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Getting Upside Down With Panic

By Randall Buskirk

MON JUL 19, 2021

There's a Sanskrit term in yoga which Kai might be reminding us of above. Uttanita, or "upside down."

It can be a fruitful practice to look at things from a different perspective, to consider the opposite or converse of what we normally think. In fact, those who know the ancient Sanskrit language say that words often mean both one thing and its opposite. It makes for a lively tradition that way.

At a fundamental level, our own ability to stand upright is because we are simultaneously upside down, at least from someone's perspective on the other side of the planet. Well, that might be stretching it, but you get the idea....

I've been thinking about uttanita because I presented a workshop this past week on the emotion of panic. And the approach I took was one that might be upside down from the way we often are made to understand panic. Rather than trying to eliminate or repress panic, I advocated for getting good at it. 

Panic, you see, is the emotion that is there to save your life against immediate danger, whether real or perceived (which is still real to your panic). Panic is your own built-in first responder.

You want it around, just like you probably want a fire station near enough to your home.

Likewise, you want to get good at your fight, flight, freeze, and flock responses—as panic is often categorized. You don't want to get rid of them. 

Of course, you probably don't want to be in that panic mode all the time, just like you probably don't want the fire department coming to your house everyday. But that's not the fire department's fault. Maybe you need to get the electric panel fixed.

So with panic—with your fight, flight, freeze, or flock response—you might want to get good at channeling its intense energy, rather than unskillfully expressing or repressing it. Panic shows up for a reason, more than ready to save you. 

To see an excellent example of panic working well in its several forms at a surfing event, you can watch this video. Notice not only the surfer, but also everyone else in the video. And also the necessary down-regulation or cooling-off phase, the tell-the-story and shake-it-off phase. Panic is an intense learning emotion, as well as survival emotion, so it’s important to integrate its lessons. 

If panic shows up all the time, though, maybe something else needs to be addressed, if possible. And if it's not possible, panic will be there for you. It's a strength, a superpower, really. 

In a sense, panic shows up when things have been turned upside down or inside out. When the world is or at least seems topsy-turvy to you, panic is there to help make it right for you.

That might be a contrarian way of looking at panic. If it seems useful to you, though, give yourself plenty of time to work with it and feel your way into what it means for you and how it might work to your own advantage. I invite you to make it yoga. 

For an uttanita course on stress, see Engaging Stress: Your Power to Create Meaning.