Pratiloma Pranayama is also called Puraka Pranayama in Yoga. It is a seated breathwork technique to prolong inhalation, create resistance, and improve breathing efficiency. Read more about its steps, benefits, and variations in this post.
Let’s face it, human beings – knowingly or unknowingly – have completely lost the plot when it comes to breathing. Blame it on our sedentary lifestyle, stifling cubicle jobs, or the (seemingly) endless hours of screen time. But the truth is, people are chronically breathing incorrectly.
And, it’s only getting worse.
Incorrect breathing doesn’t kill you, but it saps life away like a slow poison. It makes us underperform, feel fatigued or weak, and drastically impacts our mood. The sad part is that there is no education or active discourse around breathing. It results in a complete lack of awareness and a grossly underactive breathing mechanism.
Yoga is a good medium to understand breathing, its importance, and ways to use it to our benefit. And, we are a part of the crusade that wants to bring that information to the masses. To that end, we created a 6-part 'Preparatory Series.’
The objective of this series is to understand the parts of the breath and learn practices to strengthen different aspects of the breathing apparatus. This is the third part of the series. In this post, we will outline the steps, purpose, and benefits of Pratiloma Pranayama.
Definition: What is Pratiloma Pranayama?
Pratiloma Pranayama (also called Puraka Pranayama) is a seated yoga breathing technique. It involves prolonging the inhaled breath by partially blocking the nostrils. The practitioner uses Vishnu, Nasagra, or Nasika Mudra (yoga hand gestures) to press down on both nostrils while inhaling. Partially blocking the nostrils creates varying levels of resistance while inhalation.
Etymologically, Prati (against) + Loma (hair) combine to suggest that Pratiloma means ‘against the hair.’ This is the same as against the grain or in opposition to the natural order. That’s because we make the in-breath longer and more strenuous than normal by controlled resistance.
Pratiloma Pranayama can be used in three ways –
A standalone practice to improve breathing capacity and inhalation resistance
An add-on to other pranayamas i.e. Pratiloma Ujjayi – Ujjayi + partially blocked inhalation
A preliminary breathing technique to prepare for meditation
Prolonged inhalation is similar to Respiratory Muscle Training (RMT) exercises. Regular use of Pratiloma Pranayama causes inspiratory resistance. It strengthens the muscles because they adapt over time. This improves energy levels, respiratory function, and overall quality of life.
Step by Step Instructions
Get into any cross-legged meditative posture. Form the Vishnu Mudra with your right hand and bring it to the nostrils. The left hand can cup the right elbow for support or can be placed on the left thigh. Using hand gestures for the left hand is optional.
The thumb (of the right hand) is pressed against the right nostril and the ring and pinky finger press down on the left nostril. Apply enough pressure to partially block the nostril.
How narrow you make them depends on how new or experienced you are. Either way, ensure two things a) apply equal pressure on both nostrils and b) the nostrils shouldn’t touch the septum (bone).
Inhale slowly and gently to prolong the in-breath. Adjust the pressure as needed. Use the sensation and sound of inhalation as a guide to judge the quality of your practice.
Upon completing inhalation, retain the breath for a second or two. Remove your hand from the nostrils and place it on the thighs.
Exhale with unobstructed nostrils till the lungs are empty.
This is one round of Pratiloma Pranayama.
You can do this 15 to 30 times or for 10 minutes. Do not continue if you feel dizzy or strained. Rest in Corpse Pose for a few minutes to recover and continue the next day.
We have described the most straightforward version. In the 2nd stage, you can add breath retention (inhaled breath). In the 3rd stage, you can use Jalandhara Bandha or Mula bandha while holding your breath in the body. Please be aware of the contraindications of breath retention before you attempt kumbhaka in any breathing practice.
Beginners should learn Viloma Pranayama before Pratiloma Pranayama. Viloma is a form of interuppted breathing. It's ideal to learn how to link the breath, body, and mind.
Hand Gestures used in Pratiloma
You need to use a special arrangement of the hands called a yoga mudra (yogic hand gesture) to constrict the nostrils. You have two options - Nasika Mudra (also called Vishnu Mudra) and Nasagra Mudra. You can refer to our post on how to use Vishnu Mudra.
Let's first understand the difference between the two. As you can see, in Nasika is the Sanskrit term for 'nostrils.' Nasagra is the Sanskrit term for Nose-tip. Therefore, you can also call these the Nostril Seal or the Nose-tip Seal. In yoga, the tip of the nose is between the eyebrows.
Beginners should start with the Nostril Seal (Nasika Mudra). Plus, it is also something you will use in other pranayamas such as Chandra / Surya Bhedana and Nadi Shodhana.
In the Nose-tip seal (Nasagra Mudra), you place the ring finger (earth element) and middle finger (space element) on the Ajna Chakra. The eyebrow center is also called the Ajna Chakra (Third-Eye Chakra). Earth represents grounding and space/ether represents stillness.
Nasagra mudra is used to energize Ajna. It anchors us to intuition and allows us to enter deep concentration. You would typically use it while doing a few rounds of Pratiloma Pranayama to prepare for meditation. You can explore it once you are proficient in prolonging your inhalation.
As a standalone practice, the main purpose of Pratiloma pranayama is to refine breathing. It works the muscles very differently compared to normal breathing. In turn, it improves the strength of muscles and exercises the diaphragm. Plus, it is a great entry point for yoga breathing. Besides this, the known benefits of Pratiloma pranayama include –
Removes sluggishness and lethargy
Exercises and strengthens the diaphragm muscles
Improves energy levels and lung capacity
Provides relief in acid reflux and heartburn
Improves digestion and digestive health
There are many ways to use prolonged inhalation so it wouldn’t be accurate to list out the benefits. For instance, if you perform Pratiloma with Kumbhaka or Pratiloma with Ujjayi, you attain the benefits of Ujjayi and breath retention. But be aware of their contraindications as well.
When you Inhale God approaches you. Retain the inhalation, and he remains with you. When you exhale, you approach God. Retain the exhalation, and you surrender to God.
– T. Krishnamacharya
We will continue this series with a post on Anuloma Pranayama. Anuloma creates resistance during exhalation using the same technique. The idea is the same but the benefits vary. Lastly, we discuss Kumbhaka Pranayama – how to develop breath retention to prepare for pranayama.
You can do the same thing with selective nostril breathing or alternate nostril breathing. That said, Pratiloma Pranayama is designed to go against the natural order of breathing. Please err on the side of caution. Always build a new practice gradually. Nothing good happens overnight.
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