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Anuloma Viloma- The Breath Of Mental Clarity and Stress Reduction

Mental fogginess- we have all experienced it. That sensation in which it is hard to concentrate, you feel like a cloud has come over your mind and you are missing the alert sharpness of a clear and open mind. Wouldn’t it be nice if in these times of mental fog or scattered thoughts you were able to take a few minutes, and breathe that cloud away? Well, with Anuloma Viloma you can. Although the name Anuloma Viloma pranayama may be new to you, the practice of alternating which nostrils you are inhaling and exhaling of may not be new. The practice is sometimes known as alternate nostril breathing, or Nadi Shodhana, and holds many benefits for the mind and body and is sometimes called the yogi’s stress antidote. Regardless of what you choose to call it, this practice is a powerful mental clarity boosting and pathway cleansing breath that has been used for centuries to prepare one for a meditation or yoga practice. 

The purpose and origin of the breath

Anuloma Viloma is made from two sanskrit terms. Anuloma literally means “in a natural order or direction” and viloma means “produced in reverse order.” So in essence Anuloma Viloma is the flow of air in the natural and reverse order. Pranayama, also a sanskrit term, Prana means life force or breath sustaining the body; Ayama translates as “to extend or draw out” making pranayama a life force that you can extend or draw out, or more commonly referred to as the manipulation of your breath through specific exercises.

So putting it all together Anuloma Viloma is the manipulation of the breath through a specific exercise in which you move the breath through the natural grain and also against it, or alternating the flow of the energy.

In alternate nostril breathing practices like Anuloma Viloma, you alternate and manipulate the flow of breath between the two nostrils using your right hand by closing and opening your nostrils. This may seem simple, but the practice is incredibly powerful. Used as a tool to clear the energetic pathways within the body, known as nadis, this breath helps to move stagnant energy that may be blocking these pathways causing sluggishness, emotional and mental stagnation, and opening the pathways to a the free flow of energy to move within your body and mind. This practice is  also believed to balance out both sides of the brain by stimulating them through the passages of air through the sinuses, creating balance between the left and right hemispheres. It is also an incredible practice to help you control your breath and be able to slow it down and find focus in each inhale and exhale.

Scientific benefits of the practice

Alternate nostril breathing might be one of the most highly studied pranayama practices, and as a result there are many incredible scientific benefits that have been found from this practice. These benefits may include: 

-Relax your body and mind

-Reduce anxiety 

-Improve cardiovascular function and respiratory endurance

-Lower heart rate and blood pressure

-Improves circulation

-Improves test and evaluation performance

-Quiets the mind

-Balances and awakens both hemispheres of the brain

-Prepares you for a deeper meditation practice

-Promotes an overall sense of peace and wellbeing

Perhaps some of the most interesting studies that are being done with this practice, are those that are being performed on school aged children and high performing adults that have stressful jobs. It appears that using alternate nostril breathing before a test or evaluation can help to reduce your performance anxiety and improve the results of your evaluation, as well as give you all of the benefits listed above.

Alternate nostril breathing in the 21st century

Alternate nostril breathing has become widely popular not only because it’s growing use and popularity in yoga and mindfulness classes, but because of people in the last 5 years that publicly use this practice in their daily lives to help manage stress and keep their minds in peak performance. 

In 2017 Hillary Clinton introduced the practice to Anderson Cooper, who is now a fan of the practice, during an interview where she shared her tips for keeping a clear mind and reducing stress during her time on the campaign trail. It has also been rumored that celebrities like Rachel McAdams and Drew Berrymore are fans of the practice to reduce their anxiety and improve their ability to perform. 

The growing notoriety that this practice is gaining can also be attributed to the large scientific studies that are being done on how alternate nostril breathing affects your body and mind. Some of the more well known studies include one where participants were taught alternate nostril breathing for 30 minutes 3x a week for 4 weeks and over this time nearly all of the participants say an improvement in heart rate, respiratory function, and blood pressure. One study with a randomized group of adults that had to engage in public speaking found that those who practiced alternate nostril breathing before they spoke had less anxiety, and also perceived their performance to be better than those who did not practice alternate nostril breathing before they spoke. 

How to practice Anuloma Viloma

Now that you have a deep understanding of the practice, where it came from and why you should be incorporating it into your life, let’s talk about how you would practice it. Here are the steps to practice Anuloma Viloma at home:

1.    Sit comfortably in a chair or in another easy seated position

2.    Use your R hand and close the Left nostril, breathe in from the R

3.    Close the R nostril and breathe out from the left

4.    Keep the R nostril closed and breathe in from the Left nostril

5.    Close the L nostril and breathe out from the Right nostril

6.    Repeat 6-10 times

7.    Breathe naturally for 2-3 minutes, then if time allows begin again with the first inhale through the L nostril

Taking it to the next level and practice variations

If you have been practicing alternate nostril breathing for a while, and you feel like you are ready to advance your practice there are a few variations on the traditional practice that you can begin to incorporate. 

Left nostril dominant

It is believed that starting your practice with an inhale from the left nostril will help to calm you, and evoke the feminine energy of the moon and ida nadi that runs through the left side of the body. Doing a left side dominant practice is traditionally done in the evenings when you want to cool and quiet the body and mind, where a right nostril dominant practice (the traditional practice laid out above)  adds more energy, energetic fire, and focus to the body and mind. 

No hands

Overtime you can continue to practice alternate nostril breathing without using your hands. It might sound like magic or physically impossible but you can begin to manipulate the breath and alternate your breathing through your nostril without using your hands. This is an advanced practice and requires a lot of mental concentration. To start practicing this variation you will place a hand underneath your nostrils and measure the flow of air from both nostrils. Then begin focusing on sending the breath to just the right side, keep your hand there to measure if the air flow does begin to shift to the right side. Then do the same to the left side. Over time you can begin to alternate your breath without using any hands and feel the change in breath flow from side to side. 

Regardless of which variation of type of alternate nostril breathing practice you are using, this pranayama practice is best to be done daily and before activities that will require mental clarity and concentration. You can also begin to incorporate it before times of stress and anxiety in your life finding that quiet, calm focus in your body and your mind and reduce your everyday stress. This simple breathing technique can truly change your life. 

To read more tips on Anuloma Viloma click here.

Kelly Smith
Kelly Smith
Kelly is the founder of Yoga For You, and the host of the Mindful in Minutes podcast. She is an E-RYT 500, YACEP, and a location independent yoga and meditation teacher. She spends her days traveling globally offering trainings in restorative yoga, meditation, yoga nidra, writing blogs for beYogi, and recording meditations from her closet.