What Is Anulom Vilom Pranayama? Its Benefits, Contraindications, and Practice Techniques

Anulom Vilom Pranayama

What is Anulom Vilom in yoga?

Yoga is a popular practice due to its many benefits including stretching, strengthening, and breathing. Twenty minutes of yoga sequences and breathwork can help you feel relaxed, tension-free, and mindful. Breathing is an essential part of the process and the Anulom Vilom Pranayama technique is gaining popularity. The word Pranayama is Sanskrit meaning breath and regulation, or extension. It is more than being aware of your inhalations and exhalations. It is about tuning in to your vital life force that can be easily dismissed or forgotten. Breathing helps calm the mind and the body. Anulom Vilom, also known as the alternate nostril breathing, is commonly practiced in Hatha Yoga due to the many benefits it brings. Anuloma-viloma comes from the Sanskrit words “anu”, meaning with, and “loma” meaning hair; thus translated as “with the (natural) grain (of breath)”. It can help strengthen the lungs, clear the sinus and relieve stress.

Anulom Vilom Benefits

Our nostrils continuously take in air and function for fixed durations during the day. In most healthy people, the airflow is even and unblocked. For many, this is not the case. Alternate breathing exercises can help balance out the flow of breath. It has also been said that the breathing technique helps harmonize the left and right hemispheres of the brain, which correlate to the logical and emotional sides of our personality. By activating both parts of the brain, the corpus callosum – linked to both hemispheres – is connected. Simply perform this exercise 5-6 times a day to reap the benefits which also include:

  • Mental peace: calming of the brain reduces stress levels and increases patience. It has also been found that people with dementia and older age groups who practice alternate breathing increased their memory retention and imprvoed cognitive skills.
  • Skincare: Breathwork has been said to make your skin glow, but let’s get into the specifics. Stress damamges the skin. When you are less stressed, you skin is under less strain. The active bloodflow in your body and face can also contribute to your skin looking healthier.
  • Perfusion (bloodflow) to the eyes is essential for keeping your vision health. A lack of bloodflow increases the pressure of the eyes and thus hinders your eyesight. Anulom Vilom breathing in the morning on an empty stomach is said to get the bloodflow to your eyes and retina more easily than on a full stomach.
  • Asthma is related to stress and over-breathing. Studies have shown that practicing alternate nostril breathing can enhance ventilation of the lungs and oxygenation of the sinuses. Another study compared the breathing of two groups where one group meditated and did alternate breathwork and the other meditated with no breathwork. The results showed that the group without the breathwork coughed, wheezed and had difficulty breathing.

Anulom Vilom Steps

The anuloma-viloma pranayama is a simple practice that can be done easily and multiple times a day. It involves maintaining a regular flow of breath through one nostril and out the other. The technique involves 3 distinct steps: Inhalation, Retention (or kumbhak), and Exhalation (or rechak).

  1. Find your perfect environment to sit and unplug. Your surroundings have an effect on your focus and it is best to find a space of comfort. Sit cross-legged on your mat and keep both your spine and head straight.
  2. Gently close your eye and start to relax. You can also begin with Kapalabhati breathwork as an intro to Anulom Vilom.
  3. With your right hand, place it on your right nostril and keep your left hand on your left knee. Make sure that it is completely blocked so that the airflow cannot go through the right nostril. 
  4. Take a depp, slow breath throught the left nostril.
  5. With another finger from your right hand that is blocking the right nostril, close the left nostril too so that no airflow can come in and the inhalation stays internal for one or two seconds.
  6. Release your finger from your right nostril and exhale slowly – try to take a slower pace than the inhalation. Ensure that the left nostril is still fully closed with no air getting out.
  7. Now that the left nostril is closed, we will repeat the process starting from the right nostril. Inhale.
  8. Hold your breath by closing both nostrils. Release the left nostril and let the air out slowly.
  9. You have completed the first cycle of Anulom Vilom Pranayama. Repeat for 5, 10, or 15 times depending on your experience.

Note that as a beginner, it is not easy to keep the exhalation longer than the inhalation. You can try an equal ratio – where the length of inhalations and exhalations are equal – and can gradually increase the exhalation to be longer.

Anulom Vilom Pranayam Side Effects

In general, the alternate nostril breathing technique has no negative side effects that are worrying. The main issue of concern is control of your breath and awareness of your physical well-being. If the breathwork is not controlled, you can easily push yourself to the boundaries when it is not necessary. Be sure that you never feel dizzy or any kind of discomfort when performing this exercise. Beginners are advised to practice under a trained expert initially and not aim for an exceptionally high difference between the length of inhalations and exhalations. We strongly advise never to go beyond your point of comfort. If you experience any pain in the chest or difficulty, please speak or see a physician as soon as possible. In case of excessive fatigue or physical tiredness, take a break from the breathing practice and consult your doctor.

Olly Moran
Olly Moran
Website author

Olly Moran works as a freelance copywriter and brand communication strategist. She also gives lectures at the University of Amsterdam where she is based. She loves to eat healthy, sustainably, practice yoga, and workout. In her spare time, she works on music, enjoys Amsterdam, and travels.

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