After Hillary Clinton told Anderson Cooper on CNN that one of her best relaxation tricks is alternate-nostril breathing, we knew we had to try it for ourselves. Never heard of it? No worries — neither had Cooper. “You breathe through one nostril and hold it, and you exhale through the other and you keep going,” she explained. “Based on my personal experience, if you’re sitting cross-legged on the yoga mat and you’re doing it — and you’re really trying to inhale and hold it and then have a long exhale — it is very relaxing.”
In addition to gushing about it on live television, Clinton also writes about alternate-nostril breathing in her new memoir, What Happened. In the book, she says the technique helped her recuperate from the stressful loss of the 2016 election.
If alternate-nostril breathing can keep Hillary Clinton calm, it must be enough to get through the work week. We looked into the science behind the breathing method to learn how — and if — it truly works.
From ancient India to 2017
Clinton’s recommendation has been around for centuries. Alternate-nostril breathing was first described in an ancient Indian text called the “Hatha Yoga Pradipika” and used in yoga and Ayurvedic medicine. The Sanskrit term for alternate-nostril breathing is “Nadi Shodhana Pranayama.” “Nadi” translates to channel, while “Shodhana” means purifying or cleaning. “Pranayama” refers to regulation of breath. Put this together and you end up with a translation that resembles “channel-cleaning breathing.”
The research behind alternate-nostril breathing
Those who practice alternate-nostril breathing say it brings more oxygen into the body, has detoxifying effects, calms the nervous system, and aids concentration.
In 2011, researchers studied the effect of alternate-nostril breathing on 30 healthy men, ages 18 to 24. Each day for six weeks, half of the men practiced Nadi Shodhana Pranayama for 30 minutes. At the end of the study, the group that completed the breathing technique experienced lower blood pressure and heart rates than the control group.
A few years later in 2013, a nearly identical study was conducted on a group of 60 individuals. The scientists received the same results as the 2011 study, which reiterated the health benefits of alternate-nostril breathing.
Even more studies reveal the power of deep breathing techniques like Nodi Shodhana Pranayama. Most recently in 2017, another found that practicing deep breathing exercises improved competitive swimmers’ lung capacities and sent more oxygen to their muscles. In terms of stress reduction, researchers discovered in 2013 that students who practiced breathing regulation techniques experienced lower stress levels than those who did not.
How to try Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
If you’re interested in trying alternate-nostril breathing, check out the demonstration Clinton gave for Anderson Cooper and CNN viewers. (You can also check out Yoga Journal’s step-by-step guide here.)
In short, the practice involves sitting in a comfortable position and slowly and deeply inhale through your left nostril, making sure to gently cover your right nostril with your thumb. Then, close your left nostril with your pinky and ring fingers and remove your thumb from your right nostril and exhale out of it.
Continue this pattern for as many rounds as you like — ideally until you’re totally blissed out and de-stressed. If it helped Hillary feel better about not winning the election, alternate-nostril breathing will hopefully help us feel better about late rent payments, work deadlines, delayed flights, and any other daily life stressors.