How I overcame anxiety and panic attacks – and how you can too.

This is a candid post. I’m opening up and exposing myself in ways I have never done before. Up until six years ago I was coping with crippling anxiety and constant panic attacks. No one but my sweet husband and very close family and friends knew about this. How could this be? A Hatha Yoga teacher suffering from anxiety?

I kept going with my life, working, teaching, doing the laundry, even traveling and doing “fun things”. But everything was tinged with a cloudy, grayish tone. I could not enjoy my life fully, because the feeling of “impending doom” was always there.

I tried everything it was suggested to me: therapy, certain Hatha and Iyengar yoga poses, different natural herbs, teas, even medication – nothing would work. The therapy sessions would give me a brief relief, but after a few days, the feeling was back. Medication would make me nauseous, drowsy, and feeling like anything (or anyone) but myself, so I stopped taking them right away (I don’t necessarily recommend people stop taking medication, this was just my own experience).

After trying different techniques, I finally found the two most helpful tools for me. The first one was food (yes, you read it right), simply… food. I discovered that my panic attacks were happening due to an endocrine imbalance caused by abnormal blood sugar levels. Say what? Basically, I wasn’t eating enough – or often enough – and I wasn’t eating the right foods for my Ayurvedic dosha (or my natural body constitution). I worked closely with my Ayurveda teachers and decided on a plan of action to support my body and natural needs. Reconnecting with my study and practice of Ayurveda, which I started learning in my early twenties, was such a blessing. Being a Vata Pitta type (more Vata especially in the Winter), I needed specific foods to keep me “grounded”. I also needed to eat more often and avoid certain foods (hello, beloved coffee), particularly at certain times. This is all I did, and it was already very helpful. I also resumed my Ayurveda practice and consultations, which helped me to stay on track with my own diet and personal practice. Pretty soon friends and clients started to pour in, asking for advice on different issues, from weight loss to dealing with the exact same things I had to deal with.

Small (yet effective) changes in my eating habits dealt with my anxiety about 60% of the time (which indeed was major). The other 40% demanded a deeper exploration. I needed to deal with triggers caused by deeply entrenched subconscious thought forms; thoughts and tendencies I was carrying since I was a little girl, growing up in one of the most dangerous cities in the world (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). If you live in Rio you know that “being anxious and paranoid” is not a mental health condition, but a requirement for staying alive. How do you get rid of this constant feeling, particularly when you don’t need it for survival anymore?

This is where the second most helpful tool to deal with my anxiety came along: Kundalini Yoga & Meditation. Years ago I stumbled across an article about how Kundalini Yoga cured a woman’s cystic acne, another issue I struggled with in addition to anxiety, courtesy of an unbalanced endocrine system. Feeling incredibly inspired by the article, I decided to give it a try.

I still remember my first Kundalini group class; I was both puzzled and enchanted by this powerful practice. There were so many strange arm movements, virtually no alignment instructions (“how is this even called Yoga?”, I remember thinking), some dancing, even some occasional shouting. But it felt amazing and I kept with it. Then before I could even process what was happening, I realized that it had been several months since my last panic attack. As I write this, it has actually been YEARS since I had a panic attack. In fact, I came to a point where I almost forget that I used to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks.

After a few months practicing on my own, I enrolled and completed the most incredible and transformative Yoga Teacher Training I have ever experienced after 15 years of teaching traditional Hatha and Iyengar Yoga, and I am pleased to say that my life has never been the same. Thank G.O.D.!