How to perform Yoga for Respiratory Health

How to perform Yoga for Respiratory Health

What is Yoga Therapy?

Yoga Therapy

Yoga therapy refers to the treatment of diseases through yogic exercises which may be physical, mental or both. The physical exercises in yoga consist of kriyas (procedures), asanas (postures) and pranayamas (breathing exercises). In this article, we will talk about pranayamas which are focused on improving respiratory health.

What is Pranayama?

Pranayama is derived from the Sanskrit word Prana which means ‘vital force or energy in the body’ and Ayama which means ‘control’. Breath is the external manifestation of this vital force and so, pranayama means ‘control of breath’. By controlling one’s breathing, one can achieve a healthy body and mind.

There are many types of pranayamas and all are beneficial for respiratory health. In this article, we will focus on one of the more common types — Anuloma-Viloma or Alternate Nostril Breathing. In alternate nostril breathing, one inhales through right and exhales through left then inhales through left and exhales through the right nostril. This purifies both the right (sun principle or body) and left (moon principle or mind) nostrils and brings balance to body and mind.

Steps of Anuloma-Viloma Pranayama

  • The best position in which to practice pranayama is the padmasana or the lotus pose. If padmasana is difficult, one can start in any comfortable sitting position in which the body is relaxed and the spine is erect. The important thing is to keep the back, neck and head in a straight line.

  • Like in all yoga exercises, wear comfortable clothing and practice on a yoga mat or a warm blanket. Pranayam should ideally be done in the morning on an empty stomach. If you want to do it in the evening then keep a gap of 3-4 hours between your meals and pranayama.

Anulom Vilom

  • Rest your left hand on your left knee.

  • Close your right nostril with your right-hand thumb. Exhale slowly through the left nostril.

  • Keeping the right nostril closed, inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril as long as you can do it comfortably.

  • Close the left nostril with your right ring and index finger. Open the right nostril and exhale very, very slowly through the right nostril.

  • Then keeping the left nostril closed, inhale slowly and deeply through the right nostril.

  • Lastly, keeping the right nostril closed, exhale slowly through the left nostril.

This completes one round of Anulom-Vilom. Repeat the entire process, initially for 1-3 minutes and slowly build up to 5-10 minutes. In practicing pranayama, try to achieve a ratio of 1:2 for inhaling and exhaling, i.e. exhalation time should ideally be double of inhalation time. Initially, you can start with an equal ratio and slowly and gradually build up to 1:2.

This is the first level of Anulom-Vilom. The next level of Anulom-Vilom Pranayama called Nadi shodhana includes retention of breath as well. Retention of breath is a very important process. The ancient texts on yoga say that retention of air, increases the level of prana (energy) in the body, also it regulates the flow of pranic energy throughout the body.

Nadi Shodhana


Steps of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (or Anulom-Vilom Pranayama II)

  • Start exactly the same way as basic Anulom-Vilom pranayama. Sit in a comfortable position such that the back is erect.

  • Keeping your right nostril closed with the right thumb, first exhale slowly through the left nostril and then inhale slowly and deeply through the left for as long as you can comfortably do it.

  • Now close the left nostril with your right ring and little finger (or ring and middle finger whichever you find easier) and hold your breath for as long as you can.

  • Release the right nostril and exhale very, very slowly through the right.

  • Keeping the left nostril closed, inhale deeply from the right and again close the right nostril with your thumb and hold the breath for as long as you can comfortably do it.

  • Release the left nostril and exhale slowly.

This completes one round of Nadi shodhana pranayama. Repeat the entire process for about 5 minutes, to begin with, and then slowly increase your duration to up to 15 minutes. Initially, start with an equal duration for inhalation, retention, and exhalation and slowly build up to an ideal ratio of 1:4:2 (1 count inhalation, 4 counts retention and 2 counts exhalation).

Health benefits of Anulom-Vilom and Nadi Shodhana Pranayamas

  • Improved Respiratory health: Our respiratory tract consists of the air passage and two lungs. As we inhale the breather enters the air passage through the nose and moves down to the lungs through the throat, voice box, windpipe, bronchi and small bronchial tubes. Pranayama purifies the entire respiratory channel. It strengthens the lungs and prevents and helps cure many respiratory diseases like a cough, cold, sinusitis, and asthma

  • Improved mental health: Our mind is closely connected with our breath. Have you ever noticed a rapid and shallow breathing when you are in any form of stress be it a happy excitement or fear? Any deviation from a normal state of mind will change the normal breathing rhythm. Practicing pranayamas regularly calms the nerves and helps cure mental problems like insomnia, anxiety, tension etc.

  • Anti-ageing: Pranayama slows down the aging process. Ordinarily, one breathes roughly 15 times a minute, taking in ~20 cubic inches of air. In pranayama, as one breathes in slowly and deeply, the breathing rate slows down to 1 or 2 a minute taking in nearly 100 cubic inches of air.

  • If you are a complete beginner to yoga, it is ideal to learn pranayamas through a yoga expert.

  • If you feel any discomfort, reduce the ratio of breathing. Try to practice easy ratios to begin with. Do not rush to increase or force the breathing ratios

  • If you have a pre-existing health condition or have undergone any surgeries, talk to a yoga expert on which asanas and exercises are best suited for you.


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