Hillary Clinton swears by alternate nostril breathing in ‘What Happened’

Hillary Clinton

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It’s tough to picture Hillary Clinton in anything other than a
pantsuit, let alone a pair of yoga pants.

But in her new book
“What Happened,”
Clinton describes a breathing technique she
turned to in the aftermath of the election. She says it helped
her find peace and calm — and only required a nice, comfy spot on
the floor.

“I did yoga with my instructor … especially ‘breath work,'” she
writes. “If you’ve never done alternate nostril breathing, it’s
worth a try.”

The technique, which is widely practiced in yoga circles across
the globe, involves sitting in a comfortable position on the
ground and using your right thumb and index finger to close one
nostril at a time while you inhale and exhale. In Sanskrit, it’s
called nadi shodhana pranayama, which roughly translates
to “subtle energy clearing breathing technique.” References
to the practice can be traced back to a
fifteenth-century manual on yoga
by Swami Swatmarama.

Clinton says she was told that the technique “allows oxygen
to activate both the right side of the brain, which is the source
of creativity and imagination, and the left side, which controls
reason and logic.”

In reality, there’s little evidence to suggest that the method
specifically directs the flow of oxygen to different parts of the
brain. If it did, every time you had one blocked sinus (perhaps
the last time you got a cold) an entire side of your brain would
simply stop functioning as well. There’s also
no evidence to suggest that one hemisphere of the brain
linked with creativity or logic. (All of your friends who say
they are “right-brained” or “left-brained” are

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man breathing yogaShutterstock

That said, plenty of science exists to back up the idea that
there are benefits to
certain kinds of breathing
— when combined with meditation.
And alternate-nostril breathing can be seen as one of these
breathing types.

Studies suggest
that there is a strong link between our
emotional state and our breathing. While rapid breathing can
often be a symptom of stress or anxiety, research shows that
taking control of our breathing can also influence how we feel.
Consciously taking deep, slow breaths, for example, may calm us
down by convincing our minds that we’re already in a state of
relaxation, Dr. Martin Paulus, a professor of psychiatry at the
University of California San Diego professor, writes in a
manuscript in the journal Depression and Anxiety

Unfortunately, many of us are used to breathing in a way that
tends to be bad for us.

“For many of us, deep breathing seems unnatural. There are
several reasons for this. For one, body image has a negative
impact on respiration in our culture. A flat stomach is
considered attractive, so women (and men) tend to hold in their
stomach muscles. This interferes with deep breathing and
gradually makes shallow ‘chest breathing’ seem normal,”
write the folks at the Harvard Medical School
in a recent
blog post. These quick inhalations and exhalations can actually
make us feel more tense.

But there are plenty of ways to change this pattern — and
lots of research that supports doing so.

In a 2012
randomized controlled study
, 46 male and female musicians
were briefly trained in deep breathing and biofeedback. The
results showed that a single 30-minute session of slow
breathing (with or without the biofeedback component) helped
reduce symptoms of anxiety before a performance, particularly in
musicians who said they tended to get anxious.

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The benefits may extend to people with more severe anxiety as
well. The authors of a small 2014
study of male veterans with PTSD
found that those who did a
breathing-based meditation program three hours each day for a
week experienced a decrease in PTSD symptoms and anxiety.

If you’ve never tried deep breathing before,
Harvard has some tips
for giving it a shot. First, find a
quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. Then, inhale slowly
through your nose, letting your chest and lower stomach expand.
Finally, exhale slowly through your mouth or nose. It also can be
helpful to count while you’re breathing as a way to even out your
inhales and exhales.

According to Clinton, “you will feel calmer and more focused. It
may sound silly, but it works for me.”