Anuloma Pranayama is a form of pranayama (yogic breathing) in which you breathe through alternate nostrils. You’ll alternately use your thumb to close your right nostril and your ring and little fingers to close your left nostril. This clears out and balances the subtle energy channels associated with the breath that run through the body (see below for more).
Although the times for inhalation, holding the breath, and exhalation can be varied (most people need to start with shorter times), the ratio of 1:4:2 must be retained. The exercise below uses a ratio of 4:16:8, but if this is too difficult, either count faster or use a ratio of inhaling for 2 counts: holding for 8 counts: exhaling for 4 counts.
You can do Anuloma Pranayama by itself, but it’s often practiced just after Kapalabhati at the beginning of a yoga session. (See my Guide to Kapalabhati.)
Here’s how to perform one round of Anuloma Pranayama:
- Sit in Sukhasana (i.e., cross-legged), Lotus position, Vajrasana, or another comfortable position that allows your spine to be straight.
- With your right hand, adopt the Vishnu Mudra by folding your index and middle fingers into your palm. You’ll use this hand to alternately close your right and left nostrils.
- Let your left hand rest in the Chin Mudra by placing the thumb and index fingers together in an O shape, and letting the other fingers lay open. The left hand should rest in this mudra, palm up, on the left knee.
- With your right hand, still in the Vishnu Mudra, close the right nostril with your thumb. Breath in to the count of 4.
- Close both nostrils (use your ring and pinky fingers to close the left nostril). Hold the breath for a count of 16.
- Keep your left nostril closed, and breathe out through the right nostril, to the count of 8.
- Breathe back in through the right nostril to the count of 4.
- Close both nostrils. Hold the breath for a count of 16.
- Breathe out through the left nostril, for a count of 8.
- Those steps comprise one round of Anuloma Pranayama. Start with three rounds, and over time move up to doing 20 rounds. As you progress, increase the amount of time you inhale, hold the breath, and exhale, making sure to maintain the 1:4:2 ratio.
The basis for Anuloma Pranayama (also called Anuloma Viloma) lies in the yogic theories of the Nadis, the subtle energy channels that run through the body. The Sushumna Nadi connects the Muladhara (root) chakra at the base of the spine to the Sahasrara (crown) chakra at the top of the head. The Ida Nadi runs from the right testicle to the left nostril, and the Pingala Nadi runs from the left testicle to the right nostril.
Ideally, you would breathe in the life force primarily through the left nostril (Ida Nadi). But in the majority of people this rhythm is not maintained. By breathing through alternate nostrils, you’ll restore the energetic balance of the Nadis, strengthen them, and thus balance your flow of prana (the life force in the breath).
On a spiritual level, by practicing pranayama, the Sushumna Nadi will be cleared and prana will be able to flow through the once-blocked channels. This will prepare the way for the rising Kundalini energy.