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Yesterday I was browsing my social media and low and behold there was Hillary Clinton talking in an interview about how Alternate Nostril Breathing helped her during times of stress. No matter what you think about Hillary Clinton, we can all imagine the level of stress she must have felt after losing the election. Lately she has come out to talk about it and she was quoted saying:“I did some yoga, tried alternate nostril breathing; I highly recommend it. It kind of calms you down….”

Our breathing affects the way we think and feel

Finding Calm and Balance

While this may not come as a surprise to many of you, it’s a strong affirmation of a powerful stress management practice we use in Ornish Lifestyle Medicine. Those of us who have practiced Alternate Nostril Breathing, know its deeply held power to pacify the nervous system and return the mind to a state of calm and balance. It can even lower blood pressure and heart rate when practiced regularly.

This somewhat simple practice has the power to shift even the deepest and strongest emotions. That’s because our breathing affects the way we think and feel and the way we think and feel affects how we breathe. When we are upset or angry our breathing becomes irregular. When we are calm and happy, our breath becomes smooth and even. If we change our breath, we can change our mind and even our mood. A 2010 study published in the journal Cognition and Emotion that looked at the relationship between emotional feelings and respiration found that certain breath rhythms actually change the way we are feeling.

In the tradition of yoga, alternate nostril breathing is one of the most important practices for calming the mind. This is due to the effects on the nervous system.

How Alternate Nostril Breathing Works

We have a right nostril breath that relates to the sympathetic nervous system and a left nostril breath that relates to the parasympathetic nervous system. Our breath has a very distinct rhythm and if you ask a sinus surgeon they will quickly tell you about the switching that happens between the two sides. We have erectile tissue that lines the nasal passages. Every 60 to 90 mins this erectile tissue swells in one of the nostrils and it partially blocks the flow of air in that nostril, so we breath predominately through the other side for a period of time. If we are paying attention, we recognize this subtle rhythm. It is especially obvious when we have a cold, but it’s always happening. This natural switching helps to balance the nervous system as well as the hemispheres of the brain. It is important that this switching happens in order for us to stay healthy and balanced.

During the transitions from one nostril to the other there is a moment when both nostrils open evenly. This also happens during meditation. In meditation both nostrils open evenly and this creates a state of passive attention. In order to maintain the balance of the nostril dominance and the health of the nervous system, alternate nostril breathing can be practiced daily or during times of stress.

How to Practice

Related Video playHillary Clinton demonstrates “alternative nostril breathing” during interview promoting her new book
  1. Sit quietly in a chair or on the floor.
  2. Make a loose fist with the right hand.
  3. Use the thumb to close the right nostril and the ring finger and little finger to close the left. The index and middle fingers can stay in a fist or rest on the eyebrow center.
  4. Breath slowly and smoothly and begin by closing the right nostril. Then exhale and inhale slowly through the left nostril.
  5. Now switch, and exhale and inhale slowly through the right nostril.
  6. Now switch, continue to exhale and inhale and switch.
  7. Practice letting the breaths get longer and slower, smoother and quieter.
  8. Continue this practice for 5 to 7 minutes and then breathe evenly through both nostrils.

Remember you don’t need to lose an election to start practicing. Try it now and see if you notice a difference in your stress levels.

How has Alternate Nostril Breathing helped in your most stressful moments?

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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