By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
A panic, or anxiety attack, describes the rapid onset of psychosomatic symptoms related to increased fear or overwhelming anxiety. Symptoms include difficult, labored, or rapid breathing, rapid heart rate or palpitations, dizziness, nausea, and trembling or shaking. Many sufferers feel such intense physical symptoms that they think they are having a heart attack. Often, the panic attack starts out as a feeling of vague anxiety that does not pass, but intensifies over time. Sometimes, the attack is triggered by a known cause, like fear of flying, but often the individual has no idea what brought the panic attack on.
An understanding of Yoga philosophy can help address the problem of panic disorder. Anxiety attacks are a physical manifestation of mental or emotional anguish, and understanding that the symptoms are mental in origin, can give sufferers some control over the disorder. Yoga teaches us that a deep understanding of the problem is important in finding a solution. In other words, taking prescription drugs will not necessarily result in the sort of holistic healing, which Yoga enthusiasts are hoping for. However, prescription drugs may serve as a temporary solution, while other methods are used in conjunction with medication. At times, prescription medicine is the most effective solution.
Yogic Breathing – Pranayama
Yoga can also provide those suffering from panic disorder, a method of regaining control once the involuntary symptoms begin to manifest. Deep, measured breathing and meditative techniques, even in the midst of an anxiety attack, are absolutely necessary to slowing down the body’s physical response to the panic triggers. These techniques allow the Yoga practitioner to exercise control over the nervous system by paying attention to it, rather than treating it as an autonomous coordinator of physical reaction that works independently of the brain.
The body’s typical response to anxiety and fear is to take shorter and more rapid breaths. A person, in the middle of an anxiety attack, who focuses on drawing in measured breaths as deeply as possible, will slow down the physical response to anxiety, as well as funnel panic-inducing thoughts into one single thought, which only concentrates on breathing.
If a person is unable to focus on breathing techniques during an anxiety attack, he or she should try to concentrate on a single word or phrase to replace the anxiety-inducing mental anguish. Yoga philosophy can provide practitioners with mantras to use during an attack, but even repeating something as simple as “breathe, breathe, breathe,” can suffice to transfer the mind’s vague feeling of panic into a tangible word that helps regulate the nervous system’s response.
Those, who suffer from frequent panic attacks, should continue exploring the root cause of the disorder by seeking professional or spiritual help. After all, a disorder that manifests with such physically-intense symptoms can be an indicator of intense mental and emotional stress that the brain is unable to sort out on its own.
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