27 August 2011

The Panic Attack

Yesterday was a rough one. For the first time in a long time (more than a decade at least), I had a full-on panic attack. It happened while I was at work. I have no idea what caused it -- all I do know is that one moment I was calmly going about my business, the next moment I was shaking, sweating, my teeth were chattering, my breathing was quick and shallow, and my heart threatened to pound a hole in my chest. I couldn't figure out why this was happening, and I found it hard to think, which made me even more panicked. I finally decided to take my lunch hour and visit my sweetie at her work just for a minute. I told her that I was unsure about going to class after work, but she encouraged me to go -- to lay down and BREATHE.

It took another hour for me to calm down. After the attack subsided I was exhausted but I decided that Sweetie was right and headed to the 4:30 class. On my way to the studio, I felt like I was going to have another attack. I tried to keep calm and get in the room.

When I got to the studio I advised the instructor of how I was feeling. She said I should go on in to the room (this was 15 minutes before class), lie down and concentrate on slow, deep breathing. Once class started, she advised that my only job for this class was to focus on my breath. In Pranayama, she asked me to try to inhale every last bit of air I could, then really BLAST it out, almost to the point of exaggeration, and push every bit of air back out. If I had to take a knee or lay down, that was cool, but really FOCUS (there is that word again!) on every breath. With that advice, class began. I opted for a spot in the back by one of the doors... just in case.

First set of Pranayama began. I made very sure to inhale really deep and force my elbows up more than usual, while keeping my legs locked. On the exhale, I finally did what they always say: push all the air out until there is NOTHING left and you start to feel a little dizzy. Guess what? By the end of the first set I felt much better. My heart was still trying to race, but it was better. Second set was improved. My Half-Moon was better than normal because I was really keeping tabs on my breathing. In fact, my standing set was not bad, considering the events of the day. I started to lose my composure after Triangle, and my heart started racing again, but just for a moment. I slowed back down and made it through Toe-Stand. On the floor, I was cool until Rabbit. I always feel smothered and claustrophobic in Rabbit, and I came out early both times.

Class ended and I stayed in the room longer than normal. I was really glad I stuck it out -- I had a greater sense of accomplishment than usual -- lately I've just been glad to survive. After a meal and a good night's sleep, I felt much better this morning. I did spend some time this morning trying to figure out why it happened or what triggered the panic attack, but after a bit I just let it go. No sense in worrying. Besides, now I can overcome it with a few deep, focused breaths!!

"Hatha Yoga teaches you to tyrannize your body and make it your slave, so your body does not tyrannize you and make you its slave. Only then, when you control the physical, can you begin to know the God."

                                      -- Bikram

 Slowly, I may be beginning to "get it".



  1. Hi Mark. Thanks so much for sharing this and expressing yourself so well. This is going to help so many people. It has already been a help to me as a teacher. I learn so much from hearing about what students are going through and how they cope with difficult situations.

    I'm glad that you let go of asking "why" it happened. Analyzing doesn't usually get us too far. My friend and life coach Lori always encourages me to ask "what" more than "why". It really works. Just notice what is happening in your body.

    Breathing seems to be a theme these days. A student/friend of mine from BC was just made the student profile of the month. He wrote a really inspiring profile. Here is a link. I think you'll like it.

    Peace back!

  2. Mark! This week, I was teaching the 6:00am class when one of my regular (quite dedicated) students just got up and walked out of the class in the standing series...around standing head to knee...and didn't come back! The next day I asked her what happened and if she was okay. She told me that she had a panic attack! She said it started around 3am and she thought about going to the hospital but decided that maybe a Bikram class would help. But, she just couldn't stay in the room. She hadn't told me beforehand so I had NO idea what she was going through.

    I told her that amazingly, I had just read your blog and shared a bit of your story. I recommended the same things for our class. Focus on breathing as much as possible during the whole class. I kept reminding her throughout class...focus on your break...breathe...over and over. She made it through class that day and I couldn't help but sit in amazement at the wonderful connections the universe brings us.

    I told you your blog would help someone! (I just didn't expect it to be this week, necessarily!! LOL)

  3. @Colleen: I am honored that my little blog could help you and your students! It really brings home the fact that we -- students and instructors -- all face difficulties in our lives and our practices, and that we have an almost infinite resource to overcoming those difficulties -- each other!! Have a great weekend!!

  4. Great post! I have experienced a panic attack before and it's wonderful to read how you got through it. After doing Bikram, you really learn you can get through anything as long as you breathe!

    Rachel @ Alive in the Fire