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Story highlights

Hillary Clinton endorsed a deep-breathing technique to ease stress

Studies show that alternate-nostril breathing can lower heart rate and blood pressure

(CNN) —  

Alternate-nostril breathing has hit the big time.

“Have you tried that? I would highly recommend it,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday on “Anderson Cooper 360.”

Never heard of it? Cooper also wanted to know what it was. So Clinton demonstrated.

“You breathe through one (nostril), and you hold it, and you exhale through the other, and you keep going,” she explained. “I can only say, based on my personal experience, that if you’re sitting cross-legged on the yoga mat and you’re doing it and you’re really trying to inhale and hold it and then have a long exhale, it is very relaxing.”

Clinton describes the practice on page 27 of her newly released memoir, “What Happened,” as a key way to recover from the stress of losing a lifelong dream of becoming President.

Alternate-nostril breathing, or Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, has a long and storied history in both yoga and Ayurvedic Indian medicine.

In Sanskrit, “Nadi” means channel or flow. “Shodhana” means clarifying or purifying, and “Pranayama” means to take control of the breath. Combined, you have a deep breathing technique that is believed to purify and de-stress the body.

Proponents say that by infusing the body with oxygen, the practice releases toxins, calms the nervous system, rebalances hormones, enhances mental clarity and concentration, and brings balance to both hemispheres of the brain.

For those who rely on science, some studies back up the technique. A 2013 study of 60 healthy volunteers, ages 18 to 20, found the half who practiced 10 weeks of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama had lower heart rates and blood pressures than the 30 who served as controls. A study in 2011 had the same results for subjects who did 30 minutes a day of alternate-channel breathing.

Another study said that eight sessions of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama significantly increased subjects’ respiratory sinus arrhythmia, which is connected to improved oxygen flow. Other studies have found that alternate-nostril breathing, along with other yoga breathing techniques, improved vital lung capacity and got more oxygen to the muscles. That result was replicated in recent study of competitive swimmers, in which the athletes improved their lung capacities.

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Even more studies have showed that slow deep-breathing techniques, such as alternate-nostril breathing, reduce stress and improve cardiovascular response.

Interested in giving it a try? Here’s a quick primer (but for best results, visit a yoga instructor versed in the technique):

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Using your right hand, place your index finger on top of your nose.
  • Place the thumb of that hand on your right nostril and your ring and pinkie fingers on the left.
  • Close the right nostril with your thumb and breathe out through the left nostril.
  • Holding the right nostril closed, breathe in through the left and then close it.
  • Keeping the left closed, open the right nostril and breathe out.
  • Breathe in through the right and close with your thumb.
  • Keeping the right closed, release the left side and exhale through it.

Congratulations! You’ve done one round of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama. Do at least nine more, always inhaling through the same nostril that you just used to exhale.