Anuloma viloma, nadi shodhana, alternate nostril breathing—call it what you like, but this is one pranayama, or breath regulation, exercise that every yogi should practice daily. It calms the mind and purifies the body, two results that we definitely need to balance out modern day living.
Here’s everything you need to know to bring anuloma viloma into both your yoga practice and that of your yoga students.
Why practice anuloma viloma?
- Balances the two brain hemispheres
- Strengthens the respiratory system
- Eliminates CO2 and other waste products from the blood
- Expels stale air from the lungs
- Oxygenates the blood
- Profoundly calms the mind
- Activates ajna (third-eye chakra)
- Balances internal solar and lunar energies
- Harmonizes prana, the life force energy
- Prepares the mind for meditation
- Stimulates various brain centers
- Increases clarity of thought
- Purifies the nadis (subtle energy channels)
- Lowers stress and anxiety
Like all pranayama, anuloma viloma should be practiced on an empty stomach so that digestion isn’t interrupted. Before breakfast and after asanas is ideal.
Its instantaneous calming effect reigns in scattered thoughts, making it the perfect preparatory practice for a meditation session.
Anuloma viloma’s calming effect has another wonderful use: inducing sleep. Insomniacs and the sleep-challenged can use this pranayama as a tool to wind down before bed.
It’s also highly effective in banishing nervous butterflies. Anuloma viloma is an amazing weapon against interview, exam, and public speaking jitters.
1) Sit comfortably with the spine straight. This posture opens the chest for full use of the lungs.
2) Rest the left palm on the knee in jnana mudra (thumb and index fingers touching) to create a pranic circuit that drives energy toward the brain.
3) Place the right hand in vishnu mudra by tucking the index and middle fingers into the palm. The thumb, ring, and pinky fingers will be more or less extended.
4) Close the eyes. Inhale comfortably. Gently close the right nostril with the right thumb. Exhale slowly and completely through the left nostril.
5) Now for the first round: Inhale slowly and comfortably through the left nostril. Close the left nostril with the ring or pinky finger—or both, whatever’s comfortable—and then release the thumb from the right nostril.
6) Exhale slowly and completely through the right nostril. Now breathe in through the right nostril. Close the right with the thumb, release the ring or pinky finger from the left, and exhale through the left. This completes one round. Practice five to 10 rounds.
In the beginning phase, the inhalations and exhalations should match, and the breath is never held. Master this technique before moving on.
Next, the inhalations and exhalations can be extended gradually up to a count of 10. Counting “om 1, om 2, om 3…” keeps a steady pace. The breath should never be forced.
The next stage is to incorporate internal breath retention, or antar kumbhaka, and to begin extending the exhalation. After inhaling for four counts, hold both nostrils closed for eight counts, then exhale for eight counts.
After gaining mastery over the previous stages—meaning no stress, no strain—the next stage is to move on to a 1:4:2 ratio (inhalation: internal retention: exhalation). According to ancient yoga texts, this ratio has profound psychological effects. Inhale for four counts, hold for 16, and exhale for eight. Work with this ratio for weeks, months, or even years until it feels comfortable and natural. Slowly, increase the count to 5:20:10, 6:24:12, or even 7:28:14.
Teaching anuloma viloma is more difficult than practicing it. Students get confused easily, so watch for these mistakes:
- Using the left hand instead of the right
- Using the wrong fingers
- Hunching over
- Dropping the chin
- Tensing the right shoulder
- Inhaling too deeply
- Exhaling too quickly
- Keeping the eyes open
Demo the practice before guiding students through it. Give clear and concise instructions stating which nostril to close and with which finger. Count aloud as they breathe, and remind students to take light and easy breaths.
Reference: Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha. Bihar, India: Yoga Publications Trust, 2008.