I’m always open to the possibility that I’m overthinking things. This isn’t really about a clinical explanation; it’s just a traditional ritual that some people like. The book goes a little further, presenting the breathing as a sort of alternative to antidepressants:
Friends advised me on the power of Xanax and raved about their amazing therapists. Doctors told me they’d never prescribed so many antidepressants in their lives. But that wasn’t for me, never has been. Instead I did yoga with my instructor, especially breath work. If you’ve never done alternate-nostril breathing, it’s worth a try.
Okay, this book was written quickly and in a state of serious stress. Breathing exercises can be helpful in depression and anxiety, and I don’t think she means to suggest anyone replace or forego medication in medically necessary states.
Still this is not a simple, passing reference. The book gives detailed instructions for the reader:
Sit cross-legged with your left hand on your thigh and your right hand on your nose. Breathing deeply from your diaphragm, place your right thumb on your right nostril and your ring and little fingers on your left. Shut your eyes, and close off your right nostril, breathing slowly and deeply through your left. Now close both sides and hold your breath. Exhale through the right nostril. Then reverse it: Inhale through the right, close it ...
There are literary contracts to fulfill, and those contracts usually demand a certain number of words. It’s conceivable an editor said, “You should really expand on that alternate-nostril breathing thing, because that’s useful tip for anxious readers.”
And Clinton said, “I don’t know if that’s really why people would be buying and reading this book.”
“No, the people want to be calmed, and the rest of the text is really not pulling that off,” the editor insisted. “Plus it shows that you have hobbies you’re passionate about, obsessed with, as the kids say.”
“I’m really not.”
“But we want it to seem that way. Then you can go on the news shows and talk about that and it will be very human.”
“I really would prefer to talk about substantive issues, like how we should abolish the electoral college.”
“Well if that’s how you feel ... then the book is cancelled!”
“Okay, fine. I will do this in order to get the bigger messages across.”
It’s also possible that the yogic technique really was that important in coping with, as Clinton describes it in the book, letting the whole world down. Normally when a patient says something like this, a psychiatrist could say that person is exaggerating.
In keeping with the obsession theme, Clinton even gets into why alternate-nostril breathing works:
The way it’s been explained to me, this allows oxygen to activate both the right side of the brain—which is the source of your creativity and imagination—and the left side—which controls reason and logic.
Again, this book was written quickly and in a state of stress. She has more pressing concerns than considering how inhaled air goes down into the lungs, where oxygen is transferred to capillaries filled with blood that then go to the heart. The heart has a single left ventricle, and it shoots blood up to the head, oxygenating the brain’s hemispheres with the same blood.