ANXIETY!!! Yoga Techniques to Calm the Impending PANIC Storm

Leeches, Jean-Michel Basquiat

Leeches, Jean-Michel Basquiat

This time, I will not let anxiety get the best of me.

When you start to become overwhelmed and get carried into a dissociative state, find a way to feel a physical connection to the earth. 

It can happen in a split second, something in the environment or even a word someone said. Before we can even process it, the anxiety comes creeping in. For trauma survivors, anxiety can seem like a fact of daily life. But there are ways to take back control over your triggers and come out of high anxiety modes. Here are a few yoga based practices that you can try to help you manage anxiety attacks:

 

COME INTO THE PRESENT:

Anxiety has this strange ability to pull us out of our body and into our head. We get tangled up in the mind web, endlessly coiled around our racing thoughts. In a moment we can instantly forget where we are. Come back down to planet Earth (even though it can be a scary place sometimes.) The first step to reasserting control of yourself during an impending panic mode is to come back into your body and become aware of your surroundings. This will help you properly asses the reality of the situation rather than letting your thoughts pull you into the black hole of chaos. There are so many different tools you can use to snap back to reality. Here are some easy, effective methods:
 

  • BODY SCAN: Quickly scan your body and bring awareness to your physicality from head to toe. 
     
  • MANTRA: Mantra is the remedy against mind-trap thoughts. Bring negative chatter to a halt with mantra or affirmations: Repeat one of these to yourself in times of distress:  "I am safe." "I am here." "I am present." "I allow myself to be receptive to the moment."
     
  • MINDFULNESS: Mindfulness is bringing awareness to the now, or the present moment. This helps anchor us in reality rather than following a habit of running back to the past or rushing in anticipation toward the future.
     
  • COMPASSION: It's ok! We really feel just like you. Have a moment of self-compassion by bringing one hand to the heart and one hand on the belly. Feel your breath and embrace your pulse. It's ok to feel into whatever comes up.


SETTLE INTO SAFETY:

With fear comes anxiety and with anxiety fear is reinforced. When our minds tell us that we are experiencing a fearful or threatening situation, our Autonomic Nervous System responds with bodily functions that indicate anxiety and fear: our heart starts beating faster, blood pressure goes up, our breathing speeds up, and hormones like adrenaline and cortisol start pumping. This fear can cause dissociation and this is when illogical thoughts start racing. We become incredibly vulnerable in these moments. The impending anxiety is seemingly unstoppable. If you can, begin to take physical steps to ensuring your safety. Bring your consciousness to your breathing. If you are in a place where you feel safe, allow yourself to experience the emotional and mental panic without holding back, and know that you'll be fine on the other side. Try these postures in the moment: 

 

  • Balasana or child's pose is an essential posture for bringing the nervous system to neutral after a fear response. Come onto all 4's (table-top position) and bring the big toes together behind you. Let the knees come out wide enough to allow your chest to stretch forward as your hands reach long in front of you. Feel free to bring your arms along your sides and use a large pillow under you for support. This posture allows you to focus on your internal state, helping to block out environmental stimuli. Focus on your breath pattern as you relax the tension away from your body. Breathe fully to expand the rib cage and bring breath into the back body. You can also take this posture on your back by hugging your knees closely into your chest.

ROOT INTO THE EARTH:

When you start to become overwhelmed and get carried into a dissociative state, find a way to feel a physical connection to the earth. Breaking from states of disassociation can be really difficult. Its like letting go of a balloon, unable to grab ahold of the string. This state can feel pretty hopeless as you watch what was once firmly secure in your grip float further and further away into oblivion. Allow yourself to come into your body and feel into sensation, even sensations associated with extreme discomfort. Trust that you will land on safe ground. Experiment with asana, or yoga postures for getting grounded:

  • Tadasana, or a simple standing posture. Focus on feeling the entire surface of your feet firmly onto the ground. Let the energy rise all the way up to the crown of your head. Keep breathing easily, letting energy circulate through your entire body. Close your eyes if it is comfortable.
     
  • Padmasana, or lotus posture by simply sitting cross-legged on the ground. Feel the entire seat making connection. The fingertips can also reach down to press into the surface of the ground as the chest confidently lifts up. This is called bhumi sparsha hasta mudra, or the hand gesture of touching the earth.
     
  • Prostration is the act of surrendering the entire front of the body to the ground. From a plank, lower all the way down to the earth. Let your body relax any grip and circulate a full, natural breath. You can press your palms into the ground overhead or bring your hands to a prayer position over your head. A Half prostration can also be done on the knees, with the torso bowed down. This is an incredibly humbling posture. 

SUMMON THE OCEANIC BREATH: 

The breath is the link between the mind and the body. Learning to use the breath in anxiety ridden situations will be life-saving. You will be able to recover much quicker. Often time, we are not fully conscious of the breath... and with good reason. The act of breathing is an automatic function. However, we can access it through bringing the breath into our conscious awareness and conscious control. When we are experiencing anxiety, our nervous system responds as if reacting to fear. The breath increases and breathing can be difficult. Don't panic! Connect with the breath and visualize its expansive, oceanic qualities. Here are some breathing techniques to help calm your excited nervous system.

  • Pranayama is the practice of becoming aware of energy. The breath is our main, most accessible source of subtle life-force energy. Breath is life. This practice is started by simply becoming aware of the current state of the breath. Watch as a non-judgemental observer while the breath travels in and out. Play around with "directing" the breath to different parts of the body, especially any areas where you feel tension. 
     
  • Samavritti is the practice of bringing both aspects of the breath (the inhalation and the exhalation) into balance. After watching the breath for some time, you may notice that the inhalations are shorter than the exhalations, or the opposite. Either way, the inhalations and exhalations are obviously uneven. Using a count, experiment with lengthening the breaths out equally. An example would be breathing in for a count of 4 and then breathing out for a count of 4. 
     
  • Ujjayi is the practice of constricting the breath at the back of the throat. This creates some "heat" in the body that can help burn off the excess energy that comes from anxiety, while preventing the exhaustion that often follows. You can practice this breath pattern by inhaling deeply with the chin slightly tucked, then exhaling audibly out the mouth as if fogging a mirror. Now, for the full practice, inhale deeply, and exhale as you were, but keep the lips closed this time. The breath should resemble the sound of heavy breathing or ocean waves. It is deep, heavy, calm, and continuous.

SURRENDER TO THE HEART:

Compassion is key if you're going to make it through the ups and downs of chronic anxiety. The more receptive you can be to the idea of understanding what triggers you into panic, the more you will be able to self-pacify in the moment. Tap into the heart-space and see if you can really listen to what your body is telling you. 

  • Find a pose that allows you to close-in and listen to your body and any arising sensations. Baddha konasana or bound-angle posture is done by sitting on the ground, knees bent, with the soles of the feet pressed into each other. Once you bring the feet together, begin by sitting up straight and inhaling, opening the chest. On a big exhale, slowly bring the chin to the chest, feeling a stretch in the beck of the neck. Hold this chin-tuck as you allow your torso to drape over your crossed legs. This is called jalandhara bandha in Sanskrit, or "throat lock." It is essential that you monitor your breathing and find an easy natural breath-rhythm before bringing the chin down to the chest. If bending both knees is uncomfortable, take janu-sirsasana or "head to knee" posture by extending one leg long and the other sole of the foot to the inside of the extended thigh. Slowly fold toward the ground with the belly moving closer toward the extended thigh with every exhale. 
     
  • Uttanasana or forward folding with a deep bend in the knees can also be incredibly pacifying. Make this posture dynamic by clasping opposite elbows and swaying gently from side to side. Continue rocking to whatever rhythm you set, linking the movement and breath until you begin to calm down. Release any tension in the torso, back body, neck and head.

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