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Anulom Vilom – Alternate Nostril Breathing ‘Nadi Shodhan Pranayama’

Anulom Vilom breathing, sometimes called as Nadi Shodhan pranayama or Alternate Nostril Breathing (ANB), is something that I was introduced to, by a practitioner of yoga who was visiting our campus. This simple, yet effective technique of revitalising the body has stayed with me, ever since that time. 

The best thing about this alternate nostril breathing technique is that it requires no special equipment, no minimum level of physical fitness and the result is almost always instantaneous. Our examinations were scheduled a few days after the pranayama teacher had visited us and none of us were really interested to spend time doing “yoga”. 

Yogis of lore believed anuloma viloma was one of the better yogic technique to balance the Tri Dosha – Vata, Pitta and Kapha, in the body. 

Stress had already built up within our minds and that took up our mindspace more than the course material. However, a few minutes into this “exercise” drifted me into a completely different zone of peace and filled me with energy that I had not known existed. Even today I do a few minutes of this exercises to de-stress myself and it works each time. 

What is anulom vilom pranayam?

 The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is one of the most ancient texts on yoga. The book describes “alternate nostril breathing” as “Nadi shodhana” or “nadi purification” pranayama. It is the first of the pranayama or breathing exercises mentioned in the book. This exercise is supposed to balance the body’s energies by opening the energy channels in the body (or the “nadis”) – The Ida, Pingla, Sushumna and other 72000 subtle nadis, stated to be within our physical energy space.

This pranayama helps the body, the tri dosha and several of the functions reaching a state of equilibrium, which is optimum for their performances. Excessive stress, toxicity of environment, food, mental trauma, physical injury, unhealthy lifestyle can block these subtle channels within the body which stops or stalls the flow of energy. By practicing this simple pranayama one can help to reinstate the natural flow.

In fact, Anuloma Viloma is known as the level 3 of nadi shodhana pranayama. “Anu” in Sanskrit means “With” and “Vi” means “Against”, while “loma” means “hair”. So technically, “Anuloma – Viloma” means “with the grain of breath” (or hair) and “against the grain of breath” (or hair).

Simply put, anulom violam means regulation of nostril breathing, inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other nostril.

Pranayama comes from the 2 Sanskrit word, Pran or ‘the vital life force’ and ayama meaning ‘liberating’ of this pranic energy by practising certain breath control exercises – Anuloma Viloma is one of them.

Anuloma Viloma technique follows the process of three distinct steps…

Inhalation (Puraka), Retention (Kumbhak) and Exhalation (Rechak) are three steps of the Anulom Vilom pranayama. Certain advanced pranayama and breathing techniques also focus on Antar Kumbhaka – Retention post Inhalation and Bahir Kumbhaka – Retention after Exhalation BUT then these are advanced practices, which one should ask their guru about.

Benefits of Anulom Vilom Pranayama

There are many health benefits of Anuloma Viloma and a practice of this exercise alone for not more than 10 -15 mins a day can work wonders on the body and mind. Much like ‘Old wine new bottle’, this age-old technique of balancing the physical, mental and emotional realms of individuals through breathing is now being called the Cardiac Coherence Breathing in the western world. But the content remains the same and as effective.

  • Helps overcome stress related illnesses. 
  • Balances the left-right subtle energy flow.
  • Helps calm the mind down due to focussed breathing.
  • Helps balance high BP, Blood ‘Diabetes’ Sugar, Migraine, Asthma etc.
  • Helps optimise the internal balance of Oxygen, Carbon Dioxide and related gases. 
  • Helps strengthen the Diaphragm; the breathing and emotion control muscle.
  • Balances the sympathetic ‘fight-flight-freeze’ nervous response and parasympathetic ‘rest-relax-digest’ nervous response.

How to practice Anuloma Viloma Pranayama?

As already mentioned, Anuloma Viloma does not require any specific level of physical fitness and can be practiced by men, women irrespective of their age. To begin with:

1. Sit cross legged on a level ground, preferably in a distraction free area, with your back erect.

2. Close your eyes and keep it closed to consciously feel what is happening to your body.

3. Keep your left hand on your left knee with the palm facing the sky and the tip of thumb touching the tip of index finger in the “chin mudra”.

4. Place the index and middle fingers of your right hand in the middle of your brows, which leaves the thumb on the right side and the ring and little finger on the left your nose.

5. Exhale completely before you the first cycle.

6. With the thumb of your right hand, press your right nostril gently to close it and breathe in through your left nostril.

7. The intake of breath should be deep but not forced, like you are smelling a flower.

8. Then close your left nostril with the ring and little fingers as you hold the breath inside.

9. Open your right nostril by releasing the thumb and exhale – deep and thorough.

10. Breathe in again with the open right nostril, then close it with the thumb.

11. Release your ring and little finger to open your left nostril to breathe out.

12. This takes a total duration 10 seconds, five seconds to breathe in and five seconds to breathe out. The exhalation can be longer than inhalation too.

This completes one cycle of Anulom Vilom…

13. Continue this cycle for about five minutes.

14. Increase this to three cycles per day of total fifteen minutes duration OR as suggested by your yoga teacher.

To liberate Prana one needs to learn to control the flow of Breath.

What must be remembered while practicing this pranayama practice?

As with any exercise or yoga, there must be certain things which should be remembered while practicing it to ensure there are no mistakes:

1. No yoga including breathing exercises should be forced upon yourself or others.

2. Breathing should be done through the nose and never through the mouth.

3. No sound should be made while practicing anuloma-viloma (sounds are for other types of breathing exercise).

4. Once you have mastered the technique, you can practice this yoga two or three times in a day.

5. It is advisable to remain on an empty stomach in order to do this pranayama.

Pranayama or the breathing exercises (of which Anuloma-Viloma is a kind) keep the energy channels open, helps in purification of blood, absorption of enough oxygen from the blood and expulsion of most toxicities brought by the blood to the lungs. Anuloma-Viloma being one of the easiest and most effective alternate breathing ‘pranayama’ exercises should be practiced by all who wish to keep their minds and bodies healthy and kicking without having to depend on external chemicals in the form of medicines.

“Yoga” which literally means “Addition” of mind and body, is not a substitute for medicine. But many diseases develop in the body due to the negative accumulation of vata, pitta and kapha (as per the Samprapti). Yoga helps in ensuring that no dosha-s or impurities affect the body by keeping the body’s own defence system alive and active. 

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