I just finished a private yoga session in my home. I have chosen to have someone come to my home so that (a) I can’t make excuses and not attend and (b) I honestly don’t think I could handle the stress and anxiety of being in a room with a lot of people. Turns out I made the right decision; more on that in a moment.
My yoga instructor is a young woman who has the most lovely voice; serenity beyond compare. Calmness was radiating from her as she walked through my front door.
We had talked over the telephone about my current struggles and whether yoga could play a role in helping to still my mind and calm my soul. She had actually been drawn to yoga after a time in her life that was riddled with anxiety and panic attacks. Thus, she could appreciate what I had been experiencing. It was yoga that ultimately provided her with the tools to stop the anxiety in its tracks and she hasn’t had a panic attack since.
We started off with slow, deep breathing. Yes, I know. Complete contradiction to my earlier post, but hear me out. There is a difference between telling someone to breathe during a panic attack and teaching someone to breathe to help deter a panic attack; to help them focus and use their inner strength to find calmness.
We moved to some of the easier poses and about midway through the session came to warrior pose. Now, this is a relatively easy pose. You are in a bit of a lunge with your arms extended. Nothing too complicated. It was at this time however, that I started to notice sensations in my body that initiated my fight or flight switch. My heart was beating faster, I was sweating and my legs were shaking. Logically, I knew it was natural for my heart to beat faster because I was exercising. I knew I should have been sweating because I was moving my body. As for my legs, well I haven’t used them in three months so my muscles were likely in shock. Logic can be so bloody logical!
It didn’t matter how hard I tried to convince myself of this logic. The switch had been flipped and there was no turning back! I was sprinting down a path of sheer panic!
I told my instructor that I had to stop. She quite firmly told me to go to child’s pose. Child’s pose is where you are curled up into a ball and your forehead is on the ground. She started speaking with her angelic voice and counting out breathing.
Inhale, 1, 2, 3, 4…exhale 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
Inhale, 1, 2, 3, 4…exhale 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
She continued for about five minutes. Just breathing. Focusing solely on the breath.
The relief was immediate.
As soon as my forehead was resting on the ground and I started breathing, I was bathed in serenity. My heart slowed down. I was no longer hot. The shaking had subsided.
It was instantaneous.
I was in shock. How could this pose and this breathing quite literally stop me from sprinting down the path of panic? Me, the non-believer. The person who quite vehemently declared that no one should ever tell me to just breathe!
Afterwards, she explained that it is the breath that is the tool that will ultimately give me the power to stop the anxiety. She also said it is crucial that my forehead be on the ground because it will trigger my vagus nerve which in turn, will help to calm me. She instructed me to go to child’s pose whenever I feel the first twinge of anxiety and/or panic. She told me to leave my yoga mat in the middle of my living room and go there when I need to.
Count my breaths.
Our session lasted an hour and a half. I am sitting here recalling all that she said, so angelically. Any chance I get to breathe, I am to practice. If I am sitting in the car, watching television or in the line at the grocery store, it is an opportunity to breathe. To focus on my well being. Find my inner strength and peace through breathing.
I know it sounds mystical, intangible, unbelievable. A few hours ago, I would have agreed. But having been the fortunate recipient of the immediate relief that yoga offered me in the midst of a downward spiral, I am a believer.
© The Flip of the Switch, February 2016.