Let me tell you about when I started using yoga poses and yoga breathing for panic attacks.
I used to suffer from panic attacks. I would be going about my day to day life. Everything would be fine. Then out of nowhere a terrible thought would enter my mind. I would think something horrible, usually related to my health. If I felt a bump, it was cancer. If I felt a slight headache, it was a psychological disorder. Everything was awful. But of course, it was only in my mind. It was only because of negative thoughts.
Negative thoughts like that are one of the common symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks. Other symptoms include hyperventilation, Heart palpitations, chest pain, trembling, a choking feeling, feeling detached, sweating, nausea, feeling dizzy, numbness, cold and hot flashes, and a feeling of going crazing, according to Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D at HelpGuide.
The causes of panic attacks are numerous. They include family history, life stresses, traumatic events, caffeine, termperament, and genetics according to the Mayo Clinic.
For me, it started with negative thoughts. As soon as I experienced a negative thought, I’d get all sorts of physiological reactions. You know, the usual physical symptoms of panic attacks like sweating, feeling hot, and a racing heart. I’d panic that something was terribly wrong and I’d lose control.
I’d lost touch with my meditation and asanas. I was lost in a sea of stress.
I needed to take back my self-control. And so I forced myself onto my mat. And even though at first I could only do 10 minutes at a time because every time I tried, I would think things like “I’m not good enough”, or I’d worry about what work I had to do, I kept going back onto my mat.
The more you practice yoga, the more self-control you gain. There are big benefits of yoga for panic attacks. “Yoga postures (asanas) help ease the physical discomfort that is caused by anxiety,” says Katharina Star, PhD, an expert on anxiety and panic disorders. “[They can release] built-up muscle tension and stiffness throughout the body… Meditation, visualization, and focusing on breathing can help with letting go of worry and fear.”
With every asana I performed I became more and more aware of the benefits of yoga poses for panic attacks. Yoga breathing exercises like pranayama and Kapalabhati helped too. I practised these while also using panic-attack-meditation techniques.
By using breathing and yoga poses for panic attack relief, I started to be more in control of both my body and my mind. And day by day, I regained my power, and I reduced the symptoms of panic attacks.
I was intrigued to see just how exactly yoga helps panic attacks. So I researched.
The Science of Breathing & Yoga Poses For Panic Attacks
Katharina Star, PhD, at VeryWellMind says that yoga is an activity that helps with “all three of the common relaxation techniques [breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization]” and has been shown to “ease stress, reduce feelings of nervousness, and enhance mindfulness.”
That’s the key benefit of yoga poses for panic attacks. And of the more than 28 different styles of yoga, the majority do benefit panic attack sufferers.
For me, the first benefit of yoga for panic attack relief was the sense of freedom. I enjoyed using the opening yoga poses that get you to stretch out far and open your body (more on this below). These help with one of the common symptoms of panic attacks: muscle tension. Opening poses like Bow Pose (Dhanurasana), Camel Pose (Ustrasana), Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana), Cow Pose (Bitilasana) and Fish Pose (Matsyasana) create a deep sense of relaxation.
There’s also the fact that yoga helps to slow the mind. By practising pranayama breathing techniques, we slow the mind down. Meditations can help too. They relax the mind and make us less reactive to thoughts and feelings (and after all, panic attacks are usually the result of an overreaction to those very things).
If you practice yoga at a class, you also get the support of other yogis. They can offer emotional support and friendship, which are huge when you suffer from anxiety. [READ: Meditation For Anxiety]
Yes, there are huge benefits of yoga poses and yoga-breathing for panic attacks. But there is also a right way to practice yoga to reduce panic attacks. Let’s take a look.
How To Use Yoga Poses & Yoga Breathing For Panic Attack Relief
1: Create a relaxing space
In my personal experience, this tip is more valuable than many people realise. Make sure you create a relaxing yoga space to practise in.
Many people who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks do not feel confident enough to practice in a group at the yoga studio. That’s fine. On one condition: Practice in a relaxing space.
When you’re using yoga for panic attack relief, you’re specifically doing it to relax your mind. You’re not really doing it for the physical exercise. Yes, that’s a bonus. But it’s really about relaxing and taking control of anxiety. The best place to do that is in a relaxing space where you will not be disturbed, and, crucially, where you will not be exposed to any of the triggers of your panic attack syndrome.
Asanas are the specific body positions in yoga. For instance, the most well-known positions are “Downward Dog” and “Cat Pose”.
Science shows that different asanas have different benefits because they activate different parts of the body.
In my experience, some of the best yoga poses for panic attacks are:
- Legs up the wall pose
- Warrior III
- Tree Pose
- Child’s Pose
- Bridge Pose
- Cat Pose
- Cow Pose
According to an article medically reviewed by Nichole Dandrea-Russert, MS, RDN, “[When doing asanas], the body releases tension and muscles relax. [Activation of] parasympathetic nervous system releases endorphins… Practising yoga asanas or Pranayama breathing can help to relieve stress and anxiety.”
Pranayama is the yogic term for controlling the breath.
In yoga we use the breath to help move prana (energy) around the body.
Try this beginner’s yoga breathing for panic attacks:
- Sit comfortably with good posture
- Breathe in and focus on creating a smooth and flowing breath
- Meditate on the feeling of your breath moving between your lips and nose.
- Pause slightly between inhalation and exhalation. Notice the stillness here.
- Breathe out smoothly, meditating on the flow of breath.
This is a simple pranayama exercise that calms the mind. It’s one of the best types of yoga breathing for panic attacks.
Numerous studies (Mc Call, 2007) have indicated that yogic breathing is an effective method of combating anxiety
4. Yoga breathing meditations
Yoga Nidra is the state of consciousness that lies halfway between waking and sleeping. In this state, we are completely relaxed and much more mindful of our inward state.
The science (above) shows that yoga nidra relieves the symptoms of panic attacks.
Here’s how to use this type of yoga for panic attacks:
- Lie down straight in Shavasana (Corpse Pose).
- Close your eyes and relax.
- Take a few mindful breaths.
- Bring your awareness to you right foot. Relax your foot.
- Move on to your right knee, ankle, thigh and then hip. Relax these parts.
- Be aware of your entire right leg. Relax.
- Repeat with your left leg.
- Continue in this fashion across your pelvis, stomach, navel, chest, right arm, right hand, left arm, left hand, neck, throat, and head.
- Breathe mindfully for 10 breaths.
- Be aware of your entire body. Relax.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Relax.
- Sit up slowly and gently.
Researchers at The International Journal of Yoga state that “Patients with mild to moderate anxiety and depressive symptoms improve significantly with ‘Yoga Nidra’ intervention.”
5. Pratyahara And Aparigraha
These are two of the yoga techniques that are used to gain control of your mind. The first, Pratyahara, is about sensory withdrawal (though you should only gently do this). The second, Aparigraha, is about minimalism and not being attached to things.
These are the best ways to use yoga for panic attacks. They worked for me. Yoga gave me a sense of freedom. And it taught me to control my mind and take control of panic attacks. I hope it works for you too.
1: Anxiety Disorders and Anxiety Attacks, Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., HelpGuide https://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/anxiety-disorders-and-anxiety-attacks.htm
2: Panic attacks and panic disorder, Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/symptoms-causes/syc-20376021
3: How Yoga Can Help Ease Anxiety and Panic Disorder Symptoms, Katharina Star, PhD, https://www.verywellmind.com/yoga-for-panic-disorder-2584114
4: The science of yoga — what research reveals, Denise Rankin-Box, https://www.elsevier.com/connect/the-science-of-yoga-what-new-research-reveals
5: Yoga Nidra as a complementary treatment of anxiety and depressive symptoms in patients with menstrual disorder, Khushbu Rani, SC Tiwari, Uma Singh, Indrapal Singh, and Neena Srivastava, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3276934/