When you are feeling stressed, sad, or frustrated, one of the first things you want to do is regain control over your emotions. After all, the best way to deal with a situation is calmly and rationally — two things that are hard when your reasoning skills are being overtaken by strong emotions. But what’s the fastest and most effective way to regain control? The secret, used by top personalities including Hillary Clinton, is in your breath.
Breathing affects the way that we feel. Research suggests that there is a strong link between our emotional state and our breathing. For example, fast breathing is a symptom of stress or fear. Anxiety disorders are often linked to altered breathing. The link flows both ways. A conscious effort put into slowing our breath and taking deep and deliberate breaths can diminish stress and reduce fear.
Through our breathing, we can convince our minds that everything is under control and there is no need to panic. Energy is redirected towards our pre-frontal cortex and away from producing stress hormones, and as a result, our minds feel cleared and ready to tackle the challenging situation at hand.
In this post, we are going to be talking about the benefits of alternate nostril breathing and how you can get started with it today.
Stress, Meet Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is one such breathing exercise. It is an ancient technique from India. In Sanskrit, it is called “Nadi Shodhana Pranayama,” which translates to “subtle energy clearing breathing technique.” It is a well-known breathing exercise used during meditation and yoga. It and its benefits are so famous that even Hillary Clinton has been reported to use it to calm down and enhance her creativity.
In her new book “What Happened,” Clinton describes using the alternate nostril breathing technique after she lost the 2016 presidential election. In an understandably stressful time, she reports that the alternate breathing technique helped her find peace and calm.
In the book, 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.”
Whether this is scientifically accurate or not, its imagery that you can use to help you visualize while you are doing the exercise.
Speaking with Anderson Cooper on CNN, Hillary Clinton “highly recommends” alternate nostril breathing and gives Cooper a quick demonstration. She says she has found it “very relaxing.”
If it works for Clinton’s high levels of stress, it’s worth a try for the rest of us.
Evidence That Breathing Helps Reduce Stress
We touched on evidence that breathing helps reduce stress, but there is even more proof: Here are pieces of evidence to prove that breathing really works to reduce stress and correct emotional imbalances.
In a 2008 study by a group of Nepalese researchers, 36 young adults were instructed to perform the alternate nostril breathing exercise 15 minutes every day in the morning for four weeks. Respiratory rate, heart rate, blood pressure, and lung capacity were recorded on the first day before starting the four-week session.
At the end of the four weeks, the study found that the mean respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood pressure all decreased, which are all healthy improvements. On the other hand, lung capacity, which measures the lungs’ ability to take in air, increased significantly.
Although this was a small study, these results suggest that physical improvements are possible by regularly engaging in alternate nostril breathing.
In a 2017 study, researchers looked at the effects deep breathing could have on university student mood and stress levels. Although they did not look at alternate nostril breathing specifically, they looked at deep breathing techniques, a category that alternate nostril breathing falls under.
Thirty-eight young adults were randomly divided into two groups. One group was instructed to sit through 90-minute deep breathing sessions once a week over the course of 10 weeks. The other was instructed to sit around for 90 minutes doing nothing. They were asked to report on their stress levels, and their heart rate and cortisol (a stress hormone) levels were measured.
The group that used the deep breathing techniques showed a significant improvement between the beginning and the end of the training. Reported stress levels decreased, as did heart rate and cortisol levels.
Finally, a 2014 study looked at the potential of breathing exercises and meditation to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The researchers noted that effective medical treatments for PTSD are limited and alternative treatments are needed. The study looked at the effects of a breathing-based meditation and yoga on PTSD levels in U.S. male veterans of the Iraq or Afghanistan war.
The 21 veterans were divided into two groups: One that practiced breathing and yoga, and one that took conventional antianxiety and antidepressant medication. Physiological measurements related to PTSD, self-reported wellness scores, and breathing rate were obtained before and after the experiment.
The group that underwent treatment with breathing and yoga saw a significant decrease in PTSD scores, anxiety symptoms, and breathing rate, but those taking medication did not. The researchers concluded that yoga and breathing exercise could be helpful in the clinical treatment of PTSD.
This is all compelling evidence that breathing is a powerful way to regulate emotions and the adverse effects of stress and anxiety.
With these powerful results in mind, let’s take a look at how to do alternate nostril breathing.
How to Do Alternate Nostril Breathing
Alternate nostril breathing is a simple breathing technique. It attempts to counter your intuitive compulsion to breath through the mouth, which is associated with stress. Forcing yourself to breathe through your nostrils helps you focus more closely on your breath and breathe more deeply.
To start, find a comfortable place to sit. Make sure the place you choose is relatively quiet and where you will not be disturbed for the duration of 10–15 minutes. Preferably, adopt the lotus or half-lotus position, as you would during yoga. But don’t worry too much about the position. You should feel that whatever posture you choose is a comfortable position to hold for the duration of the exercise. If you think you will not fall asleep, you can even consider doing the exercise lying down.
When you adopt the position, relax your muscles. Take a moment to inhale deeply, using diaphragmatic breathing. Close your eyes and let your hands and fingers rest in your lap.
When you’re ready, bring your right hand’s ring finger up and press it against your left nostril. Take a deep breath from the right nostril. After you inhale, hold your breath for a second as you place your right thumb over your right nostril. Release your ring finger on your left nostril and exhale. Remember to inhale and exhale using your belly.
Keep your right thumb over your right nostril and now inhale from the left nostril. Then take your right ring finger and press your left nostril closed. Take your thumb off your right nostril and exhale that breath.
Practice alternate nostril breathing for around 15 minutes. Remember to focus on your breath and the sensations of your breath flowing in and out of your nostrils. Focusing on your breath, not on your thoughts, is why breathing exercises such as alternate nostril breathing are so good for your mental health.
If you want to reap the full benefits of alternate nostril breathing, practice it once a day for 15 minutes. If you’re curious to see if you are experiencing real results from the effort, why not track your stress levels with Spire? Spire measures your breathing rate to understand when your body is undergoing stress. It keeps historical data on your stress levels. That means that you can accurately track your stress levels as they improve with the use of alternate nostril breathing.
Breath Works on Stress
Hillary Clinton, science, your yoga instructor, and ancient wisdom all point to using alternate nostril breathing to reduce stress and relax. This should be enough to convince you to start using alternate nostril breathing in your daily life. While you may not be coping with the loss of a major presidential election, we hope that alternate nostril breathing is able to see you through your own version of tough times.