Yoga for Anxiety and Panic Attacks – Three Simple Exercises that Work

A ‘No Mud, no Lotus’ Story

As a traveling yoga instructor and massage therapist, people often ask me how I started my yoga journey. They are surprised to hear that my life passion actually germinated in a period of deep personal crisis. My yoga journey is a ‘no mud, no lotus’ story.

Right after High School I was confronted with a panic disorder with strong anxiety and depression. My life had turned into a nightmare, and I did not know how, when or if I would ever ‘wake up’. I struggled for almost a year, when somebody advised me to take a yoga class.

Miraculously, I immediately found a class that perfectly fit my situation. In a small group, the yoga instructor taught simple yoga postures, with a focus on breath, body awareness and relaxation. After each class I would feel a lightness in my body and a calmness in my mind that I had not felt for a long time.

Over the course of several months, I was able to distill three exercises that helped me most in dealing with anxiety and panic attacks. These exercises were very simple, yet very effective! I could not believe I had not learned them anywhere before.

Exercise Number 1 – Abdominal Breathing

When we are stressed or anxious, our breath automatically moves up to the higher regions of our chest. Our breath becomes shallow, infrequent, and sometimes we might even hold our breath.

This type of shallow chest breathing reinforces a cycle of stressful feelings in our body and negative thoughts in our mind. It gives a signal to our body and mind that we are in danger, and more sensations related to stress and anxiety are created.

Abdominal breathing stops this cycle, and allows body and mind to calm down.

To practice abdominal breathing, place yourself into a comfortable position in which your body can rest completely, on a yoga mat, couch or bed. Place both hands onto your lower belly, and slowly breathe in through your nose. Try to expand your belly with each inhalation. Exhale through your mouth and allow your belly to relax back to the center of your body.

Repeat for 5-10 minutes and observe how you feel.

Exercise Number 2 – Connecting to your Feet

When we feel anxious or have a panic attack, we often feel a sudden surge in sensations in our chest, upper back, throat and head. Our energy seems to be moving up, and we lose contact with our legs and feet.

A very effective way to calm the panic attack, is to re-establish a connection to the soles of the feet. This can be done in several ways.

If you are seated, place the soles of the feet firmly onto the floor and focus all your attention there for several minutes. If your feet are cold, warm them up by taking a warm foot bath, use a hot water bottle, or put on some extra socks.

A very effective way to bring your attention and energy down into your feet, is to take a gentle, mindful walk for about half an hour. Observe how you feel when your feet start to become warm and energized.

Exercise Number 3 – Relaxing your Muscles with a Body Scan

When the body is tense, it is difficult to feel calm and joyful. Relaxation is something we can consciously pursue, when we become more aware of our body and our patterns.

To practice relaxation through a Body Scan, lie down in a comfortable position on a yoga mat, couch or bed. Close your eyes. Slowly breathe in through your nose towards your lower belly. Breathe out through your mouth.

Make a mental journey through your body, in which you connect with each body part to feel whether it is relaxed or not. Start with your feet, and then slowly move up through your legs, torso, arms and head. With each exhalation allow tension to meld away into the earth.

This exercise can last around 15-20 minutes, depending on how slow you move your attention through the different body parts.

Combine the Three Exercises for Optimal Result

For an optimal result, try to practice all three exercises at the same time: connect to your feet, breathe to your belly and relax your body a little more with each exhalation. In the beginning it can be difficult to keep your attention with your body and breath. However, through daily practice, these exercises will become a second nature in challenging situations.

Try them when you have a tough job interview, when you find yourself in cramped spaces, or when you have a panic attack at night.

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