Viloma Pranayama (Interrupted Breathing) – Steps, Benefits, and Purpose
Viloma Pranayama is also called Interrupted Breathing. It is a yoga breathwork technique to strengthen your lungs and the overall apparatus/mechanism of breathing. We discuss the steps, benefits of Viloma as the second part of our ‘Preparatory Practices for Pranayama Series'.
In a previous post, we discussed the parts of the human breath as per yoga – Puraka (Inhalation), Kumbhaka (Retention), Rechaka (Exhalation). Inhalation brings prana into the body, retention allows us to draw nourishment from it, and exhalation expels the unwanted air and impurities.
We previously said prana links breathing to consciousness. In other words, where the mind goes, the breath goes, and vice versa. Now, it's time to experience that connection in actual practice. to do that, we can start with Viloma Pranayama or Interrupted breathing.
Why Viloma? Viloma is great for building up the overall breathing mechanism. More importantly, it's an excellent way to experience and understand how the breath moves in your body. Secondly, as you progress, you will encounter more complicated breathwork practices.
Almost all of them require long, smooth, and controlled inhalation and/or exhalation. So, in that sense, Viloma acts as a preparatory practice to train for advanced breathing techniques like Nadi Shodhana. So without further ado, let's get to it.
Definition: What is Viloma Pranyama?
Viloma is a Sanskrit word translated as “against the natural order” or ‘in the reverse order.' Etymologically, Vi (against) and Loma (hair) combine to suggest that this breathing pattern is ‘against the hair.’ In simple words, we are breathing contrary to the natural form of breathing.
Putting all the jargon aside, Viloma means interrupted breathing. Viloma can greatly increase your lung capacity. It is an excellent resource to experience expanded breathing and the flow of prana. That is why we have placed it right at the start of our preparatory practices series.
Before you try it, be aware that you are learning this to experience the movement of the breath in the body. Breathe gently as you do it. There should be no jerks or gasping. Your focus should be on staying relaxed and learning to control the movement of prana in the body.
The general idea of Viloma pranayama is to break up the inhalation and/or exhalation into three steps or parts. In other words, you fill (or empty) your lungs in steps with a pause between each step. Let’s assume you are doing Viloma on the inhalation. Here is how you would do it -
Inhale to fill up a third of your lungs. Pause for two seconds.
Inhale again to fill a third of your lungs. Pause again.
Inhale to fill up the remainder of your lungs. Pause and exhale normally.
This is one round of Viloma or interrupted inhalation.
If you are new to yoga breathing, we recommend practicing Viloma in a reclined pose with props for support. Face the sky in a supine pose like Savasana (Corpse Pose). Place a yoga bolster lengthways under the back and a yoga blanket under your neck. This posture naturally opens the shoulders and chest.
Also see: The Best Yoga Blankets for Warmth and Comfort
Safety and Precautions
Viloma is contraindicated for pregnant women as interrupted breathing and belly contractions can have undesirable effects in pregnancy. While there is no breath retention, Viloma breathing does involve holding the breath for 2 seconds. Please consult a yoga expert and your healthcare practitioner if you have high blood pressure (hypertension) and anxiety.
Viloma Pranayama Variations
As stated above, you can do interrupted breath on the in-breath and out-breath. Here are the three ways to attempt Viloma Pranayama:
On the inhaled breath (Puraka Viloma)
On the exhaled breath (Rechaka Viloma)
On the inhaled and exhaled breath (Viloma)
Here’s how you would go about it –
First, work on the inhalation only. Start with 3 steps and 2-second pauses. Gradually increase to 3 steps and 3-second pauses. Once you master that, increase the steps. You can continue until you build your lung capacity to a reasonable extent.
Next, repeat the same process on the exhalation and keep the inhalation normal. When you have become good at doing in on the inhalation and exhalation (separately), you can do it on both during the same breath. However, if you are doing it right, it should take months to get there.
Viloma has 3 steps. It is not the same as Dirgha Pranayama or three-part breathing.
Benefits: What is the purpose of Viloma?
The main purpose of interrupted breathing is to strengthen the lungs and link the breath to the mind. The benefits differ based on the variation you practice. The generally accepted benefits of Viloma Pranayama are said to be the following -
Increases breath control and lung capacity
Improves breath awareness and concentration
Increases the movement of prana in the body
Calms the mind and cools the body
Provides relief in anxiety
Can be helpful during PMS
Some claims suggest that interrupted breathing improves pulmonary function and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. It can therefore have a calming effect on the mind and body. However, these benefits are experienced after you get good at it, not right away.
In conclusion, Viloma is effective, meditative, and safe for a large part of the population. Moreover, it can be done in a supported and reclined posture (preferred), while sitting in a chair, or lying down in Corpse Pose (Savasana).
Interrupted breathing is a gripping practice. You need to be aware of how full your lungs are and how long you pause. Thus, you may find that you ‘zone out’ while doing this, which is a great thing. It’s one of the reasons why Viloma improves your focus and concentration.
So, give it a shot the next sit you get on the mat. Don't forget - use it to build your body-breath-mind connection as well. In the next part of this series, we will be looking at Pratiloma Pranayama - a yogic technique of prolonging inhalation to build the diaphragm muscles.