As per ancient yogic wisdom, our body sustains on the basis of prana or subtle energy that flows through each one of us and governs various physiological and psychological functions within our bodies. This energy is obtained through food, air, water and the energies we tend to assimilate from the universe.
The most innate and subtlest form of prana in our bodies is our breath. This breath works to regulate our circulation, help our body heal and support our organs to function normally. Moreover, it is the breath that promotes cellular growth. This vital energy flows through our bodies by means of Chakras or energy channels. We can alter or activate these Chakras by means of pranayama or breathwork training that helps to understand, create and channelise these subtle life forces for healing and optimal functioning of various organs in our body.
There are several such pranayama techniques that when learnt can elucidate targeted health outcomes.
One such pranayama is Anulom Vilom which is a popular and widely practiced technique in yoga.
This post will talk about the nuances of Anulom Vilom, the steps to practice it, the precautions to be followed and its potential benefits. Let’s take a look.
What is Anulom Vilom pranayama?
Anulom Vilom pranayama or alternate nostril breathing as it is widely referred to typically involves closing one nostril while inhaling through the other nostril and then alternating with the other nostril as you exhale. This process is reversed and repeated a number of times. As per its Sanskrit name, the words Anu and Loma denote the grain while Viloma denotes against the grain.
In yoga, Anulom Vilom acts as a precursor for the ensuing Nadi Shodhana pranayama.
Anulom Vilom when practiced consistently over a period of time entails many physical and psychological health benefits including improved respiratory and cardiovascular functions, stress reduction and other benefits.
How to practice Anulom Vilom pranayama?
Anulom Vilom pranayama should be done on an empty stomach or about 4 hours after your last meal. You should practice this alternate nostril breathing technique in cool and comfortable surroundings.
Below are some easy steps that you can follow to practice this pranayama.
- Sit in a meditative posture either in Sukhasana or padmasana. You can either sit on a yoga mat on the floor or even choose to sit in a chair.
- After being comfortably seated, close your eyes while keeping your neck straight and spine erect.
- Keeping your eyes closed would help you to ward off distractions and keep your mind clear.
- To begin with, rest your outer wrists on your knees.
- Fold your right hand’s middle and index fingers towards the palm of your hand.
- Place your right thumb to block your right nostril while keeping your ring finger resting on your left nostril.
- Inhale through your left nostril. Breathe deeply and fully so as to fill your lungs to their capacity. Focus on breathing at this juncture.
- Close your left nostril with the help of your ring finger.
- Expel air by exhaling slowly from your right nostril.
- Now, practice the process in reverse, by inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling through your left nostril.
Pranayama is also about being aware of your breathing. Similarly, while performing Anulom Vilom, become conscious of your breathing and feel the way it affects your mind and body. Begin by trying this for 1 or 2 minutes. However, you should not force yourself to go outside your comfort zone and try again another time when you feel ready to commit. It's pertinent that you feel relaxed and in control. You can increase the time of performing Anulom Vilom rounds at your own pace. Ideally, you should aim to complete 60 cycles of Anulom Vilom pranayama. However, these can be spread throughout the day and need not be done all at once.
Tips and precautions to practice Anulom Vilom safely
Although Anulom Vilom is a relatively safe pranayama practice, you need to follow certain precautions and safety measures while practicing it safely:
- As a beginner, you should not attempt to practice Anulom Vilom on your own. Always learn the proper method of practice from a certified yoga teacher or you can join a pranayama course online.
- To gain optimal benefits from the Anulom Vilom pranayama practice, practice it early morning when the stomach is empty and the mind is clear and relaxed.
- Pregnant women should consult their doctor before practicing this pranayama. The length of inhalations and exhalations should be manageable and appropriate.
- Beginners should take adequate breaks and avoid holding their breath for too long. Also, clear understanding and listening to subtle bodily cues are advised.
- People taking blood pressure medications or taking treatment for acute asthma should avoid doing this pranayama.
- Similarly, COPD and heart patients should perform this pranayama after consulting their doctor.
- Anulom Vilom pranayama should not be done in a hurry. The breath should be slow and steady. Also, never hold your breath
- forcefully. Furthermore, this practice should be done after physical asanas and cooling down practice.
- Students who cannot sit comfortably on the floor such as those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis can use a chair for sitting.
- Breathing should not be too deep or too shallow or else it can create an imbalance in the body. A 200 hour yoga teacher training in Rishikesh will not only help you learn the correct technique but also help deepen your yoga and pranayama practice.
- Do not practice Anulom Vilom pranayama with a congested nose or with a fever.
- Immediately stop practicing this breathing technique if you feel lightheaded or find it difficult to breathe.
- Nadi Shodhana : Anulom Vilom Variation
- Nadi Shodhana pranayama is similar to Anulom Vilom and involves alternate nostril breathing wherein you breathe from one nostril to the next. But, in Nadi Shodhana, you hold the inhaled breath for a while whereas, in Anulom Vilom, there is no need to hold your breath.
Both our nostrils are connected to opposite areas of the brain. So, when you inhale from your left nostril, you supply prana or oxygen and activate the right part of the brain and inhaling air from the right nostril awakens the left part of the brain.
These very subtle differences in Nadi Shodhana and Anulom Vilom are explained quite vividly as part of extensive breathwork training as part of the pranayama course.
Potential benefits of Anulom Vilom pranayama
As you instil a regular pranayama routine, you will notice a sense of calm and well-being engulf every aspect of your health. Anulom Vilom pranayama done in the morning can jumpstart your days while when practiced in the evening can help you unwind and promote better sleep. Below are some potential benefits of practicing the alternate nostril breathing techniques:
Strengthens your respiratory system
The COVID-19 Pandemic stressed the importance of our respiratory system health with the focal point being our lungs. Several scientific studies have shown that yoga and breathing exercises improved our lung function and endurance. One 2013 study has claimed that practicing Anulom Vilom breathing for 30 minutes a day is believed to improve symptoms of sinus inflammation.
Supports brain health
Pranayama helps oxygenate the brain while supporting biochemical, metabolic, psychophysiological, neurocognitive and other functions in healthy individuals. Moreover, pranayama is also believed to improve cognition.
Helps reduce headaches and migraines
Migraines are neurological disorders that are yet to find any foolproof treatment. This is a chronic and debilitating ailment that can considerably affect an individual’s quality of life. However, pranayama such as Anulom Vilom is said to be an effective natural intervention in reducing the intensity and frequency of migraines. Practising Anulom Vilom for just 15 minutes a day is said to relieve migraine pain and headaches arising out of increased stress and tension.
Helps reduce stress and anxiety
We know that stress is behind a number of physical and psychological ailments. Stress if not addressed can snowball into various chronic lifestyle conditions and even autoimmune disorders. Anulom Vilom involves deep breathing and a sense of awareness of self and immediate surroundings. It induces a sense of calm and well-being that helps alleviate anxiety.
Helps induce sleep
We all must have experienced sleeplessness at some point in our lives. But, there are some people who find it difficult to go to sleep and be asleep throughout the night. However, yoga and pranayama can come to the rescue of such chronic insomniacs.
Anulom Vilom is quite a versatile breathing technique which if done during the evenings can help calm your frayed nerves and help you relax. You can unwind and ease into a restful sleep.
Improves cardiovascular function
As mentioned above, Anulom Vilom can help tame stress. Also, it has the ability to lower your blood pressure and heart rate, both vital parameters for gauging your cardiovascular health.
Improves skin health
Our skin is the largest organ in our body which is also affected by stress. However, practicing Anulom Vilom pranayama daily can help improve blood circulation in our body and help achieve a radiant glow to the skin.
May improve eyesight
Although there is not much research proving the role of Anulom Vilom in improving eyesight there is a body of research claiming that eye health depends on a good oxygen supply. Alternate nostril breathing helps foster respiratory and cardiovascular health. So, in all probability, it may even support eye health.
Alternate nostril breathing can help improve overall health and well-being. Anulom Vilom yoga reduces cortisol levels and stimulates the production of happy hormones or endorphins. This helps lower your stress and anxiety levels which in turn helps treat depressive disorders. It has positive mental health outcomes pertaining to mental health problems like anxiety, depression, PTSD and other ailments. Moreover, this pranayama is said to improve fatigue, stress and anxiety in cancer patients.
Today, there are yoga and pranayama sessions especially curated for students and those preparing for competitive exams. Anulom Vilom pranayama should be specifically practiced as it is said to improve memory and helps retain information for longer periods.
We all have been witness to how the COVID-19 virus impacted those with weak immunity. However, practicing alternate nostril breathing techniques like Anulom Vilom can enhance immunity and protect you from seasonal coughs and colds and even prevent you from contracting diseases in circulation.
Promotes digestive health
Anulom Vilom pranayama when practised regularly can keep digestive disorders at bay. Digestive issues like gas, acidity, flatulence, bloating, constipation and stomach diseases can be effectively dealt with through pranayama practice.
Anulom Vilom pranayama helps to still your mind and helps in grounding you. This in turn helps you to focus on the most important things. Besides, it also fosters creativity and opens up a world of possibilities which otherwise you might not have visualized.
Supports meditative activities
The deep long breaths involved in alternate nostril breathing help you become more conscious of your surroundings. It helps to ground you and when done with meditation, this pranayama is believed to enhance mindfulness. Eventually, you will be able to clear your mental chatter therein allowing you to look within yourself.
Anulom Vilom is a risk-free and safe breathing technique that can be practised by healthy individuals. However, we suggest that you learn and understand the method and other finer nuances of this versatile alternate nostril breathing technique from a trained and certified yoga teacher. It's a good idea, to begin with just about 1 to 2 minutes of this pranayama practice initially and then slowly increase the time as you gain confidence.
Accruing all the possible benefits of this amazing breathing technique lies in practising this yogic method when you feel comfortable enough and enjoy this practice. You can complement this breathing exercise with your yoga and meditation routine to clear and relax your mind and body and truly transform your overall health.