Pranayama’ is a Sanskrit word derived from ‘prana’ meaning breath and ‘ayama’ meaning extension or regulation, which confers its meaning as the regulation of the breath. As it may be wrongly inferred from this meaning, pranayama is a lot more than mere inhalation and exhalation of air from the nostrils. It refers to an act of controlling the source of our ‘prana’ or the vital life force.

Pranayama is a yogic form, which has its roots within ancient India dating back to the fifth and sixth centuries BC with its mention made in the “Bhagavad Gita”. Since then, the practice of pranayama has been spreading itself in the entire sphere, with India being a major center of practice.

Other than being practised as a form of meditation for the attainment of peace and control, yogis and researchers suggest that pranayama is beneficial for the treatment of certain diseases, particularly those related to stress.

Out of the various pranayama techniques ‘anulom vilom’ technique is most commonly practised due to its popularity and benefits. Anulom vilom, a form of alternate nostril breathing, translating to ‘with the grain’, is considered to be the best form of pranayama. It has profound benefits for your brain, heart and body, and its benefits, steps and safety precautions will be discussed ahead.

  1. Anulom Vilom steps
  2. Anulom Vilom Pranayama benefits
  3. How much time to do anulom vilom for
  4. How safe is anulom vilom?

Anulom Vilom pranayama is very simple to practice and retain. It can be easily performed in the following steps. It is suggested to be seated in a quiet, calm and comfortable position before beginning with the steps. This will help in being unplugged from the surroundings and allow to shift your complete focus towards the act.

  • Sit in a cross-legged or meditating position, preferably on the ground. Make sure that your spine and head are straight. Read more: Spinal cord injury
  • Shut your eyes and relax for a few minutes. This will help in unwinding from the surroundings and relieving stress.
  • Sit in this position for a few minutes with your eyes closed until you are relaxed and ready for the pranayama.
  • Now, take your right hand and slowly place it on the right nostril, while resting your left hand on the left knee.
  • Press hard so that airflow through this nostril is temporarily obstructed.
  • Now, slowly take a deep breath from your left nostril.
  • Shut both the nostrils and hold the inhaled breath for a few seconds.
  • Now, release your finger from the right nostril, which will allow you to exhale the air from it.
  • While doing so, make sure that your left nostril is safely shut with the help of your ring and little finger.
  • Be slow in the process of exhaling air from your right nostril, attempting to take a longer time than inhalation.
  • Next, deeply inhale from your right nostril, while shutting the other one with the ring and little finger.
  • Similarly, hold your breath for a few seconds by keeping both nostrils shut.
  • Lastly, exhale from the left nostril, while shutting the right one with the thumb.
  • Ensure that the exhalation is slow and takes longer than the inhalation.

This will complete one full cycle of anulom vilom. The next cycle is begun by following the above steps and alternating between the two nostrils. This can be performed 5 to 6 times every day for achieving its benefits.

Note that as a beginner it is not essential to have a very long exhalation as compared to inhalation. You can opt for an equal ratio of the two and can gradually increase to a ratio of 1:2 for inhalation and exhalation time.

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Anulom vilom pranayama, when performed correctly for 5 to 6 minutes each day has numerous health benefits, other than aiding in mental peace. Both our nostrils rhythmically take in air and function for fixed durations within the day in cycles. While this alternating rhythm is cyclic over 24 hours in healthy individuals, it may be disturbed in the unhealthy. The practise of anulom vilom helps to restore, equalize and balance this rhythm, and also the flow of prana in the body. Let’s discuss how this pranayama is beneficial for your health:

  • For the brain: Practice of anulom vilom has a calming and relieving effect on the brain, and thus helps in preventing depression. It helps to improve cognitive functioning and may help in preventing age-related memory loss.
  • For the skin: Anulom vilom can have benefits for your skin by reducing the incidence of acne and dermatitis.
  • For the eyes: Anulom vilom pranayama helps to improve vision and eyesight by enhancing the blood flow to the eyes preventing vision loss.
  • For the heart: Anulom vilom helps to lower blood pressure and thus has cardioprotective actions, reducing your risk of cardiovascular disorders.
  • For the lungs: Since anulom vilom enhances an individual’s control over breathing, its practice is helpful in the management of asthmatic episodes. It also enhances ventilation of the body and also helps in reducing dyspnoea and wheezing.
  • For weight loss: Studies have found that the practice of anulom vilom assists in weight loss and improvement of flexibility.
  • For women: The practice of anulom vilom during pregnancy helps in reducing the risk of maternal depression, which has a tendency to extend postpartum if not treated. In non-pregnant women, this technique helps to relieve premenstrual symptoms.

Anulom Vilom benefits brain

Anulom Vilom ‘kriya’ (act) has the most astounding benefits for your brain and mental health.

It helps in calming your mind and relieving you of the stress of everyday life. The act of regulating and extending breath helps in attaining mental peace and improves patience. The specific actions it performs on your brain can be summarised as a creation of balance between creative and logical thinking. This it does by maintaining the optimal functioning of both the sides of the brain, among which the right side is responsible for creativity and the left ensures logic. A balance between the two will help in achieving the maximal potential of the brain and will ensure the best performance in everyday activities.

Read more: How to increase brain power

Anulom vilom has been found to be particularly beneficial for the older age groups. Several studies have demonstrated improved cognitive (logical, analytical skills, and memory) functioning with the practice of alternate nostril breathing or pranayama. It is thus recommended more for individuals belonging to the older age group to avoid age-related memory loss.

Read more: Treatment of dementia

Anulom Vilom for depression

With its positive effects on brain health and function, anulom vilom is also known to improve behaviour and alleviate anxiety, depression. The calming effects of this pranayama on the brain have been shown by a study conducted on students to determine its effects on the levels of test anxiety and stress. It was observed that stress and anxiety were much lower in the participants practising pranayama as compared to the other group. A lower mean test anxiety score was noted in these participants.

Read more: Treatment of Alzheimer's disease

Benefits of anulom vilom for skin

Anulom vilom may enhance your skin health as well. It is a potent stress buster and significantly helps in reducing stress and anxiety, as stated above. As we all know, stress has severe damaging effects on your skin. Studies have revealed that a higher degree of stress induces acne flares in individuals. A vicious relationship (one leading to another over and over) between stress and atopic dermatitis has also been observed. Additionally, stress has been known to delay wound healing and accentuate the effects of skin ageing. Since anulom vilom is beneficial in managing individual levels of stress, it may have a positive effect on the health of your skin.

Read more: Vitamin E for skin

Benefits of anulom vilom for eyes

Anulom vilom, when performed daily, has the potential to improve your vision. When practised on an empty stomach in the mornings or evenings, it is likely to improve perfusion (blood flow) to the eyes. Adequate retinal perfusion (retina is the layer in the eye responsible for eyesight) is essential for your eyesight. If the pressure within the eye is so high that perfusion cuts off, vision loss is known to occur within 4 to 9 seconds. This explains the importance of proper perfusion of pure oxygen to your eyes, which is enhanced by the practice of anulom vilom.

Read more: How to improve eyesight

Benefits of anulom vilom for heart

The practice of anulom vilom has profound benefits for the heart. The most significant of these is its role in aiding reduction of blood pressure. Several studies have demonstrated that slow breathing as practiced in anulom vilom is helpful in reducing blood pressure in hypertensive patients. So, it has been described as an alternate therapy for hypertension.

Anulom vilom has several other effects on your cardiovascular health and in the regulation of heart function. It helps in alleviating anxiety, which is a major risk factor for a number of cardiovascular disorders, including heart attack and stroke.

Studies have found that anulom vilom helps in reducing the pulse rate, and have suggested it to be used as a daily practice to combat stress, particularly in individuals with a risk of cardiac disorders. The most beneficial form of anulom vilom for hypertensives is known as Chandra Anulom Vilom, which has a heat dissipating or cooling effect. This has been suggested as a non-pharmacological measure for the management of hypertension.

Read more: Good foods for high blood pressure and what to avoid

Anulom Vilom benefits for asthma and other breathing problems

Stress has been recognized as a major trigger for respiratory problems. It potentiates an asthmatic attack or episode. In stressful situations, our bodies release stress hormones, which function to change our breathing pattern, making it shallower and faster. This triggers symptoms of cough and tightening of the chest, two symptoms associated with an attack of asthma. Anulom vilom has been found to be helpful in the management of asthma episodes, since it helps in managing stress and enhances an individual’s control over-breathing.

Read more: Management of chest pain

Studies have demonstrated that anulom vilom pranayama enhances ventilation (the process by which oxygen reaches the lungs) and oxygenation of the sinuses (hollow cavities within the skull). This provides a better surface availability of oxygen, which can be absorbed by the nasal epithelium, enhancing oxygen supply of the body.

Read more: Treatment of sinusitis

Another study was conducted to compare the effects of breathing exercises with meditation on the respiratory health of individuals. To determine this, two groups were formed, wherein one was actively practising anulom vilom along with several other breathing exercises, and the other group performed deep meditation. It was revealed that cough, wheezing (whistling sounds while breathing) and dyspnea (difficulty in breathing) were significantly less in the group performing breathing exercise. So, anulom vilom is often prescribed to asthmatics.

Anulom Vilom during pregnancy

Due to hormonal changes, mood disorders and stress are quite common during pregnancy. This also increases the risk of maternal depression, which may continue postpartum.

Read more: Postpartum depression symptoms

To avoid depression during such a crucial stage, it is recommended to practice simple breathing techniques like anulom vilom for five minutes daily. This will help in reducing everyday anxiety, and eventually maternal depression. Anulom vilom is usually considered to be safe during pregnancy but it is advisable to practice it under the guidance of a trained instructor.

Not just pregnancy, anulom vilom is known to have other benefits for the reproductive health of women as well. In a study involving female subjects in the reproductive age, it was observed that the practice of anulom vilom reduced the effects of premenstrual syndrome (irritability, fatigue and bloating experienced before menstruation) and has an overall relaxing effect on the body. The practise of anulom vilom is thus beneficial for the health of women.

Anulom Vilom for weight loss

Stress is a significant risk factor for obesity and weight gain. During stressful conditions, the levels of the hormone cortisol increase in our body, which is likely to increase the craving for high fat ‘comfort foods’ like sweets and chocolates. It is more common to eat more calories when under stress. Anulom vilom helps to calm and relax the mind reducing the need for these comfort foods.

A study conducted on a group of young women to determine the effects of anulom vilom also found that it enhances health-related fitness including better flexibility and weight loss. However, while not very significant, the effects were noticeable. You can still opt for this technique to calm your mind and reduce stressful eating which may enhance your weight loss goals.

Read more: Diet chart for weight loss

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Yogis suggest that a healthy person must perform anulom vilom kriya for 5 to 10 minutes at a time. Individuals suffering from chronic disorders and diseases are advised to perform this technique for 10 to 15 minutes in the morning on an empty stomach. If you are unable to perform anulom vilom in the morning, you can do it in the evening, but make sure to maintain a gap of 5 hours from your last meal.

However, there is not much substantial research evidence to support this claim. So it is advisable to consult with your physician and expert trainer before beginning anulom vilom, particularly if you are suffering from any respiratory disorders. Asthmatics should take special care and must not hold their breath for long, or go beyond a point of physical comfort.

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  • Anulom vilom is a simple breathing technique and is considered to be absolutely safe when performed correctly.
  • As stated above, individuals with chronic disorders are advised to seek a physician’s opinion and are advised to perform under a trained professional.
  • Pregnant women are also advised to be careful and perform this technique under the supervision of an expert.
  • Beginners must perform under a trained expert initially and not aim for an exceptionally high difference in time between inhalation and exhalation initially.
  • At all times, it is recommended to not go beyond your point of comfort.
  • If you experience any pain in the chest or difficulty, it is recommended to see a physician immediately.
  • In case of excessive fatigue or physical tiredness, you are advised to discontinue this technique and consult your physician.


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