Pratiloma Pranayama (Prolonged Inhalation) – Meaning, Procedure, and Benefits
Pratiloma Pranayama is also called Puraka Pranayama in yoga. It is a seated breathwork technique to prolong inhalation by partially blocking the nostrils to create resistance. Read more about the steps and benefits of Pratiloma Pranayama.
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, especially the Pranayama aspect of it, is an excellent resource to understand breathing, its importance, and effective ways to use it. One of these techniques is Pratiloma Pranayama. In this post, we discuss the meaning, procedure, and how to use it for pranayama.
Meaning: What is Pratiloma Pranayama
Pratiloma Pranayama is a yoga breathing technique to improve breathing efficiency and/or center the breath. 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. The nostrils can be blocked with varying levels of resistance.
Etymologically, Partiloma is the amalgam of Prati (against) + Loma (hair). The two words combine to suggest that Pratiloma means ‘against the hair.’ This is the same as something that goes 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
When performed as a prolonged inhalation exercise, Pratiloma is similar to Respiratory Muscle Training (RMT) exercises. They both have the same mechanism of inspiratory resistance to strengthen specific muscles in a controlled manner. This improves energy levels, respiratory function, and overall quality of life.
Pratiloma Pranayama Procedure
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 should never 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. In the 3rd stage, you can use yoga body locks such as Jalandhara Bandha or Mula bandha while holding your breath in the body.
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.
Pratiloma Hand Gestures (Yoga Mudra)
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.
Pratiloma Pranayama Benefits
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. It is also an 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 pranayama with Kumbhaka or Ujjayi pranayama (Ocean breathing), you attain the benefits of those techniques as well.
If you have some experience with pranayama, you can try Pratiloma with selective nostril breathing techniques such as Surya or Chandra Bhedana pranayama. Beginners to keep in mind that Pratiloma goes against the natural order of breathing. Err on the side of caution.
Always build a new practice gradually. Nothing good happens overnight.
We will continue this series with a post on Anuloma Pranayama. Anuloma creates resistance during exhalation using the same technique. While the procedure of Pratiloma and Anuloma and Pratiloma pranayama are similar, the benefits and purpose vary.