Stave off panic | Anxiety tips: Alternative Nostril Breathing

Panic or anxiety attacks are the worst. They can be terrifying and confusing. And the thing with panic is that it tends to spread...

We notice our heart beating fast for instance, and a thought pops up to say "that's not right". Then another thought comes along "maybe I have a heart problem" and before we know it our body responds. Anxiety is hugely physiological, so suddenly, we struggle to catch our breath, we feel hot and dizzy, and we can't see properly. So now we think "shit, I really must by dying" and on it goes...

And because of that spiral, even anxiety about anxiety, can trigger a response.

When I found a couple of tools that worked for me, it helped stop that spiralling pattern, because I thought: "I recognise this", "I know what to do" and suddenly the prospect of having a panic attack felt a lot less scary, and they stopped.

I'm going to show you one of those tools I've used in the past. It's called Alternative Nostril Breathing or Nadi Shodhana Prānāyāma - and it's really simple and effective.

It's a yoga breathing practice that has a lot of history. If you're interested in how it works, have a read of this blog explaining the some of the history and science behind it.

One of the benefits of this technique, or of any conscious breathing exercise, is that slowing down our breath also sends a message to our whole parasympathetic nervous system that things are safe - that they're ok.

Also, as it can be a little tricky to pick up straight away, focusing on the exercise itself, means our brain becomes occupied. It can't keep ruminating on the same thoughts that feed the feeling that things are out of control.

See the video and steps below for how to try it:

  1. Close your eyes or find a soft gaze.

  2. Gently cover one nostril with your thumb.

  3. Breathe through the uncovered nostril for about 5 seconds (or whatever rhythm suits you best).

  4. Hold your breath, switch your ring finger to cover your other nostril.

  5. Breathe out through the uncovered nostril for 5 seconds.

  6. Breathe in through the same nostril and at the top hold and switch.

  7. Repeat until you feel a bit calmer or more grounded.

So that's it. Give it a try and let me know how you find it. Everyone is different - some people find focusing on the breath doesn't work at all. If you find it increasing your sense of anxiety, just open your eyes, feel the seat beneath you, your feet on the ground, and notice the sounds, sights and textures of your environment around you.

There's no one fix-all approach to anxiety, but this one is certainly is a good place to start.

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