How Alternate Nostril Breathing Can Get You Out of a Jam

woman doing alternate nostril breathing

Like her or not, no one can argue that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 was about as stressful as they come. She survived a contentious presidential campaign in which she was called corrupt by many in her own party before enduring “Lock Her Up!” chants from Donald Trump’s supporters. Despite it all, on election night she seemed a shoo-in, but within hours she instead had become America’s most shocking loser.

How can someone survive such tumult and heartbreak? According to Clinton, one of the “therapies” she used to relieve her stress was alternate nostril breathing. “I highly recommend it,” Clinton said during a recent appearance at a New York Riverside church. “It kind of calms you down.” 

While it may sound doubtful that changing your breathing pattern would be much of a help, if it relieved even some of the monumental stress that came with being Hillary Clinton in 2016, it certainly is worthy of a look.

Benefits of Controlled Breathing

Controlling the breath can help reduce anxiety and stress, relieve symptoms associated with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and improve sleep. Clinton is a fan of alternate nostril breathing, otherwise known as nadi shodhana (NSP), which simply involves alternating the nostril you breathe out of during each breath cycle. Science has found this particular breath technique to have some powerful effects on the body and mind.  

For those in recovery from addiction, controlled breathing can help you get through the difficult days. Everyone has probably been told at some point in their lives to just “calm down,” which is almost always easier said than done. But one thing we can do on command is control our breath. In fact, focusing on the breath is one of the best things you can do to steel your nerves and regain some control over your emotions.

Gentle breathing practices like alternate nostril breathing put the body and mind in a calmer state, allowing people in recovery to banish negative thoughts and emotions, and even help subdue cravings. As the Zen Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh puts it, “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

An Alternate Nostril Breathing How-To

Ready to give it a try? Here’s how:

In alternate nostril breathing, the breath is always relaxed, full and deep.

  • To start, sit in any comfortable position and breathe naturally for a few moments. Close your eyes.
  • Use the thumb of the right hand to gently close the right nostril and inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril.
  • At the height of inhalation, close off the left nostril (using your index or ring finger) and release the right nostril. Exhale through the right nostril, then inhale through the right nostril.
  • Close the right nostril and release closure of the left. Exhale through the left nostril.
  • This completes one round of nadi shodhana. Continue the pattern for at least five rounds. Here is a video to practice with.

A second breathing pattern to train the brain to be calmer is the 4-7-8 technique. This works by taking a long, deep breath from the diaphragm for a count of four seconds, holding it for seven seconds, then exhaling through the mouth for eight seconds. Repeat the pattern three more times. It may take practice to build up to holding your breath for seven seconds, so do what you can at the start. This breathing pattern is especially helpful for sleep.

On his website, Dr. Andrew Weil says that your sense of internal relaxation will be profound after a few weeks of practicing this technique. But for the best results, you must do this at least twice a day. And as you become more familiar with the practice, start using it for things, Weil says. “If someone cuts you off in traffic, before you react, do this,” he says. “It’s also a wonderful way to deal with cravings. Before you act on the craving, do the breathing exercise. “By the time you get done, it’ll be gone.”

Try each of these breathing exercises and see how they affect you. Science tells us yogic breathing can lower your blood pressure, defuse panic attacks, help you fall asleep and calm cravings. And according to at least one presidential candidate, yogic breathing can even help one find a sense of inner peace after a failure of historic proportion.

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