You engage in pure intimacy everyday. It’s called breathing. How deep it goes is a matter of difference between individuals. That depth and the breath’s effect can also be stifled with reduced intimacy based on how you mentally appraise a situation – an emotional response displays as anxiety or one that is managed and reveals resilience.
The anxious state makes itself known immediately in your breathing. One of the most famous teachings on yoga is the classic Bhagavad Gita, part of India’s epic Mahabharata. Meet Arjuna, the Gita’s protagonist who is suffering an anxiety attack whereby his breathing changes, heart palpates, and thinking becomes obscured. Though his teacher and guide does offer practice with the breath ultimately his anxiety is removed through a deeper understanding of the nature of life.
Our focus is how breathwork can help you manage your ongoing anxious feelings, that disrupt your stomach and heart, as well as an impending anxiety attack.
Let’s again offer a definition for breathwork: “the regulated activities, consciously engaged in, to exercise and optimize the organs of respiration and brainstem nervous impulses that control breathing, with an outcome of improved respiration across a 24-hour period” (Dallaghan).
An anxiety attack is marked by hyperventilation, an increase in breathing rate that eliminates more carbon dioxide than the body is producing at that time. (1) This changes blood pH to a higher alkaline state known as respiratory alkalosis with symptoms similar to Arjuna’s as described in the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, namely lightheaded, tingling in lips, hands or feet, feeling weak, and what we can term as a “mental freak out” due to the physiological changes that limit prefrontal activity of the brain (2).
The Beck Anxiety Inventory (3), a classical clinical diagnostic platform, indicates the following symptoms: numbness or tingling; feeling hot; wobbliness in legs; unable to relax; fear of worst happening; dizzy or lightheaded; heart pounding or racing; unsteady; terrified or afraid; nervous; feeling of choking; hands trembling; shaky/unsteady; fear of losing control; difficulty in breathing; fear of dying; scared; indigestion; faint/lightheaded; face flushed; hot/cold sweats. You would rate from 0 to 3 how strong or not these symptoms are for you.
Experiencing all of these, especially in an intense level, would be extreme. However, many experience some or a lot of these, often in the mild level, which then play out over the long run, reducing stress resilience and adding to the chronic stress load. In other words, anxiety not cared for risks turning into a chronic condition that then severely impacts your overall state of mental and physical health. An analysis of these symptoms reveals they are primarily physiological.
You can address both an anxiety attack and the ongoing burden of anxiety through breathwork. You can do this as its own technique or in combination with other therapies or medication you are being supervised in. It is not meant to replace other treatment. If you are on medication or in other support therapy treatment it is wiser to continue with that and build up the breathwork practice gradually. It is not recommended to drop prescribed medication or other treatments in the hope that breathwork will fix it. Any benefit from these practices come from a regular practice over the long term.