Going Against the Flow with Viloma Pranayama

Change Your Mental Patterns by Changing Your Breath Patterns

Pranayama is the yogi way of saying breath control. It comes from the root words prana, meaning life force or energy source, and yama, meaning to control. Put the two together and you get life energy control. It is also well established that your breath is the bridge between your inner and outer world. As we continue to link this further we begin to understand that if breath is your life energy that you can control and it moves between your internal world and your external world, then essentially you have the power to expand your prana to make purposeful changes in your life. 

Breathwork has become very popular these days, which is super cool, but it’s more than just learning how to manipulate the breath in different ways. 

Pranayama Breathwork is about enhancing your health, changing your energy levels, and finding balance in your mind. 

Viloma pranayama

Viloma means to go against the natural flow. This is a basic breathing technique designed to help you expand the breath cavity. It is done by interrupting the natural flow of breath consciously to cultivate control and awareness of being. 

Deliberate pauses are inserted into each round of breath. Not only does this technique help you to take deeper fuller breath, it also helps bring your mind into focus. Whenever you hold your breath, even for a second, your mind becomes hyper aware and all other thoughts take a back seat. These deliberate pauses put micro amounts of stress on the body to prepare you for more dynamic pranayama techniques. Many of which entail longer periods of breath retention and holds. 

This practice sets a solid foundation for your breathing practice. 

Any time you consciously manipulate your natural breathing pattern you need to be aware of potential side effects. Those who have hypertension or heart disease for instance, shouldn’t hold their pause in a Viloma practice for more than a second or two. If you have epilepsy, are pregnant, or have any health concern that demands attention, you should check with your health care provider before doing any breath holds longer than two to three seconds. 

As we go through the practice below, know that for our purposes here we will not be asking you to practice holds longer than 3 seconds. 

How to Practise Viloma Pranayama

Viloma Pranayama has three versions or stages. Each one builds upon the last. What makes Viloma unique is that the three versions can be done in one session as you build through the stages, or it can be practiced as three separate techniques. 

The three versions are…

  1. Viloma 1- Breath is interrupted on the inhalation
  2. Viloma 2 – Breath is interrupted on the exhalation
  3. Viloma 3 – The breath is interrupted on both the inhalation and the exhalation

Three-Part-Breathing is a helpful and simple technique to understand and have some practice in before attempting Viloma pranayama. The basics of 3-part-breathing is simply inhaling through your nose into your belly, out through your ribcage, and up into your chest. Then exhaling out the chest, through the ribcage, and emptying through the belly. Like an elevator, 

Inhale – Belly, Ribcage, Chest

Exhale – Chest, Ribcage, Belly

You can watch my youtube video here

Viloma 1

In the first stage, the breath is interrupted during the inhalation followed by a long smooth continuous exhalation. This is where I like to incorporate 3-part-breathing because it helps identify markers for the pause, or interruption. Basically, you will breathe into the belly, pause, breathe through the ribcage, pause, and up into the chest, pause, and then exhale slowly. 

Stage 1 builds tension during the inhalation while allowing you to get a full deep breath. After this tension has been built both your mind and body enjoy a nice release on the exhalation. 

As you practice Viloma 1 you will increase your lung capacity while training your body to let go of tension. Everyday micro decisions build small amounts of tension, and in life there are times when it is helpful to pause and recognize what’s happening in the body. This technique helps you let go of that tension before you hit a boiling point. It is a mental rehearsal in letting go. 

Let’s try it.

  • Sit or lie in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and bring your focus to the tip of your nose. 
  • Begin noticing the natural flow of breath moving in and out through your nose. 
  • After a couple rounds start consciously dividing your breath into 3 parts.
    • Inhaling into your belly, ribcage, and chest.
    • Exhaling from your chest, ribcage, and belly.
  • Once comfortable with this division we begin by inhaling for 3 seconds into the belly about one-third of your capacity and pausing for 1-2 seconds.
  • Continue inhaling for 3 seconds as you consciously widen through your ribcage bringing yourself to two-thirds of your breath capacity, then pause again for 1-2 seconds.
  • Now fill up completely as we expand out into our chest with full lungs for 3 seconds and pause one last time, 1-2 seconds more.
  • Then release on one smooth exhale — slow and steady for 9 seconds. 
  • Do 5 – 10 rounds.

While it is important to fill up to your full lung capacity, it is equally important to not add undue stress by creating strain in your shoulders, back, or throat. As you notice your body through this practice see that you are not feeling tight in your head and that your body is relaxed. 

Viloma 2

The second stage of Viloma is done in the same way but the interruption comes on the exhalation. Beginning with a nice steady inhale and letting air in 3 parts on the exhale. 

As you move into this stage take time to notice how you feel changing the point of tension from the inhalation to the exhalation. During this stage you get to enjoy the sensations of a nice full deep breath in. It is in the exhale that you mentally experience the response to releasing tension in a controlled manner. Here again it relates to life. Noting the importance of cautiously and slowly letting go of tension. Sometimes under stress we tend to react without thinking, and Viloma 2 reminds us to slowly release tension in a mindful manner. 

Let’s try it.

  • Come back to your natural breath. 
  • Notice any tension still remaining in the body after Viloma 1, and continue to release it with every exhale.
  • Return to 3-part breathing
  • Inhaling into your belly, ribcage, chest.
  • Exhaling from your chest, ribcage, and belly.
  • After a couple nourishing rounds take one long steady inhalation for a full 9 seconds, allowing your lungs to fill completely.
  • Now exhale out of your chest for 3 seconds, allowing about a third of your breath to go. As your chest drops, keep conscious that your ribcage is still lifted and hold for 1-2 seconds.
  • Exhale another third of air from your ribcage for 3 seconds and hold for 1-2 seconds.
  • Now let the final third of air go completely as your navel naturally hugs back towards your spine and naturally hold until the body feels called to the next long smooth inhalation.
  • Repeat 5-10 rounds.

Be cautious that you are making this an unhurried process. Keep the rest of your body loose while maintaining stillness. With practice, Viloma 2 will increase breath capacity while managing mental tension, allowing you to be more responsive instead of reactive.

Viloma 3

By the third stage you should be feeling a deep connection and control over the flow of your breath. Your breathing should resonate deep into your belly and your body should feel relaxed. Once this is true for you, you will be ready to move into stage 3. Viloma 3 is revitalizing! You will interrupt the breath on both the inhalation and the exhalation, maintaining control over the entire breath cycle. Filling up in 3 parts with a pause, and exhaling in 3 parts with a pause.

Let’s try it.

  • Come back to your natural breath.
  • Do a couple rounds of long steady inhales and exhales.
  • Begin the third stage on an inhale, deep into the belly for 3 seconds, and pause for another 1-2 seconds.
  • Continue inhaling up into your ribcage for 3 seconds, and pausing once more for 1-2 seconds.
  • The last third of your breath will move into your chest for 3 seconds bringing you to a full breath. You will hold here at the top for 1-2 seconds.
  • Begin to exhale out from your chest for 3 seconds and about a third of the way through your breath. Hold here, keeping your sternum up for 1-2 seconds.
  • Continue exhaling out the ribcage for another third of your breath and hold once again for 1-2 seconds.
  • The last third of breath leaves your body in the final 3 seconds of the round. This time followed by a longer hold. Unforced but pleasantly empty of air until your body naturally inhales into the next wave of breath.
  • Continue for 5-10 rounds.

Another way to look at Viloma 3 is like a ladder where your breath is moving up and down like steps. It could also be helpful to take a natural inhale and exhale between each round.

With each round the breath capacity develops and with practice the pause and hold times can become longer. This slows the breath and the mind, helping you to open up to the subtlety of your body and navigate through thoughts in your head with more clarity and focus. 

Putting it all together

Now you should have a pretty good understanding of the three stages of Viloma pranayama. Check out my YouTube Channel for more information.