
- Inhale and exhale deeply through your mouth. Feel the air of your inhalations passing through your windpipe.
- On your exhalations, slightly contract the back of your throat, as you do when you whisper. Softly whisper the sound, “ahhh,” as you exhale. Imagine your breath fogging up a window.
- As you become comfortable with your exhalations, maintain the slight constriction of the throat on your inhalations, as well. You will notice your breath making an “ocean” sound, softly moving in and out, like ocean waves.
Sometimes the only thing you can control is your own breath.
When you can comfortably control your throat during the inhalations and exhalations, gently close your mouth and begin breathing only through your nose. Keep the same constriction in your throat as you did when your mouth was open. You will continue to hear the “ocean” sound as you breathe through your nose.
- Concentrate on the sound of your breath; allow it to soothe your mind. It should be audible to you, but not so loud that someone standing several feet away can hear it.
- Let your inhalations fill your lungs to their fullest expansion, feeling the breath fill the belly first, then the side ribs and finally the chest. Completely release the air during your exhalations.
Whether you are a caregiver, a hospice patient, or just someone struggling with stress, this breathing technique can help you through tough moments. Sometimes, as you reach a calm state, the person beside you will sense the calm, hear the rhythm of your breath, and breathe easier, too.