Anulom vilom pranayama or anuloma viloma is the practice of conscious breathing through alternate nostril breathing. Ayurveda and Yoga both emphasize the practice of pranayama – the discipline of breath. Another way to describe pranayama is the control you have over how you are breathing in life force energy – prana. And how that energy is distributed and circulated through your body. Anuloma viloma pranayama is one of the practices of pranayama.
Modern medicine is researching these Indian practices and has started documenting the benefits too. Case in point – the NIH revealed the benefits of pranayama in the article “Effects of yogic breath regulation: A narrative review of scientific evidence “ stating that “effects of yogic breathing in modulating cardiovascular variables in patients with hypertension and cardiac arrhythmias, relieving the symptoms and enhancing the pulmonary functions in bronchial asthma, as an ancillary aid to modify the body weight and symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis, to enhance mood for patients withdrawing from cigarette smoking, to reduce the reaction time in specially abled children, to manage anxiety and stress in students, to modulate the pain perception, improve the QoL and sympathetic activity in patients with diabetes, reduce the cancer related symptoms and enhancing the antioxidant status of patients undergoing radiotherapy and chemotherapy for cancer.
Thus the cost effective and safe practices of yogic breathing could aid in prevention and management of various non-communicable diseases. They may also play a role in management of communicable diseases such as pulmonary tuberculosis.”
Now that’s a mouthful. But as you can see, the evidence is catching up with these ancient practices.
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Where did Anulom Vilom Pranayama Originate?
Anulom vilom is a practice that is described in detail in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. It is a form of yoga that was defined to help the students and yogis get control or discipline their breath. It is part of the 8 step yogic practice to cultivate Samadhi – this highest form of consciousness. This practice aims to support the practitioner to reach that goal. As mentioned above, the sister sciences Ayurveda and Yoga both recommend this practice as part of our spiritual journey. The yogic texts state it is impossible to cultivate stillness required for meditation if one does not have control over her breath (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali). This is how the practice was developed and continues to be used by practicing yogis and their students.
What is the Meaning of Anuloma Viloma Pranayama?
Anuloma viloma or anulom vilom pranayama in the simplest form means alternate nostril breathing. This technique calls attention to breathing in from one nostril and exhaling through the other.
How do You do Anuloma Viloma Pranayama?
Anulom vilom pranayama is a simple practice that can be done by almost anyone. However see below for considerations before starting this practice. Here are the steps to practice anulom vilom:
- Sit with your spine straight up and in a cross-legged position. If you canot sit cross legged, sit in a chair with your feet firmly planted on the floor, spine straight
- Rest your left wrist on your left knee with hand in chin mudra with palm facing up
- Start with a full exhale of any air left in you
- Take your right thumb and close your right nostril
- Inhale as much as you can (without force) through your left nostril
- Close the left nostril with your ring finger (Note: The index and middle finger will naturally curl. If not, keep them placed in the area between your eyes (anja chakra))
- Open the right nostril and exhale through this side
- Repeat the inhale through the right nostril
- Close this nostril with your ring finger
- Open the left nostril and exhale through the left side
This completes one cycle.
How many times Should You Practice Anulom Vilom Pranayama?
If you are just starting out with the practice, do 9 cycles of it. As you get more used to it, you can increase the amount to last between 3-5 minutes. Since this can sometimes be too much for your physical and subtle bodies, take it easy and work your way up.
When to Practice Anulom Vliom Pranayama?
It is best to practice this first thing in the morning as you sit down to meditate or chant. Starting with anulom vilom first prepares your body and mind to relax and prepare itself for a clam meditation session.
Can You Practice Anulom Vilom Pranayama before Sleeping?
Yes, you can do this. I would suggest doing it for a little less than when you practice in the morning. This goal before sleeping is to relax your body and mind enough without overly drying you out if you do not have the ojas (immunity) to support the practice.
What are the Benefits of Anulom Vilom Pranayama?
While modern medicine is still playing catch up, there are many benefits of anulom vliom. These benefits are not immediate as the practice is mostly working on your subtle bodies. That crossover from the subtle to the physical does take time. So stick with the practice and reap the benefits. There are some immediate benefits of anulom vilom that are listed below too.
- Reduces stress and anxiety in the body and mind
- Increases the amount of oxygen going to your lungs
- Calms the nervous system
- Increases and balanaces respiration
- Calms and regulates the activity of the mind
- Centers you and brings you to the here and now
- Balances the nadis (pingala, ida, and sushumna) that control the left and right hemispheres of the emotional mind
- Purifies, removes any blockage, and balances the 3 nadis or subtle energy channels – causing a balanced and healthy flow of prana circulating through the body.
How do You Count Anulom Vilom Pranayama?
When initially starting anulom vilom, there is no need to hold the breath. However, as your practice evolves, breath in counts of 4-16-8. Basically, breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 16, and breathe out for a count of 8. This is the most centered and common count for anulom vilom also called nadi shodhana. There are modifications of this but in general, you can trust this count.
Considerations before Starting Anulom Vilom Pranayama
Before starting this practice, let me get a number of questions I’ve asked and been asked about this pranayama practice. I’m going to try to answer each one below as succinct and clear as possible. If you have additional questions, leave me a comment and I will answer that (and add it to this post to help others too).
Who should not do Anulom Vilom Pranayama?
Always consult your doctor before starting any alternative medical practice. While anulom vilom is recommended for anyone, if you do have a health condition affecting your cardio or respiratory health, speak with your doctor first.
You can also reach out to an Ayurvedic doctor to help guide you too. Drop me a note below and I can connect you with one today.
Which is Better? Nadi Shodhan or Anulom Vilom?
While anulom vliom is the practice of alternate breath work without holding your breath. Nadi shodhana is anulom vilom with breath holding. So as mentioned above, if you are just starting out, practice anulom vilom, but if you are a seasoned anulom vilom practitioner, then take on nadi shodhana. Both practices are equally effective and important.
Bottom line – always start with anulom vilom first and get at least a few weeks of practice before moving ahead.
What should I do first Kapalbhati or Anulom Vilom?
If you are not aware of your Ayurvedic constitution and your vikruti, it is best to not practice kapalbhati. The practice of kapalhati is very taxing on the body and can leave you in a compromised state if you are not healthy enough. In Ayurvedic terms, if you ojas is low, your Ayurvedic doctor will not prescribe kapalbhati for you.
If pranayama practices are enticing to you, start with anulom vilom and seek out a certified yogic instructor from a reputed yoga school or college, and get your prakruti and vikruti charts done for you. That will give you a greatest benefit of an Ayurvedic and yogic practice that is customized for you.
Anulom vilom and other pranayama practices are picking up traction in the modern world. These practices have been around for the past 5000-10000 BCE and with good reason – they work. The only difference is that like any other good thing – it doesn’t come easy and needs practice. Stick with it to reap the benefits over time. Both your physical body and your emotional mind will thank you.
Are you going to start the anulom vilom pranayama practice?
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