Anuloma-viloma, or alternate nostril breathing, is one of the most widely practiced pranayama techniques now-a-days. This simple, traditional pranayama practice from classical Hatha yoga is also one of the most effective exercises to help reduce and relieve stress and anxiety, helps in relaxation and is often practiced in preparation for meditation. It also has numerous other physiological and psychological benefits and is therefore widely being incorporated into management protocols of various ailments, diseases, post-surgical and post-traumatic management programs.

Anuloma-viloma comes from the Sanskrit words “anu”, meaning with, and loma meaning hair; thus translated as “with the (natural) grain (of breath)”.  As opposed to this, viloma can be translated as “against the (natural) grain (of breath)”.  Thus, the anuloma-viloma pranayama involves consciously regulating one’s breath, by alternately breathing in through one nostril and exhaling through the other.  The technique involves 3 distinct steps: Inhalation, Retention (or kumbhak) and Exhalation (or rechak).

This exercise utilizes, and with time, helps improve lung capacity. It also helps clear the nasal passages, optimizes oxygen levels in the blood, improves blood and oxygen supply to the brain, thus vitalizing cells and tissues, and energizing the mind and the body.

Anuloma-viloma is sometimes also referred to as “nadi shodhanpranayama, as it helps to harmonize the ida (which denotes feminine or lunar energy) and pingala (which denote the masculine or solar energy) nadis in the body.  The practice of anuloma-viloma helps activate, purify and effectively balance the flow of energy through both the nadis, so the prana or vital life force is harmonized and can flow unobstructed within the body.

Benefits of Anuloma-viloma:

Increasingly, the benefits of classical pranayama exercises are finding great fervour within the scientific community.  It is known that the nerve endings in the left nostril are connected to the right brain which is associated with creative and intuitive abilities. In Hatha yoga terms, it is associated with ida– the passive, feminine energy of the moon. Ida is concerned with the emotional, psychic, more introverted energy flow.

Conversely, the nerve endings in the right nostril are connected to the left brain hemisphere which is associated with the logical thinking and analytical abilities, acquired skills and scientific thought. In yogic terms, this is called the pingala – the dynamic, masculine energy of the sun. Pingala is concerned with the more robust, extroverted energy flow.  Anuloma-viloma helps harmonize the left and right brain, balancing the mental and physical energies, thus vitalizing and relaxing both the mind and body.

Over the years, various studies have also shown the many benefits of anuloma-viloma

  • Improves blood circulation. Regulates and optimizes oxygen levels in the blood.
  • Improves lung capacity, strengthens the heart and lungs.
  • Helps reduce blood pressure.
  • Beneficial in regulation and management of diabetes, obesity, asthma.
  • Relieves muscular tension, and is beneficial in management of arthritis, chronic sinusitis, blockages of nasal passages.
  • Stimulates metabolism, thus helps in many gastric and digestive ailments like constipation, acidity, ulcers.
  • Helps in effective management of migraine, insomnia, stress and hyper-tension, anxiety, anger management.
  • Improves concentration, memory, induces a sense of tranquillity and energizes the mind and body.
  • Optimizes blood flow and supply of nutrients to all vital organs. Helps improve skin and hair texture, providing a healthy glow to the skin. Prevents hair fall.


brain hemisphere

How to practice anuloma-viloma

  1. Sit in a comfortable meditative posture, either padmasana (lotus), half-lotus, vajrasana (thunderbolt/sitting on heels).  Close your eyes, resting the left palm on the knees.
  2. Close the right nostril with the thumb of the right hand and inhale deeply (into the chest) through the left nostril for 3 counts.
  3. Close both nostrils with the thumb and ring finger and hold breath for up-to 6 counts.
  4. With the left nostril closed open the right nostril and exhale slowly through right for 6 counts. Repeat the above cycle, this time inhaling through the right, and exhaling trough the left nostril.

Practice up-to 7 rounds or for 2 to 3 minutes, to begin with, starting with a breathing ratio of 1:2:2 for inhalation: retention: exhalation.  Gradually increase the number of cycles with practice.  Ultimately, the goal of the practice should be to consciously increase the retention and exhalation durations as compared to inhalation time.

Anuloma-viloma can be safely practised by anyone wishing to develop a pranayama and/or yoga practice. However, breath retention step should ideally be avoided in case of hypertension or heart related conditions. Pregnant women should practice under guidance of a guru. Shortness may be experienced by – women during menstruation; in case of fever; or people suffering from severe asthma. Hence, it is advisable to consult a guru in such a case before adopting the practicing.

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