The Anxiety-Killing Breathing Trick Yogis and Doctors Swear By
Real talk: Did you know that women are significantly more likely to experience dangerous heart arrhythmias than men? It’s true! In fact, by age 5, girls already have higher heart rates than boys do. And though the understanding is that these fluctuations and flutters may be spurred on by anxiety, it’s not always the case. If you sometimes suffer from anxiety like so many people do, you’ll know that the symptoms—elevated heart rate, rising body temperature, dizziness—can spring out of nowhere, spurred by (seemingly) nothing at all. It’s unnerving. No one’s got time for that! We have things to take care of, bosses to become!
That’s why this beyond simple breathing technique—an ancient one that you can practice anywhere—is a lifesaver. Scroll to learn more.
Nadi shodhan pranayama, or alternate-nostril breathing, is a powerful breathing practice linked to wide-reaching health benefits. Originating from Ayurvedic medicine (a system of traditional Hindu medicine originating in prehistoric times) and yoga practice, it’s thought to harmonize the brain, bring balance, and foster mental and physical well-being.
According to Mind Body Green, breathing “sits directly at the interface of our voluntary nervous system (aspects of our physiology under our conscious control) and our autonomic nervous system (aspects generally not under conscious control).” This gives us access to a degree of control over our physiological functionings. “It also offers a direct link for balancing the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-relax) branches of the nervous system.”
The science of this practice is quite simple: By focusing on your breathing, you remove—or at least significantly divert attention away from—the external stimuli that might otherwise be causing you stress, whether conscious or subconscious. In other words, you go from thinking “Holy crap, my heart is racing, I’m going to screw up this interview,” to thinking passively of your breathing pattern. It helps. Quickly.
At its most simplified, conscious breathing functions as a form of mindfulness meditation. Taking stock of our bodies and truly relaxing into a breath places us on a different plane of stimulation—one that is less bombarded and distracted by external stressors!
In one study published in The International Research Journal of Pharmaceutical and Applied Sciences, it was found that the regular practice of alternate-nostril breathing activated the parasympathetic nervous system and led to decreases in heart rate and blood pressure. It also reduced stress and anxiety in the subjects being studied.
Another study published in The Medical Science Monitor found that alternate-nostril breathing, in addition to reducing blood pressure, also improves dexterity and motor coordination.
Though many focus on the benefits of sustained practice, it can be done anywhere for any length of time. The most pronounced physiological benefits have been studied after long-term practice, but the fact of the matter is any little bit will help.
Put quite simply, focusing on your breathing redirects your focus from whatever stressful situation you are experiencing to something calming, pleasant, and peaceful. Ultimately, this simple redirection of focus will calm you down.
If possible, sit comfortably. Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and inhale deeply through the left nostril. At the height of your inhalation, close off your left nostril with your ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril. Keeping the left nostril closed, inhale deeply through your right nostril. Close your right nostril again with your thumb, then release your left nostril. Exhale out of your left nostril. You should now be in the original position—continue this pattern!
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