Panic attack under water: Yoga to the rescue.

My dive buddy Diego and I were descending together; then he gave the signal that he was not okay. We were on our second day of open water dive certification in Monterey. That morning the ocean was rough, surging and murky. The dive instructors almost canceled the training as diving from the beach requires walking from shore into the sea, but if the waves are too large, they can knock over divers onto rocks.

There was no reason to doubt Diego’s ability. He is a firefighter, massively built, and is training in sea rescues. When Diego signaled to go up, I hesitated, unsure of what to do. I thought about going up with him, but In my confusion my mask filled with water, then I gulped in sea water. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t breathe. I started to thrash. At that moment, I said to myself, “Misako, you are panicking” It was as if I were watching my drama calmly from a distance. I pressed the regulator, and air filled my mouth, I breathed once, twice and then I could feel my heart racing. “Not a problem, just relax,” said that same inner voice. I looked up, exhaled through my nose to clear my mask, then I could see my instructors asking me if I was okay. I signaled “so-so” and sat on the bottom, under the 20 ft of water, until my heart slowed and I could once again breathe naturally. I was okay.

I later learned that Diego had sea sickness, so he surfaced until it passed. We all finished up the dive and headed back to the beach.

I teach yoga and meditation, and I knew how yoga enables us to relieve daily life stresses. Until that time, however, I had never experienced a full-blown panic attack. I now know that when we practice yoga and meditation, we are cultivating life skills that can literally come to our rescue.