Pranayama, or the yoga of breathing, is often described so esoterically that non-yogis have a hard time embracing the practice. Personally, I was intimidated by pranayama even after years of practicing yoga asana (poses). But the benefits of pranayama are tremendous, and there are several breathing exercises anyone can incorporate in just a few minutes a day.
One of the most accessible benefits of pranayama is peace of mind. With the exception of just a few rapid breathing techniques, the majority of breathing exercises in yoga involve drawing out or even holding the breath. When this occurs, the rate of inhalation and exhalation is cut down drastically. Simply put, when we cut respiration time and breathe more slowly, our brains exhibit a slowing down of capacity and function.1 This is not ideal if we are on the way to take a test, but it is an excellent way to calm anxiety, mood swings, and stress.
This particular pranayama, known as anuloma viloma or alternate nostril breathing, is thought to balance the left and right sides of the brain. While a certain amount of yoga benefits have been well researched, other claims remain somewhat mysterious. To my knowledge, there is no study on brain activity in the right and left brain before and after anuloma viloma, but I choose to accept the balancing effects of this exercise based on personal experience. If nothing else, we know this will cut down the rate of respiration and therefore calm brain function, providing for more relaxation and, if done before bed, better sleep.
- Place the right hand “peace fingers” (the pointer and middle finger) at the third eye center. This frees the thumb to close the right nostril and ring finger to close the left.
- Take a deep breath in through both nostrils.
- Exhale out the left for the count of four, using your thumb to close the other.
- Inhale left for the count of four.
- Hold the breath in closing both nostrils for the count of four.
- Exhale out the right for the count of four, using your ring finger to close the other.
- Inhale right for the count of four.
- Hold the breath in for the count of four.
- Left exhale for the count of four.
You can take as many rounds as you like, and you can change the count from four to six, eight, ten or more according to your own preference. Start with at least four, and work from there. As long as the breath count is consistent for the inhale, hold, and exhale, then you are doing anuloma viloma. It’s that simple. This is an excellent exercise to practice around the busy holiday season to feel more balanced and mindful.
1. William J. Broad, The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012), 83-85.
Illustration by Day & Son – Lithographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.