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.
Read David Swenson's reply:
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.