Simple breathing exercises can make a big difference our daily lives. Spending a few minutes each day doing breath–work will make you feel more energetic, healthy, and relaxed for the rest of the day.
‘From life to death, our breath is our constant friend.’
Breathing is one of the most enigmatic experiences on our planet. Almost all living organisms need to respire. But amongst the vast biodiversity that exists on Earth, it’s only humans who have the rare ability to breathe consciously. And for that matter, even control their breathing.
We all breathe. It’s one activity that we do every single day of our lives. But it’s something that we often take for granted. Most people tend to use less than 50% of their actual breathing capacity. Shallow breathing has become an unconscious habit for many people. And the effect of this can be felt and seen all around. From mental health issues to deterioration of the body’s natural abilities, improper breathing has taken a heavy toll.
Yoga and the Practice of Breathing Well
Our breath is our life force. It supports our existence and impacts our health, emotions, and the overall quality of life. And at a deeper level, it connects us to higher states of consciousness. Yoga reminds us about the power that resides within us in the form of ‘prana.’ And how our breath is the key to unlocking this inner power.
Read on to know more about:
What is Anulom Vilom?
Anulom Vilom is one of the core breathing exercises in yoga, and it is also known as Alternate Nostril Breathing. It involves conscious breath regulation by inhaling through one nostril while keeping the other closed. The breath is retained for a short while, and then exhaled out through the other nostril. We then repeat this process with the other nostril
Practicing Anulom Vilom on a daily basis will give you many physical and mental health benefits. When you do it correctly, it fills you with positive energy, reduces stress, and improves many vital body functions.
In common yoga lingo, Anulom Vilom is often referred to as ‘pranayama,’ but this is not entirely correct. It’s a common myth that all breathing exercises are pranayama, but most of them are not!
The Sanskrit term pranayama literally means “expansion of life force” (prana). The purpose of this ancient yogic practice is to improve the body’s ability to retain and increase this vital life force.
Pranayama practices purify the subtle energy channels (nadis) in our astral body. With continued practice, these energy channels become cleansed and purified, and the body is able to retain more prana. This prepares the mind for concentration and meditation.
Most breathing exercises are easier versions of some form of pranayama. And they are performed by removing the locks and holding the breath after exhalation (also known as external retention).
How to Practice Anulom Vilom?
To practice Alternate Nostril Breathing make sure that you are in a quiet and well-ventilated place and seated upright in a comfortable position.
The basic instructions for doing Anulom Vilom are as follows:
- Place your right hand in Vishnu Mudra by folding the index and middle fingers inwards. Close your right nostril with your thumb and breathe out completely through your left nostril.
- Inhale for 4 counts through your left nostril.
- Close your left nostril with the ring and little fingers so that both nostrils are now closed. Hold your breath for a count of 8.
- Keeping your left nostril closed, release your right nostril and exhale completely to a count of 8.
- With your left nostril closed, inhale through your right to a count of 4.
- Close both nostrils and hold your breath for a count of 8.
- Keeping your right nostril closed, release your fingers from your left nostril and breathe out completely for a count of 8.
- This completes one round. Continue this exercise for 5-10 minutes.
- For beginners the ratio of 1:2:2 is recommended. So, 4 counts inhalation, 8 counts retention, and 8 counts exhalation.
- As you become comfortable with this exercise, the ratio of the exercise can be taken to 1:4:2, which is the classical and proper way. So, 4 counts inhalation, 16 counts retention, and 8 counts exhalation.
- The count of the exercise may be increased, but always in a ratio of 1:4:2.
Contraindications and cautions:
Anulom Vilom can be practiced by anyone and everyone. It is a truly beneficial breathing exercise. However, if you are pregnant or suffering from hypertension, anxiety, or panic attacks, you should skip the retention of breath and do only the alternate breathing in and out.
Benefits and Risks of Anulom Vilom
When you breathe with more awareness, you allow your body to become fully oxygenated. This brings many benefits to your overall physical and physiological health.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways in which deep breathing exercises like alternate nostril breathing benefits us.
Benefits of Anulom Vilom
Improves oxygenation throughout the body
Slow, controlled breathing improves the flow of oxygen in the body. The benefits of deep, steady, and slow breathing has been emphasized across most spiritual disciplines in the East. In the last few decades, scientific research has acknowledged that the way we breathe has a deep impact on how our body functions. Today, even medical science affirms that controlled breathing improves the body’s respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological functioning.
Breathing with awareness (like we do in Anulom Vilom) causes an increase in the flow of oxygen in the body. This calms the nervous system, alters our brain-wave patterns, and boosts many of our body’s core functions.
2. Prevents the risk of many heart related diseases
Practicing controlled breathing exercises on a regular basis promotes heart health. It strengthens the heart muscles, balances the heart rate, and reduces the risk of many significant cardiovascular diseases. Based on numerous studies, medical experts agree that slow, deep, breathing over a period of time improves the baroflex sensitivity (BRS). This is an in-built mechanism that regulates blood pressure change in the body. BRS controls the heart rate, contractibility, and peripheral resistance whenever a person is exposed to stress or any emotional imbalance.
It is good for the brain’s healthy functioning
Our breath directly regulates the brain’s functions. So, when we intentionally breathe in a slow, rhythmic pattern, our brain is able to optimize its functionality. And with regular practice, yogic breathing exercises can help the brain create better neural correlations. This, in turn, makes the autonomic nervous system more flexible, and it starts emitting better responses in situations that may trigger the flight-or-fright response.
Controlled breathing exercises improve your attention span, your decision-making abilities, and your overall cognitive functions.
It calms your mind and balances your energy channels
Alternative Nostril Breathing helps to bring equilibrium between the solar and lunar energies in the body (the breath naturally alternates between the two nostrils, changing approximately every 2 hours). The breath in your right nostril is hot, symbolically referred to as the Sun or Pingala. It is catabolic and acceleratory to the organs of your body. The flow from your left nostril is cool and it is referred to as the Moon or Ida. It is anabolic and inhibitory to your body. Keeping a balance between the energy channels maintains the body’s temperature.
The regular practice of Anulom Vilom helps to balance the two hemispheres of the brain.
Risks of Anulom Vilom
There are no known risks or side effects associated with Alternate Nostril Breathing if you are in general good health. However if you have cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure, if you are pregnant or you suffer from anxiety, we recommend you to practice Anulom Vilom without the breath retention.
Ideally you should do this exercise in the morning and with an empty stomach. You can do it in the evening too but keep a gap of at least 2-3 hours after your meal.
If you have any doubts whether the exercise is suitable for you or you feel any adverse effect, please consult your doctor!
- Anulom Vilom (Alternate Nostril Breathing) is a yogic breathing exercise that offers numerous physiological and mental health benefits with regular practice.
- It’s not exactly a pranayama, but actually a preparatory exercise, a pre-stage to pranayama.
- Induces a calm mind, filters toxins from the body, increases oxygenation, and improves vital functions of the body.
- Helps ease stress, fear, anxiety, and panic-attacks and also balances a person’s emotions.
- Improves concentration and other cognitive functions.
- Doing it on a daily basis, strengthens and purifies the nadis or subtle energy channels (Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna) in the astral body. This supports your overall nervous system and keeps it in balance.
Anulom Vilom is a key component of Hatha Yoga. But it is an exercise that can be done even by people who do not practice yoga. When you recognize the power of breath-work you can make Anulom Vilom a daily habit. And as you continue to practice regularly, you’ll experience more harmony and balance in your daily life.