At an event, September 7th, 2017, Hillary Clinton shared some of the tools she used to overcome her disappointment at losing the election to Donald Trump. She said, “I did some yoga. I tried alternate nostril breathing. I highly recommend it. It kind of calms you down.” She also used prayer, friendship, readings, and a “fair share of chardonnay.” Through her process of self-care, Clinton discovered something that yogis have known for thousands of years: that yoga breathing gives the practitioner the power to calm themselves down.
But what is Alternate Nostril Breathing and why would it work?
Alternate Nostril, known as Nādī Shodhana in yoga, is the process of alternating the breath in the nostrils as an act of clearing the energy channels, or nādīs, in the body. The beauty of this practice is that you don’t have to believe in energy channels for it to work. Research has shown that the practice lowers the blood pressure (Telles, et. al., 2014 & Telles, et.al., 2013), calms the mind better than quiet sitting (Telles, et. al., 2017), tones the parasympathetic nervous system known as the relaxation response (Sinha, et. al., 2013), changes the heart rate variability (Subramanian, et. al., 2016; Ghiya, et. al., 2012)as well as a number of other benefits (research on alternate nostril breathing).
“I do it every day.” — Timothy McCall, MD, board-certified internist, Yoga Journal’s medical editor
See his recent article, Is Alternate Nostril Breathing Really Just Placebo? A Response To The Atlantic
How to Practice Alternate Nostril Breathing
- Sit with the spine erect.
- Use Vishnu Mudrā by making a fist of your right hand. Next, release the thumb and the ring and pinky fingers, leaving the index and middle finger against your palm.
- The hand is situated in front of the nose. The thumb is for closing the right nostril, the ring and pinky are for closing the left nostril.
- Place the thumb against your right nostril and slowly inhale through your left.
- Close off the left nostril with the ring and pinky fingers of your right hand.
- Then release your thumb and slowly exhale through your right.
- Inhale through your right, then close off the right nostril, then exhale through your left. This is one round (one round = two breaths).
- Keep the inhalation even with the exhalation.
- Do five rounds to begin, ending by exhaling through your left nostril. Work your way up to the tradition count of 12 rounds (24 breaths).
- Always begin and end through the left nostril.
Options for practice:
- Begin with 1:1 breath – inhaling for a count of 4, exhaling for a count of 4.
- As you are ready, advance to 1:2 – inhale for 4, exhale for 8.
- If it feels appropriate, add a slight pause of two counts at the top of the inhale.
- Practice 4 times a day for deep balancing.