Pratiloma & Anuloma pranayamas – Strengthening your breathing muscles

Pratiloma and Anuloma Pranayamas — Modified.  

Pratiloma means against the grain and it is actually a very advanced alternate nostril pranayama with kumbhaka (breath holds) which we are not going to do here.

In pratiloma pranayama you put resistance on your inhale, but not your exhale.

We are going to do a simplified version.  In science this practice is called IMST or Inspiratory Muscle Strength Training, essentially you are doing strength training for your diaphragm by putting some resistance on your inhale— one of the most important muscles in your body.  Breathing in with resistance helps to engage all 5 lobes of the lungs getting us more O2 deeper into the lungs and helping to keep our lungs flexible as well as strong so we can continue to breathe deep throughout our lives.

Very recently, June 2021, a study came out of Colorado University proving the immense benefit of this breathing practice. They used a high resistance IMST with a device for  30 inhalations (about 5 minutes), 6 days per week for 6 weeks. Their results were stunning, the participants:

  • Lowered blood pressure more so than exercise and medication!
  • Had a 45% improvement in vascular endothelial function — which means flexible arteries — this is a major improvement.
    • And even more surprising was that IMST also improved this function in Post Menopausal women. For some reason post menopausal women do not benefit as much from exercise, yet with breath work they did.
  • Significantly increased Nitric Oxide, which improves circulation
  • Lowered inflammation and oxidative stress

When they retested the individuals after stopping the practice for 6 weeks, they found they still maintained the fitness gains. After the results were published in the Journal of the American Heart Association they were awarded $4 million from the NIH to do a larger, longer study.

This is exciting news, I have mentioned many times the benefits I suspected from my pranayama practices, now I know it was not all in my head! As we get older exercise is more structurally challenging, with breath work we can maintain our fitness as we age without the wear and tear on the body. And even during our householder years (25-55 or 60 years of age) when we are working and raising families, a 5 minute breathing exercise that can be done anywhere anytime fits nicely into the busy days of careers and families.

Here is a way to work into this type of breath work, strengthening your breathing muscles:

We will also use or ujjayi breathing on exhale, as this also puts some resistance on the breath and  helps clear phlegm from the lungs — very important in today’s pandemic.

  • Sit in your meditation posture with straight spine
  • Left hand is in jnana mudra (thumb and index finger together) resting on your thigh – you could also use this hand to count
  • Take 5 deep yogic breaths
  • Right hand is in Vishnu Mudra – See pic to right.
  • With your right hand in vishnu mudra close both nostrils half way – Take a deep full inhale to your brim — your inhale will be about twice as long as your exhale.
  • Release your nostrils and exhale with ujjayi resistance slowly and completely.
  • Do 3-5 breaths this way 
  • Take 3 deep yogic breaths with ujjayi resistance, then go right into Anuloma pranayama below:

Anuloma Pranayama

  • With your right hand in vishnu mudra touching your face but NOT closing your nostrils take a deep inhale with ujjayi resistance filling your lungs to the brim, then close both nostrils half way and exhale fully.  Feel your abdominals engage to help your diaphragm.  Your exhale will be longer than your inhale.
  • Release your nostrils and inhale with ujjayi resistance slowly and completely.
  • Do 3-5 breaths this way (same number as you did in pratiloma breathing exercise).

Anu means with, along, or connected, or regular gradation — going with the grain.  In anuloma pranayama you put resistance on your exhale but not your inhale.

End with Sitali:

  • Inhale through your rolled tongue fully.
  • tuck your chin and hold your breath for a 10 count
  • then lift your chin and exhale through your nose fully.

Do a total of 3 rounds.

Slightly advanced Pratiloma and Anuloma option #2

  • With your right hand in vishnu mudra close both nostrils half way – Take a deep full inhale to your brim
  • Tuck your chin in to Jalandhara bandha, pinch your nose completely shut,  and hold your breath for up to 15 seconds or heartbeats
  • Release your nostrils and exhale slowly and completely with ujjayi resistance.
  • Repeat 3-10x

Take 5 deep yogic breaths

  • With your right hand in vishnu mudra touching your face but NOT closing your nostrils take a deep inhale with ujjayi resistance filling your lungs to the brim, then close both nostrils half way and exhale fully.  Feel your abdominals engage to help your diaphragm.  Your exhale will be longer than your inhale.
  • Hold your breath out for up to 10-12 heartbeats 
  • Release your nostrils and inhale with ujjayi resistance slowly and completely.
  • Do 3-10 breaths this way (same number as you did in pratiloma breathing exercise).

Take 5 deep yogic breaths

End with Sitali:

  • Inhale through your rolled tongue fully.
  • tuck your chin and hold your breath for a 10 count
  • then lift your chin and exhale through your nose fully.

Do a total of 3 rounds.

Advanced Pratiloma option #3 (from Light on Yoga)

  • With your right hand in vishnu mudra close left nostril completely and close right nostril half way
    • take a long slow inhale and fill your lungs to their brim (puraka)
  • Hold your breath in with Jalandhara and mula bandhas for 5-10 heartbeats
  • Lower your right hand, exhale with ujjayi sound slowly and fully through both nostrils
  • Raise your right hand in vishnu mudra to close right nostril completely and left nostril half way
    • Take a long slow inhale and fill your lungs to their brim
  • Hold your breath in with Jalandhara and mula bandhas for 5-10 heartbeats
  • Lower your right hand, exhale with ujjayi sound slowly and fully through both nostrils

This is one round do 3-8 cycles

Whichever version you practice after you are done:

Take 5 deep yogic ujjayi breaths

Lie down take rest for a few moments.

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