Meera was not in the best of spirits since past few months. She felt perpetually fatigued and her concentration level had sunk to an all-time low. Hectic work schedule along with lack of sleep and exercise had taken a toll on her.

She realized that she had to take a step back and contemplate as to how to attain mental and physical well being by thwarting the modern age demons of stress and hypertension.

It was then that Meera got introduced to Pranayama. Regular practice of Pranayama not only enhanced her concentration levels but also bestowed her with mental calm and a sense of positivity.

What is Pranayama? 

Pranayama or ‘mindful breathing’ is one of the pivotal elements of the Yoga discipline. It is one of the eight limbs of ‘Ashtang Yoga’. Pranayama is based on the edifice that prana is a life force which flows through numerous energy channels called nadis and energy centers called chakras. The quantity and quality of ‘prana’ and the way it permeates through the ‘nadis’ and ‘chakras’ determine the physical and mental well- being of a person.

Pranayama consists of an array of breathing exercises which go a long way in purifying the nadis and balancing the chakras. Regular practice of pranayama helps to bring one closer to the attainment of mental and spiritual well-being.

Nadi Shodan or Anuloma-Viloma Pranayama

Inhalation(Puraka), exhalation(Rechaka) and retention(Kumbhaka) are integral to practicing Pranayama.

As the name suggests, Anuloma-Viloma or Alternate Nostril breathing involves breathing in from one nostril and breathing out from the other. It is also referred to as Nadi Shodhana Pranayama.  Nadi implies energy channels through which vital energy permeates and shodhana means ‘to cleanse’. Nadi shodan pranayama helps to balance the central nervous system. 

It is recommended to practice all pranayamas in the morning outside in fresh air on empty stomach. The evening time is also beneficial for the practice. Just make sure that there is 3 to 4 hours gap between the food and practice.

How to practice Anuloma-Viloma Pranayam?

Following are the steps to perform Anuloma- Viloma and exercise controlled breathing:

  1. Position yourself in a steady posture with your spine and neck straight. Padma asana or cross-legged posture on a mat is recommended. But if you are unable to sit on the ground you can sit on a chair but keep your spine erect.
  2. First, shut your right nostril and exhale out all the pent-up air in the lungs from your left nostril.
  3. Then, keeping the right nostril shut, inhale from the left nostril. Do it gradually, till your lungs are full.
  4. Release the thumb and simultaneously close your left nostril with the help of your ring finger. Thereafter, breathe out slowly through the right nostril.
  5. Take in the air from the right nostril and release it through the left nostril after closing the right nostril with your thumb.
  6. This wraps up one single round of Anuloma-Viloma Pranayama without kumbhaka or retention of breath.
  7. Practice kumbhaka only when you are established in the practice. Start by retaining the breath for 5 seconds after every inhalation gradually increases the time.
  8. While practicing alternative breathing make sure that no breathing sound is audible. The speed of inhalation and exhalation should be very gentle.

If the duration of ‘kumbhaka’ or retention of one’s breath increases, it is deemed as advanced Anuloma- Viloma Pranayama. It is noteworthy that Anuloma-Viloma can be done with or without ‘kumbhaka’. Beginners should start without the practice of ‘kumbhaka’. 

Ratio of Inhalation (Puraka), Exhalation(Rechaka) and Retention(Kumbhaka)

While practicing the Anuloma-Viloma, the ratio of puraka, rechaka and kumbhaka is pivotal. The time taken in each of these would determine the cleansing of the pranic channels.

Starters should begin with a 1:1 ratio of inhalation and exhalation. This implies that if you are to inhale for four seconds through one nostril, then the exhalation from the other nostril also would be four seconds. As you progress, the ratio may vary and once you begin retention of your breath or kumbhaka the ratio may be 1:1:2. The ratio of 1:4:2 is laid down in Yogic texts but that is an advanced stage and can be attained after a rigorous practice of Anuloma-Viloma.

Health Benefits of Anuloma-Viloma

Pranayam or ‘mindful breathing’ has manifold health benefits and Anuloma-Viloma specifically can help alleviate many chronic ailments apart from instilling inner peace. Some of them are:

Helps combat Hypertension

Regular practice of Anuloma-Viloma pranayama helps blood circulation remarkably and consequently diminishes the possibility of high blood pressure and hypertension. Also, helpful in diabetes. 

Improves Digestion

Regular practice of Anuloma-Viloma in combination with Kapal Bhati increases the blood circulation in the digestive system thereby improving digestion and preventing constipation.

Prevents Respiratory Problems

Anuloma-Viloma cleanses and strengthens the lungs and entire respiratory system. When we do normal breathing, our breathing is limited to the area between heart and throat only. Conversely, when we inhale deeply, our lungs become filled with air and our chest gets expanded, and when we exhale deeply our lungs and chest are contracted.

Protects against Cancer

It has been proven that “Cancer grows in oxygen-deprived body cells. Proper breathing may reduce the chances of cancer in the human body”. Anuloma –Viloma acts as a cleanser by circulating generous amounts of oxygen to various organs of the body. Successive inhalation and exhalation cycles that transpires while practicing Anuloma-Viloma tend to oxygenate the blood thereby guarding against cancer.

Reduces stress levels

Anuloma-Viloma can tremendously bring down your stress levels, enhance concentration and help with anxiety and restlessness. Our brain is divided into two hemispheres. When a person inhales from the right nostril, the right side of the brain gets stimulated and vice-versa.  Alternate breathing technique balances both the sides of your brain and creates a harmony leading to a state of tranquility and bliss.

Thus,  Anulom-Viloma pranayama is not just a form of exercise, there is an inherent science behind it. If practiced regularly, you can bask in the therapeutic and positive benefits of this age-old practice and lead happier lives.