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April 9, 2014

Mind over Panic Attacks. ~ Christine Meade

sweaty bikram

Breathwork and Bikram can help control the mind.

Sweat streams down my forehead, and the moisturizer I put on that morning stings my eyes as it melts off my face. My bangs are stuck in an artistic array of geometric angles. I focus on one spot on the ceiling above me as I try to breathe normally. In through my nose. Out through my nose.

The teacher pulls open the heavy glass window in the black of the room and a slight stream of air walks over my toasted body, and I can’t imagine anything sweeter, anything more perfect, than that small taste of cool air. That, and maybe a cold drink of water.

Bikram yoga does that: it heats you up to a point where all you long for, all you can possibly dream for in this world, are the most elemental things: water, air, and getting the hell out of that room as soon as the 90 minutes are up.

I hadn’t been in a Bikram studio in about three years, although I teach and am a frequenter of heated vinyasa yoga classes. But after breaking my hand at the end of December, I still wasn’t able to put the weight on it needed for a down dog or plank.

Desperate to return to any sort of yoga outside of my modified home practice, my friend suggested I go back to Bikram. It felt great to be back in a studio and a part of something. For those 90 minutes, you are in it with all those other sweaty, suffering bodies. And for the first class or two, I was seriously suffering.

Instructors encourage you to reach for that “pain sensation,” a far cry from the typical vinyasa “child pose whenever you need it” mantra. But, after going three times in a week, it got easier.

The heat trains you to put mind over matter. If you give in to the panicky feeling that it is much too hot and odds are you’ll probably faint and die in the middle of the class or at the very least, your organs have been cooked inside you, then you do start to see stars and collapse into a messy heap on your towel(s). However, if you’re able to calm the breath, keep it regular and gaze steadily at your own eyes in the mirror, the dizziness and lightheadedness dissipates. Mind over matter.

When I was a sophomore in college, my doctor prescribed me with a medication that I was very allergic to, which resulted in anaphylaxis. After that scary experience, I kept having these moments where I thought it was happening again.

It’d start with a flushed feeling in my face and a tightening of my airways, and soon, I could barely see, my heart beating so fast I was sure I was about to die.

This happened a number of times, so I went back to the doctor and as I was describing the symptoms again, she paused and said, “Honey, I think you’re having panic attacks.” I sat there, my jaw slack, completely shocked. My mind had the power to create such extreme physical reactions? I was incredulous.

Her words came back to me every time I’d start to feel that heat rising up my throat into my face.

My mind is doing this. Don’t give in to the panic.

Once I realized I had the power to control the panic attacks, I never got one again. I’ve felt the start of them, sure, but each time I was able to calm myself back down with deep breathing.

Learning to control our minds is why we should meditate or practice yoga. Or at least part of the reason. Controlling the mind allows us to avoid or reduce stress, deal with life’s ups and downs with a level head and stay calm in anxiety-producing situations.

So many of us put so much effort into controlling our bodies through disciplined exercise and diet, but true personal strength and endurance comes from developing the capacity to calm and control the mind. And with that comes a whole lot more peace and a whole lot more ease surviving a 90-minute, drenching yoga class.

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Apprentice Editor: Kimby Maxson / Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Courtesy of Author

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Christine Meade