According to Swami Sivananda, there are 5 basic principles of a proper yoga practice. They are 1) proper breathing, 2) proper exercise, 3) proper diet, 4) proper relaxation, and 5) self-inquiry or self-study.
Notice that proper breathing is first. Any beginner yoga class will take you through the “yogic breath.” This involves filling your lungs from the bottom to the top by deeply inhaling and exhaling through the nose. The attention should be on the breath, taking the focus to the heart center if you are more emotional in nature; or the third eye if you are more intellectual in nature. The eyes are softly closed, and the breathing steady and full.
An Intro To Anuloma Viloma
As the yogic practitioner advances, more difficult breathing exercises can be learned. The purpose of breathing exercises is breath control. This is called pranayama and simply means to control your prana (energy) through control of breath. Anuloma Viloma is one breathing exercise that can be practiced every day.
Anuloma Viloma, or ‘alternate nostril breathing’ is best practiced before seated meditation or asana practice. Its purpose is to stimulate the nadis or energy channels that run throughout the body like electrical wires. The right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, and vice versa.
By nature, we are usually dominant on one side or the other; the right brain (creative, artistic) or left brain (intellectual, mathematical). Anuloma Viloma attempts to cleanse the mind and stimulate the right and left nadis so they are balanced. It is performed with a breathing sequence of 1:4:2.
How To Start With The Practice
If you are breathing to the count of 4, you will breathe in for 4 counts, hold the breath for 16 counts, and exhale for 8 counts. For the purpose of a beginner practice, we will start with multiplications of 4 counts. This practice starts and ends on the left side.
- Prepare: Come to Sukhasana, or any comfortable seated position, preferably with your legs crossed at the ankles. You may want to sit on a meditation cushion or pillow. With your spine straight and shoulders relaxed, begin your yogic breathing, taking full deep breaths in and out through the nose. Close your eyes.
- Begin on the left: Bring your right hand to a Vishnu mudra; curl the ring and small finger into the palm, and leave the thumb, index, and middle finger free. Take 3 deep breaths in and out to get ready. On your 3rd exhale, bring your hand up to your face, occlude the right nostril with your thumb, and breathe in through the left nostril only to the count of 4.
- Hold your breath: Occlude both nostrils with your thumb on the right, and index and middle fingers on the left. Maintain steady, constant pressure on the nostrils. The shoulders should be relaxed. Hold the breath for 16 counts.
- Exhale on the right: Release your thumb, slowly exhale, working the lungs completely empty by the end of 8 counts.
- Inhale on the right: Keeping your hand position the same with gentle pressure on the left nostril with the index and middle finger, inhale on the right (same side) to the count of 4, filling your lungs.
- Hold your breath, repeat on the right: Repeat the steps, alternating the breath from the left to the right, making it smooth and effortless. Over the course of several days, increase the counts from 4 to 5, and 5 to 6, taking your time to progress.
One round of Anuloma Viloma is after the exhale on the left (starting) side. Aim to do 8 rounds, counting by using mala beads in the left hand, or using a counting system with your left fingers. I like to make the exercise a meditation by mentally saying Om with each count, reciting “Om one, Om two, Om three,” etc.
This pranayama exercise should be practiced daily, preferably in the morning before the sun comes up. It should be done before your meditation or asana yoga practice. In this busy world, it can just as easily be practiced while seated at your desk, traveling, or any time you need to find balance.
Image credit: AlchemYoga