What Is Alternate Nostril Breathing?

The breathing technique that helped Hillary Clinton cope with her election loss.

Former U.S. Secretary of State and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pauses while speaking during BookExpo 2017 on June 1 in New York City.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

At a Thursday event at a church in New York, Hillary Clinton told attendees about how she coped with her loss to Donald Trump. She spoke of prayer and the support of friends and family. And then she mentioned her stress-relief practices: “I did some yoga,” she said. “Tried alternate nostril breathing; I highly recommend it. It kind of calms you down. And yes, I had my fair share of chardonnay.”

The wine, we might have expected. Clinton has used the Chardonnay line before. But what about the “alternate nostril breathing”?

According to the website for the Chopra Center, a wellness center co-founded by the alternative medicine guru Deepak Chopra, alternate nostril breathing is a technique meant to calm the mind and alleviate stress. Breathing exercises are a fundamental part of yoga. Pranayama, the specific discipline that deals with controlling your breathing, comes from classic Indian yoga and has been around for centuries. It can be translated to “the control of the life force.” Apart from alternate nostril breathing, there are also practices to breathe in deeply and expel the breath quickly; ones that focus on feeling the motions of your stomach while you breathe; and ones in which you hum or chant while exhaling.

These are varied methods, but all have a focus on deep breathing. And health experts agree that deep, slow breathing can help with stress, which in turn eases symptoms associated with anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and attention deficit disorders. Although the mechanics behind these benefits aren’t known precisely, it seems consciously moving into deep controlled breathing sends a calming message to your autonomic nervous system, lowering stress levels and the production of stress hormones, as well as potentially slowing your heart rate and aiding digestion.

So what exactly was Clinton doing when she practiced this technique?

What it looks like, according to YouTube tutorials, is this: Using one finger, you cover one nostril and slowly inhale through the other. Then you switch. You cover the other nostril with a different finger on the same hand and slowly exhale through your now-uncovered nostril. You breathe back in, and then switch again for the exhale. You repeat this process several times, presumably until you feel sufficiently calm. It’s just breathing in one nostril and out the other, as straightforward as the name suggests.

It might sound strange to hear Hillary Clinton use the words “alternate nostril breathing,” but it seems she simply focused on a yogic practice she found particularly calming. Maybe in her new book, What Happened, we’ll read about even more of Clinton’s stress-fighting tips. In the meantime, it might be worth considering trying out yogic breathing exercises. After all, in the Trump era, we all could use some stress-fighting tips.