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Anxiety Attacks in Yoga Class

Recently a student told me that he experienced an anxiety attack during a class and that it continued throughout the day. Are there any poses that I need to be aware of that could trigger an anxiety attack?

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I didn't think we did anything unusual that day. The class is a vinyasa flow. I warm the students slowly and finish with 10 minutes of relaxation.

He is a smoker and has only been practicing yoga for a couple of weeks. He works a manual labor third-shift job and has back problems. The back issues are why he started taking the class, and he has said it has helped his back feel better.

This is the first time this has happened, and I'm eager to learn what I can do to help avoid this in the future for this student.

—Rennee

Read David Swenson's reply:

Dear Rennee,

Anxiety attacks can arise from a variety of situations. I do not know of individual asanas that would bring them about. Each person suffering from an anxiety attack may find that a unique circumstance triggers it.

The first thing to ask is whether your student has experienced this before. If so, what was the circumstance? Was the room overly crowded or hot that day? Try to help the student narrow down exactly what brought it about, so you both can try to avoid it in future classes.

If anxiety attacks are a recurring experience for this student, then I recommend that he seek advice from a doctor or professional. Meanwhile, it's great that he's finding relief from his back pain through yoga. With a little research and inquiry, I am sure you can work together to find a way for him to maintain a regular yoga practice.

David Swenson made his first trip to Mysore in 1977, learning the full Ashtanga system as originally taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. He is one of the world's foremost instructors of Ashtanga Yoga and has produced numerous videos and DVDs. He is the author of the book Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual.


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Reader Comments

Loretta

I'm a yoga student who often has panic attacks in my hot yoga class. I'm going to share this in the hopes of helping others. Often I have panic attacks at the beginning of class in child's pose due to the sudden realization that class is starting, I've committed to being in this room for yoga for the next hour plus (90 mins freaks me out). Then a series of thoughts starts everything from how hot it is to whether I need to go to the restroom. I have also had panic attacks in challenging poses and yes that is probably from not breathing properly in the pose and being determined to "get the perfect pose." The last occasion for panic attacks is at the end in savasana. The idea of sitting still and emptying my mind of thoughts can trigger it. Can you tell I'm a type A personality? It is very hard for me to sit still and so now I use mantras and say kind words to myself to ease through it. Most of all I have communicated with my yoga teachers so they know what is going on. One yoga teacher will hold hands and sit with me while the others are in savasana so I don't need to leave the room. Breathing helps. As my other yoga teacher says it is sort of hard to think bad thoughts while you are focusing on your breathing. Namaste.

Tania Magnan

I have found that the breathing can help to ease the anxiety/panic attacks, at any time, even during a yoga practice. Abdominal Breathing, while the student is either in savasana or goddess pose, can immediately relieve the symptoms. Pranayama is difficult for beginning students, so it just may be that he was holding his breath, then hyperventilating in a pose that felt constrictive. Like Swenson says, working together, you can both help each other out—the student can help you learn more about the situation; you can teach him to breathe properly.

theresa (south Africa)

May I suggest the reason for the panicattack in your studen could be that he was notbreathing properly. This would naturally cause the nervouse system to react. When the heart staryts to beat faster, the student might start feeling uneasy and the panic increased. He might also be trying too hard as a beginner, he needs lots of encouragement with his minor achievenents, and he should start to relax into the pose, without breath retention. So may I conclude by saying "Watch his breath",

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