My mental health story: a panic attack leads me to yoga

Published by Annie Barrett: 
May 9, 2022

May is mental health awareness month and I'd love to share my mental health story with you.

30 years ago, I was a stressed out, anxious college student in my first yoga class. I had recently had an experience that I now understand as a panic attack. It happened while I was taking an exam. While taking the exam, I became so anxious, flustered, and agitated both physically and mentally that I couldn't focus enough to continue the test. My pulse rose, my breathing became dis-regulated, and all I knew is that I had to get out of there. I left the room and I didn't finish the exam. That had never happened to me before. The episode scared me and I knew I needed to figure out something that would help me feel better.

Shortly after my panic attack, I heard about yoga classes on campus. Yoga was still kind of a fringe activity in the early 90s. I didn't even know anyone who practiced yoga, but for some reason, I felt compelled to check out the class. During the class, I felt awkward because I didn't know the poses and it seemed like everyone else did. The teacher kept reminding us to breathe.

Bit by bit, I started to feel different and better. I don't remember much about what we did in the class, but what I do remember clearly is the guided relaxation exercise we did at the end. I was lying down, eyes closed, breathing calmly and all of a sudden, I felt wonderful. More relaxed, more at ease, more myself than I had remembered ever feeling before. I didn't know how or why it felt so good, but I knew I had found something important for myself.

That was the day I began my wellbeing journey. Fast forward to age 51. I've dedicated 30 years to learning and growing in yoga, mindfulness, meditation, lifestyle medicine, nutrition, coaching and Ayurveda . All of it grew out that first yoga class experience. I haven't had another panic attack since that day! I've certainly been stressed, anxious, fearful, grief-stricken and overwhelmed. These emotions are part of the human experience. But, yoga, meditation and mindfulness have been my saving grace. They are practices I do daily to keep my mental health in check.

I want meditation, mindfulness and yoga to be accessible to everyone! Last week, I presented mindfulness and meditation strategies to 200 participants at the National Head Start Conference. I shared practices that I've been practicing for years and continue to practice daily. I realized I wanted these folks to have an easy way to continue to practice these strategies so I did something I've been meaning to do for a long while! I uploaded my guided audio practices to Insight Timer and Sound Cloud.

Follow me on Insight Timer and Sound Cloud!

Insight Timer is my favorite meditation app. It is totally free. It has a very cool timer function and it also has thousands of guided meditations from teachers all over the world. You can easily download the app, and check out my profile and audio tracks here. New tracks will be added soon! Please consider following me and rating my tracks. This will help others find my meditations.

I'm also on Sound Cloud. I have uploaded many meditations and audio talks on this platform. You can download the Sound Cloud app and play these tracks from anywhere.