I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am.
– Sylvia Plath, poet & writer
I used to live constantly dreading the moment my next panic attack would strike.
Pressure building up in my chest.
Heart thumping a mile a minute.
Hot, sweaty hands.
Overwhelming fear and anxiety taking over in a matter of seconds.
It’s estimated that 22.7% of U.S. adults (6 million of us) will experience at least one panic attack in our lifetime. (1)
Women are twice as likely as men to experience a panic attack. (1)
USING YOUR BREATH TO BREAK THE PATTERN
In that moment, it can definitely feel like everything is out of our control.
Especially our breath.
When I was desperate to regain control of my life, my body, and my mind, I set out to find whatever could help me achieve this naturally.
I came across the powerful practice of Raja Yoga, the yoga of the mind and emotions.
The whole objective of Raja Yoga is to learn how to conquer the mind and emotions so that we can become less reactive/ impulsive and more of who we truly are.#RajaYoga taught me that I am not my anxiety; that I am bigger than my fear. Click To Tweet
Even in the midst of a breakdown where I’m crippled by it.
The practice also offered me a powerful tool to use whenever I felt a panic attack creeping on.
The ancient art of pranayama, or yogic breathing.
Yoga teachings state that if the mind is moving, so are the heart and respiration.
When we are angry, our breath quickens; when we sleep, our breath slows down.
By consciously slowing down the breath and making it rhythmic so that consciousness is not disturbed by it, we can achieve a corresponding tranquility.
– Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama, “Science and the Evolution of Consciousness”
There are a couple of science-backed pranayama techniques and one in particular that I used to help manage my panic attacks and reduce my anxiety.
I haven’t had a panic attack in nearly three years.
It’s called Nadi Shodhana, most commonly known as alternate-nostril breathing.
In Sanskrit ‘nadi’ means ‘channel’ and ‘shodhana’ means ‘purification.’
By adopting a consistent and regular practice using just this one technique we’re becoming a clearer channel through which we can rise above the mental and emotional turmoil.
This is the same technique that Hillary Clinton turned to after the loss of the elections. (2)
Numerous studies indicate notable mental, emotional, and physical health benefits associated with a consistent Nadi Shodhana practice.
It’s been shown to re-balance our nervous system by activating the relaxation and regeneration response while deactivating the stress/panic response. (3)
The technique also appears to balance the activity of the right and left brain hemispheres, helping us overcome knee-jerk reactions while making it possible to cultivate skills like mindful awareness and genuine presence in the midst of panic and fear. (4)
In fact, when we’re in the throes of a panic attack it’s like our rational thinking mind gets hijacked and turned off.
We aren’t able to focus or concentrate let alone perform at our best.
Nadi shodhana appears to improve performance, especially during tasks that require concentration. (5)
One study involving a group of 5 different pranayama techniques including Nadi Shodhana, showed a 73% positive response rate and a 41% remission rate among GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) patients after just 4 weeks of pranayama practice. (6)
So how do we practice this powerful technique?
Here are 8 steps to follow the moment we feel that panic start to creep in:
- Sit upright and comfortably, with the neck, shoulders, face, and jaw relaxed.
- Place the left hand on the left knee
- Take a full breath in with the lower belly expanding outwardly (5 counts)
- Block the right nostril with the right thumb and breathe out, contracting the lower belly inward. (8 counts)
- Inhale while keeping the right thumb where it is. (5 counts)
- Switch to block the left nostril with the right middle and ring fingers and breathe out fully (8 counts)
- Inhale while keeping the fingers where they are. (5 counts)
- Keep repeating the same pattern in steps 4-7 for at least 5 minutes to fully switch the body out of panic mode and into calm mode. (The longer the better.)
Practice along with me and let’s do this together:
COMMIT TO A DAILY PRACTICE TO CREATE REAL CHANGE
I know how frustrating and scary it can be to live at the mercy of a panic attack that can strike at any moment.
I’ve had my fair share of public meltdowns.
But you can get through this.
You can overcome this by simply starting to use your breath.
Remember:Your breath can be a great ally or a foe depending on who's in control - you or it. Click To Tweet
During a panic attack, we get hijacked by our breath as the body and mind go into emergency mode.
This makes it very hard to take conscious, slow, deep breaths.
But you can in that moment take control of your physiology by consciously controlling your breath.
This particular pranayama is no magic pill.
For best results start practicing it daily and create a habit out of it.
Become intimately familiar with the motions and sensations of Nadhi Shodhana.
Investing just 5 minutes a day (out of the 1,440 minutes each day) in your peace of mind and triumph over the panic is worth it, isn’t it?
Reach out if I can be of any help.
I’ve walked through it and I would love to walk you through it too.
You got this.