Last night, quite late, I got a phone call from a longtime student. I’m a sketchy sleeper which she knows and I knew she had to have a really good reason for calling so I answered. She was in the middle of feeling panicky and couldn’t calm herself down. Now this woman has been my student for years and knows a lot about managing anxiety and panic. She’s had some really big, really major life changes this year and sometimes it just gets away from the best of us. She couldn’t calm down, so we talked and I walked her through some poses and we got through it. At the end of the hour+ long call, she promised to call me in the morning to check in and lamented that I wasn’t in the living room when she was having these moments. When she got really worked up she couldn’t remember the things I taught her and couldn’t focus enough to do the poses and I hear ya, girl cause I’ve been there.
So this is for Sara (name changed).
1. When it’s the middle of the night and your mind is super busy and starts talking your heart into beating faster and your breath into shortening, remember this too shall pass. No one has ever died from a panic/anxiety attack. No one has ever worried themselves to death. You will survive this.
2. Talk to your breath. Encourage it to grow slower and longer. Focus on the exhalation. Lengthening your exhalation will stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system which helps you feel relaxed and content. Place your hand on your belly and focus on slowing the breath and slowly, breath after breath lengthen the exhalation. Don’t worry about the inhalation. It will follow suit without you doing a thing.
3. Once the breath is slower and you accept that you aren’t dying, try a yoga pose. Legs up the wall, Viparita Karani, is a soothing and relaxing pose that supports the spine and opens the chest. Great for circulation this pose is good for a host of ailments. Increased circulation helps oxygenate the brain combating worrisome thoughts and feeling overwhelmed. Lengthening the cervical spine increases peacefulness. Whether you are using a bolster or not you should not feel a big stretch. Hamstrings should feel comfortable enough to hold this post for up to 20 minutes. If feet fall asleep rest legs in Supta Konasana.
*Note: If you are in the middle of panic do not use bolster. The extra chest opening may make you feel more panicky and actually shorten the breath. Save the bolster for a time you’re feeling calm.
4. Child’s Pose. Balasana is a great pose to use a bolster with for increased feelings of peace and support. You are essentially in a fetal position, which helps you feel that all is right in the world. It opens the low back, an area that contracts when we’re feeling stressed.
5. Twists help calm the mind and if you lay on the front of your body you, again, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, increasing feelings of rest and relaxation. Try twisting as your last pose and you can even do it in bed. Clients with insomnia report that this twist helps them fall back to sleep within 15 minutes.
Finally, just remember that panic and anxiety are temporary. They won’t last forever and if you are at a place of thinking about yoga poses that might help, you’ve come so far from where you once were. It’s easy to let panic and anxiety rule our lives, and I’ve definitely been there, but you don’t have to let them at all. You have the tools to change the pattern of anxiety and panic in your life. Good luck and call if these don’t work!