My first panic attack is still a vivid memory. I was a sophomore in high school, it happened during theatre class. I remember the alarmingly red walls of the bathroom stall and how cold I felt on the tile, trying to breathe but somehow unable to. I remember thinking it was gross to be on the floor but didn’t have the energy to get up. After it passed, I got up and silently went back into class. I told no one for years about my panic attacks or even that I felt anxious.
I’d always been a cautious kid growing up, often feeling wary of people and situations. Even before I could speak, I would only allow those who had been around for a few days at least to hold me. As I got older, I also developed perfectionist tendencies as a result of growing up in a competitive environment. This only heightened my anxiety. I never felt like I was good enough. I became incredibly self-conscious and began to deeply dislike who I was. I hated myself and assumed everyone else did, too. I always thought, well — what is there to like? I certainly didn’t see anything.
And so my anxiety bled into every aspect of my life. I spent afternoons and weekends having solo movie marathons, hiding my anxiety-induced acne, and wondering what it was about me that was so damn unlovable. I was caught in a cycle but didn’t have the energy to pull myself out. For years, I stayed in this cycle. I didn’t even really want to change after some point. My anxiety, cynicism, self-hatred… all of these things became badges of honor for me. I acted like my anxiety meant I was doing something worthwhile. My cynicism meant I was seeing the world clearly. And self-hatred just felt like a default setting. And then one evening, some friends visited for a music festival and we all took some MDMA before a show. During the “come-up”, when the drug is beginning to take effect, I suddenly began experiencing a panic attack. I stopped breathing entirely, couldn’t speak, couldn’t even move. I wasn’t totally conscious, I couldn’t get oxygen into my system. I was literally frozen in my anxiety. Living things breathe, I mentally screamed at myself. If you want to live, you have to breathe. But I just… couldn’t.
My now-husband found me in the dark, tucked away from everyone else, crouched behind a bed. I couldn’t speak so I peered at him with giant eyes screaming desperation. He cradled me, forehead to forehead, and somehow I found my way back to my breath. After that night, after finding my way back to my breath when it felt most impossible, I had an inkling of hope that I could find my way back out of all of this. So I set out to try.
I started with taking better care of myself: sleeping normal hours (I also felt strangely proud of my four-hour sleeps and coffee addiction for many years), eating organic/whole foods, and exercising. Within weeks, I felt better. It had always been difficult for me to lose weight, a result of my high level of anxiety producing high levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) in my body. But slowly, my body and mind began to shift to a healthier state. It was slow progress, though. I might feel peaceful and wonderful for days or even weeks, but when the anxiety hit it always hit so damn hard. And if I’m being totally honest with myself, I was still experiencing low-grade anxiety on a daily basis. It was just so much better than before that I almost didn’t mind. But I still searched for ways to push through this block that was keeping me from truly expressing and embodying myself, keeping me from actually experiencing and engaging with life.
I knew from research and recommendation that yoga and meditation would do wonders for me. But — I was too self-conscious to attend a yoga class and too afraid of my own mind to meditate. For years, I toyed with the idea of meditating for five minutes a day. I think I maybe actually did it twice in that time. I just couldn’t get comfortable with the idea of being thoughtless. In the few times I did try to meditate, I would (almost immediately) have a negative thought, then fall into a cycle of anxiety over having the thought when I’m “supposed to be meditating” and thoughtless. Viewing meditation as sitting on the floor thinking of nothing was a huge barrier to my personal growth and actually made me anxious about the whole practice. To expect our minds not to produce thoughts is like asking the moon not to wax/wane or the ocean not to make waves. It goes against the very nature of these things!
When I found Kundalini Yoga, I experienced its power instantly through practice. Truly, this is the most effective way for us to understand anything: to bring the wisdom into our own being through experience. However, modern science has begun to confirm what yogis have known is true for thousands of years. Meditation is an effective tool that you can use anytime, anywhere to improve the quality of your life and alleviate anxiety. Meditation literally changes the brain, quieting “the monkey mind” (the default mode network of the brain), shifting the physical structure of the brain (decreasing brain cell volume in the amygdala — associated with fear, anxiety, and stress — while increasing the brain cell volume of the hippocampus — associated with learning and memory), and preserving the grey matter volume throughout the brain as we age. This is so much more than love-and-light, fluffy spirituality. This is grounded, practical, and effective. So it’s really no surprise that my Sadhana, my daily practice, completely upgraded my life.
Now, instead of allowing my mind to get stuck in my thought-stream, I I’d found a tool to effectively cut through the thought patterns and re-wire the mind. I began using Kundalini Yoga as a way to train my mind out of anxiety. I hadn’t realized it, but I had been programmed for anxiety all my life. I figured that if my mind was trained once, it could be trained again. Our minds are truly malleable, much more so than we realize. Suffice to say, the Kundalini Yoga worked. With daily, consistent, devoted practice, I finally found my way out of anxiety and into life.
Where I once was anxious of what the world would throw at me next, I am now trusting of what is to come as I see myself divinely at one with all that is. Where I once would contract in fear of judgement or failure, I am now confident in my projection and ability to deliver. My breath is deeper each day, and my days are fuller with each breath. I love myself, I love my beauty, I love my life and all those who participate in my reality. It’s a wonderfully different me that is somehow more me than I ever was before.
Meditation to Remove Fear of the Future
This meditation clears our fears and anxieties about the future, which have been created from our subconcious memories of the past. It opens our heart centers and connects us to the flow of life.
Sit in Easy Pose (legs crossed). Rest the back of your left hand in the palm of your right hand. Grab your left hand with your right, so that your right thumb is nestled in your left palm. Cross your left thumb over your right. Curve the fingers of your right hand to gently hold the left hand. Place this mudra at your heart center, resting against your chest. This mudra brings a peaceful, secure feeling. Eyes are closed and focused at the third eye. Breathe long and deep.
Meditate silently with Dhan Dhan Ram Das Gur. This mantra manifests miracles in your life. Continue for 3 to 31 minutes. To end the meditation, inhale deeply and relax.