Alternate-nostril breathing helps grief, everything else

Yesterday the reviews of Hilary Clinton's What Happened started rolling in. Everyone had everything to say. My favorite maybe, was Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post, who noticed  a day early:


Of course, being in the wellness business and owning a yoga studio for more than a decade, I appreciated most that Clinton says got through the initial stages of shock, grief, and disappointment as vast as the country's borders ... with white wine and yoga.

Specifically, she says, she did the yoga practice called alternate nostril breathing, or nadi shodhana. It's a subtle practice taught widely in yoga classes everywhere.

Though let's be real, this a blip in the 24-hour news churn, it still feels big to me, especially when Clinton demonstrated and explained to CNN's Anderson Cooper a breathing practice that until yesterday was still an esoteric, subculture piece of our very popular modern exercise:

Beyond the fact that Clinton strikes me as someone who would do well as a yoga teacher (able to establish authority, prone to introversion, appears to have deep beliefs, no problems managing big crowds, and most of all aware that her body needs regular self care), she does an excellent job on international television (!) explaining the benefits of alternate-nostril breathing (!).

The upshot, she says, is that it's "very relaxing" if you do it correctly and with determination. As in, don't be shy about breathing long and hard, or holding the breath. Do it with vigor and intent. Oh, and also, sit cross-legged on a yoga mat. 

I hope that Clinton embarks on the last quarter of her life with this much adorable, but that's for another post. This post is about how you should do what she says. You should sit on a yoga mat cross-legged, and you should parse your breath out between the right and left nostrils using your thumb and first two fingers. Keep reading for specific instructions.

Here's why you should do it: Yoga in general, and nadi shodhana specifically, calms you down. It does so because it balances the breathing process between the right and left nostril, right and left brain, right and left lungs, right and left sides of the body (take your pick which is dominant or yang, and which is recessive or yin). It balances your hormones through the balance of the more obvious parts.

It's indisputable that everyone needs balance. We look to power, money, an edifying job (like, uh, being POTUS),  relationships, and thousands of other things outside ourselves to feel more grounded and balanced. We think we can insert reality from the outside and that we'll suddenly feel permanently better.

Sadly, because life, it doesn't work that way. Staying grounded and calm in the middle of so much stress is a process, and it's daily if not very regular. All this regularity does is allow you to pay a little more attention to what's inside you. Which in this case is the breath. It's in there, happening all the time, and the point of paying attention to it is to a) learn what's going on, and b) change it so that you feel better.

Here's how to practice alternate-nostril breathing, or nadi shodhana. Here also is a list of videos:

1) Sit down. It can be on a chair. If sitting on the floor cross-legged, as Clinton says, is uncomfortable, use a chair. Do not let cross-legged instructions deter you.

2) Curl your right forefinger and middle finger into your palm. You're getting these two out of the way. Your thumb, ring finger and pinky finger will be sticking out. You will use your thumb and ring finger to do alternate-nostril breathing.

3). Put your thumb on the right nostril right where the nose meets cartilage, where the nose hole (pardon, that sounds gross) really begins. Put your RING finger on the left nostril in the same place, where nose meets cartilage, and ew, to say it again, where the nose hole really starts.

4) Take a long, slow, deep inhalation through both nostrils. Do not breathe through the mouth at all. Keep it closed. Before exhaling (don't really pause, just go with it), push in/depress the RIGHT nostril so that you close it off completely. Exhale completely through the LEFT nostril.

5) Keep the right nostril closed off. Inhale through the left nostril. Before exhaling again (again, no pausing, just keep going), depress the left nostril with the ring finger and release the thumb from the right. 

6) Exhale through the right, and then inhale through the right.

7) Repeat 5) and 6) until you're ready to finish. The finishing breath will be an exhale through the left nostril.

8) Take a long, slow breath through both nostrils, and then exhale, both nostrils. Feel the effects.

Here are YouTube videos to demonstrate. I'll also put one up.



Kim Weeks