Alternate Nostril Breathing – Anuloma Viloma

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I developed pre-eclampsia in my 35th week of pregnancy and my daughter was delivered by emergency c-section two weeks later. I was told by the doctors that the high blood pressure would most likely settle down about 6 weeks after delivery and I could come off the medication. It didn’t. Nearly 3 years after her birth I finally came off the medication thanks to the help of a whole concoction of things.  One of them being the wide range of wisdom that I have found through yoga and Ayurveda.

About a year ago I went for an Ayurvedic consultation with my yoga teacher, Dot Bowen, in Brighton, UK. It opened up a whole new world of understanding my body and empowered me to take constructive steps towards nourishing and feeding my body with the things that it needed. Anuloma viloma was one of the things that Dot prescribed.

What is Anuloma Viloma?

Anuloma viloma, or what it is more commonly known as alternate nostril breathing, is one of many pranayama (breath) exercises used in the practice of Hatha yoga. It’s purpose is to balance the physical energy and mental energy in the body.  It does this by calming down your heartbeat, increasing the blood flow in the head and providing more oxygen to the brain.

When to practice?

Dot suggested that I perform the practice on waking and before sleeping, as well as any other opportunity during the day that may present a moment to pause and breathe.  This moment may be at the traffic lights, sitting at the computer, waiting for the kettle to boil, when you’re a few minutes early at school pick up.  There really are endless moments throughout the day to take a moment to focus on the breath.

To practice

As a first introduction to the practice and to truly experience the benefits of the practice it is best to do so with an experienced yoga teacher, thought there’s nothing stopping you giving it a try now.

Begin by closing your eyes and doing some deep breathing in a comfortable sitting position (cross legged or a supported kneeling posture) where the body can be relaxed and the spine erect.  You may want to bring your thumb and index finger into the Gyan Mudgra by gently touching the tips together.  This mudra is commonly used during meditation to sharpen your brain power and can help ease stress, anxiety, anger, insomnia and depression.

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Continue by bringing the right hand into Pranav Mudra by touching the index and middle finger to the palm.  Use your thumb to close the right nostril while inhaling through the left nostril.

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Exhale through the right nostril by releasing the thumb and closing the left nostril with the ring finger.  Repeat this same process by reversing it.  Inhaling through the right nostril, and then exhaling through the left.  This is one round of anuloma violma.

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Initially aim to inhale for 4 seconds and exhale for 6 seconds.  This can be practiced for about 5 minutes.  With practice you can increase the counts to 4:8, or 5:10 or 6:12 seconds.

To end the practice, make your last exhale through the left nostril and then relax the right hand down to the knee while you leave the lungs empty for a short moment.  When you are ready, savour the breath as it comes in through both nostrils and breath normally for a few moments noticing the changes in your state of being.

Introducing a retention of breath

There is also the option to introduce a breath hold between each inhale and exhale by using both the thumb and ring finger to close both nostrils.

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So you would inhale through the left nostril, retain the breath and then exhale through the right nostril.  Repeating on the other side as you complete the round.

This practice has been invaluable and has really helped me take command of my state of being.  If I find myself anxious, nervous or unnecessarily stressing about something, a few rounds of anuloma viloma breath is able to help shift my state quite quickly.

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Have you had experience using anuloma violma breathing? I would love to hear about it in the comments section below.

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