Anuloma viloma is a pranayama exercise where you are inhaling and exhaling on one side of the nose and then switching to the other side. This breath work is very relaxing to the mind, brings balance to the two hemispheres of the brain and stimulates the nadis, or energy channels, running through the body.
To take this breath, start seated in a comfortable position. Usually that means sukhasana for yogis, but really any posture where the spine is erect will do the trick.
Once you get used to breathing in this way, try inhaling the breath for a count of four and exhaling for a count of eight (or perhaps start with 3:6). Doubling the length of the exhalation like this sends a powerful message of relaxation to the brain. As your lung capacity increases, you can play with increasing the length of the breath.
Anuloma viloma traditionally has a held breath between each side as well. If you’d like to add that, after step 3 close both nostrils and retain the breath for 16 counts (at the 4:8 ratio; 12 at the 3:6 ratio). Then exhale as in step 4. Retaining the breath has the advantage of bringing additional oxygen to the brain, having a greater expulsion of air on the exhale which means getting rid of stale air in the lungs, and bringing an increased amount of air into the lungs on the next inhalation. This takes some getting used to, so I would recommend beginning only with the alternate breath work.
There are a couple of variations (probably more than a couple) of alternate nostril breathing. The variations have to do with counts and hand positions. the main thing is to alternate though. Don’t get too caught up in the positions of your hands. Just breath 🙂