Anulom Vilom Pranayama is also known alternate nostril breathing exercise and is one of the main practices of Pranayama. Anulom Vilom is mentioned in the yogic texts Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, Gheranda Samhita, Tirumandiram, Siva Samhita Puranas and in the Upanishads.
When practicing Pranayama there are three steps:
- Inhalation (Puraka)
- Retention (Kumbhaka)
- Exhalation (Rechaka)
Anulom Vilom can be practiced with or without Kumbhaka and especially for beginners they should start the practice without Kumbhaka.
The purpose of Pranayama is to control the breathing mechanism which is an involuntary process. Breathing goes on even in your sleep as it is controlled by the central nervous system. With regular practice of Pranayama this process can be brought in our conscious control to some extent.
“In the yogic texts the breath is compared to a wild animal!”
It is said in Hatha Yoga Pradeepika that Pranayama can cure all diseases but if done improperly it may create diseases which cannot be cured easily even through medical treatment. Hence why one should be cautious and increase the level of practice over a comfortable period of time or with a Yoga teacher.
Duration of breath
The duration of inhalation and expiration depends entirely on the capacity of the practitioner. Start with whatever you are comfortable with – say 4 seconds inhalation and 4 second exhalation. Later is can be increased up to 20 seconds or more.
In Anulom Vilom breathing is done only through one nostril which is alternated. During this process, the other nostril is closed using the fingers. The thumb is used to close the right nostril and the ring finger is used to close the left nostril.
- Best time to practice is in the morning after bowel movement on an empty stomach or at least 4 hours after food if one wants to practice in evening.
- Sit in a seated asana. Padmasana is most suited for this practice but siddhasana and vajrasana may also be used.
- Close the right nostril with your thumb and draw in air from the left nostril. Do this as slowly as you can, till our lungs are full.
- Now release the thumb and close the left nostril with your ring finger. Then breathe out slowly through the right nostril.
- Next take the air in from the right nostril and then release it through the left nostril (after closing the right nostril with the thumb)
This is one round of Anulom Vilom Pranayama.
Also the duration of inhalation can start from 2 seconds and go up to 20 seconds or even beyond!
One can have one sitting in the morning and one in the evening. For advanced practitioners, the yogic texts recommend four sittings – one in the morning, on at noon, one in the evening and one at midnight. But for all practical purposes two sittings are sure enough.
Retention – after one has reached a certain level of proficiency you may add Kumbhaka (retention of breath) to the practice.
- Anulom Vilom Pranayama cleans the pranic channels and makes the prana flow freely in the entire body. The nadi’s or the pranic energy channels are purified. Hence this Pranayama is also called Nadi Shodhana Pranayama.
- Purification of the energy channels ensures proper supply of pranic energy to all the organs enhancing the overall health of the body.
- Anulom Vilom balances the two main energy channels – Ida and Pingala. It balances the two hemispheres o the brain, bringing about peace and tranquility.
- When the ida and pingala nadi’s are balanced it awakens the central channel called Sushumna Nadi
- It removes all types of toxins from the body.
- Prolonged practice leads to next stages of yoga which is Pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses. This enables the practitioner to progress towards higher practices of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
- It can reduce weight in some practitioners depending on their body constitution and is a good practice for obesity.
- It you feel some discomfort then you can reduce the ratio of breathing
- Under no circumstances the proportion of the breathing should be forced
- People who have undergone abdominal surgery, heart surgery, brain surgery should consult a medical expert before starting
- Please do not rush to increase the proportions, as it will not help. But trying to practice easy ratio (4:6 seconds) for little more time may help
- Initially one should start slowly by inhalation in 3 seconds and exhalation in 3 seconds. Slowly you increase it to 4:4 seconds and then 3:6 seconds and the 4:8 seconds. The practice can be up to 5 minutes initially but slowly one can increase it 15 minutes safely.
- If you are suffering from heart ailments or blood pressure problems you should avoid the Kumbhaka (retention of breath) as this can increase the heat in your body.