Case in point: three days ago, I had a bad panic attack brought upon by low blood sugar at night. (Sometimes, I’ll eat dinner early, and get so engrossed in TV or internet or writing or crafting or cleaning — or anything, really — that I forget to eat.)
For me, low blood sugar means this: shakes, sweating, and a profound sense of dread. I get nauseous and feel like I am dying.
So I ran to the kitchen, chugged a giant glass of OJ, inhaled a granola bar for good measure, and sat down on the floor. (Waiting for your blood sugar to rise is a very panic-filled waiting game.)
RELAXING INTO CHILD’S POSE
In an attempt to abate the shakes — some really fierce shakes that were even making my teeth chatter — I instinctively moved into a yoga position called Child’s Pose. It’s sort of like a fetal-esque position, except you’re laying on your stomach with your knees tucked beneath you. Your arms are outstretched above your head.
I’ve always found this particular yoga position to be relaxing — but on this day, it was downright blissful. And why? Well, it stopped the shakes.
Yeah. The shakes that are not only a byproduct of panic, but a panic trigger as well. The shakes that can sometimes cause me to fall into that whirlwind-ish downward spiral of anxiety doom.
Child’s pose stopped me from shaking. And I was thrilled.
What a turnaround — not only in the short-term sense (shaking to non-shaking) but in the long term sense as well.
I wasn’t always very impressed with yoga. In fact, for a period of time, I hated it. I was afraid of yoga because the breathwork felt too daunting for my high-strung little body.
FOCUSING ON YOUR BREATHING
How might yoga, a physical practice associated with inner peace and relaxation, possibly cause stress, you might ask?
I took my first yoga class in college (for credit — which meant I’d be graded, eeek). The class started right around the time I had my very first panic attack, so of course I’d been devoting a lot of thought (read: too much thought) to the uncomfortable physiological sensations that occur during panic attacks.
Like my breathing.
For the first 19 years of my life, I never gave much thought to the way my chest rose and fell with regularly. But after my very first panic attack, I could no longer breathe in the “old” way: I was aware, every waking moment, that my chest would suck in some seemingly-inadequate volume of cool air and then expel it hotly through my mouth.
I became scared of the fact that sometimes, I’d catch myself holding my breath while doing something inconsequentially stressful, like waiting in line to order pasta at the college cafeteria.
What if I held my breath without realizing it?
Would my body’s physiology wake up and kick-start my breathing again?
Is it possible to just stop breathing, randomly, and not start again?
These thoughts terrified me.
(Check back later this week for the second half of this post — and how I came to find at least some sense of peace with my breathing.)
Photo: Anne Wu (Flickr)