The power of a simple breathing technique in hospice care

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Inhale and exhale deeply through your mouth. Feel the air of your inhalations passing through your windpipe.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Lauri Weiss, CRNP

Lauri Weiss, CRNP

Hospice/Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner

As Holy Redeemer’s Hospice/Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner, Lauri spends her professional time seeing patients to determine continued eligibility for services, providing pain and symptom management interventions, and making wound and ostomy care consults. She has been working at Holy Redeemer Hospice and Home Care since 2002 in several different positions, including Evening On-Call Nurse; Staff Development Coordinator and Wound, Ostomy Continence Nurse. Lauri is a life-long learner, with a Master of Arts in Philosophy, a Master of Science in Nursing and advanced certificates and board certification in both Hospice and Palliative Nursing and Wound, Ostomy, Continence Nursing.

Lauri is passionate in her belief that hospice and palliative care provide high quality, compassionate, cost effective care. She particularly enjoys working with patients and families to help translate their goals into appropriate treatment plans. Lauri feels all people with serious and life-limiting illness should have access to care that improves their quality of life. To further this objective, Lauri serves as one of the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA) Pennsylvania State Ambassadors.

When she’s not working, Lauri enjoys reading, exercising (especially taking yoga classes), going to restaurants with family and friends and going for walks with her husband and her dog.
Lauri Weiss, CRNP

2 Responses to “The power of a simple breathing technique in hospice care”

  1. Heather Merrill

    Such wonderful advice and guidance. Thank you. I have shared this terrific article with our community.

    – Heather

    Heather Merrill, CT
    Certified in Thanatology: Death Dying & Bereavement
    Founder and Director
    New England Pet Hospice & Home Care

    • Lauri Weiss

      Lauri Weiss

      I’m so glad you found the blog post helpful, Heather. I use my yogic breathing all the time, not just in yoga class but any time I need to focus or calm myself. Please feel free to contact me with any other questions or coments.


Leave a Reply