The Samahita Blog

Breathing Exercises to Relieve Anxiety & Panic Attacks

Paul Dallaghan
By Paul Dallaghan

You can address both an anxiety attack and the ongoing burden of anxiety through breathing exercises. 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.

A: Breathwork in response to an anxiety or panic attack:

  1. Laying prone breath
  • Lay down on the front of your body on the floor/mat/bed/couch
  • Fold arms and cross them under your forehead
  • Put most attention on your inhale

Inhale to medium capacity – belly and side ribs expand so it feels your back rises up
Exhale without any extra effort – allow it to flow out and sink with it
Aim for at least 20 breaths like this or more until the condition is returned to normal

The nature of the position puts a stronger gravitational force on the exhale which is why little effort is needed. A panic or anxiety attack is typically accompanied by hyperventilation which is a form of excessive exhales within quickened breathing. Now a longer, smoother, medium full inhale while laying on your belly allows maximum massage from the diaphragm to the upper abdominal stress site. Any physiological abnormalities can stabilize.

A more enduring anxiety state, without some of the acute reactions of an attack, then needs to be addressed and transformed physiologically. In short, you are living in a prolonged fight-fright-flight state. It needs direct intervention to reduce its chronic impact.

This routine is targeted at managing an acute anxiety state. To use breathwork to manage an ongoing anxiety burden see this practice (B). To learn a 10-minute breathwork routine for stress see the Quad-Ratio Breath post. To grow your breathwork practice into a regular routine for stress and anxiety see this practice (C). To learn more on the background and how these routines are integrated within a more comprehensive approach to stress and anxiety see these two articles.

Paul Dallaghan’s expertise with breathwork, body and meditative practices comes from three sources: over 25 years of daily dedicated practice and teaching these techniques; immersion in the original culture through one-on-one direct training in practice and study of ancient texts; doctoral scientific research at a leading US university (Emory) on yoga and breath in terms of stress, health and aging. Paul occupies a unique space to impart genuine teaching and science on these practices, acknowledged by his teacher and lineage (Kuvalayananda) in India as a Teacher-of-teachers and a Master of Breath, identified to carry the tradition (Pranayama). This places him as the only master-level yoga and breath practitioner currently immersed in scientific academic research on breathwork, stress and health. His sincere and ongoing role is to teach, write and research to help put out experienced and authentic information on these areas in a world full of confusion and conflicting messages both off and online.

For more on his background see his bio.

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