In the first 30 years of my life, I probably had 30 cavities filled, all without Novocain.
While many dread a root canal, to me it is just another procedure. However, my last one was complicated. The oral surgeon did several sets of X-rays and announced that there was a 40 percent chance that he would not be able to access the severely twisted roots. I agreed to move forward, and within 30 minutes he successfully completed the operation.
While the endodontist no doubt was skilled, I attribute the ease at which he was able to complete the procedure to my state of mind which affected my physical state. From the time the doctor informed me of the problem, until he laid down all his tools, I was in the zen zone. I tapped into yoga to calm anxiety. I was practicing pranayama (breathwork) and silently chanting the healing mantra Ra Ma Da Sa.
Jennifer Closshey, a Chopra Center certified yoga and meditation instructor, recently addressed therapists in Austin at the International Association of Yoga Therapists’ annual conference, SYTAR. She said nine to 15 percent of those who go to dentists have major anxiety. Instead of knowing how to cool themselves down with breathing or meditation, they resort to laughing gas (N2O) or intravenous sedation.
According to the National Institute of Health’s web site, “many anaesthesiologists believe that the potential dangers of N2O are so great that it should no longer be used at all for routine clinical anaesthesia.”
Yogis to the rescue.
Founded by Deepak Chopra in 1996, the Chopra Center helps people experience physical healing, emotional freedom, and higher states of consciousness by integrating the healing arts of the East with the West.
For some, anxiety is difficult to control and the fight or flight mechanism kicks in on the dentist’s chair. Their blood pressure rises, perspiration increases, the adrenal glands pump out adrenaline and cortisol and they may feel tightening of the chest and uneasy breathing. While this response makes it harder and more complicated for the dentist to do his or her job, overactive fight or flight response can lead to diabetes, obesity, suppressed immune system and heart disease.
“Regular activation of fight or flight response in non-life threatening situations can weaken our health,” explains Closshey. “Very few people at the dentists are practicing experienced yogis” who know how to manage stress.
Restful awareness and self regulation can control the inappropriate response mechanism. Yoga lowers cortisol levels and increases the body response system. Yogis traditionally can manage their stress through postures, breathing and meditation, and the latter two can easily be done without disturbing the dentist or hygienist.
Before you lie horizontal with your apron pinned on, Closshey suggests you stand up in the office and do gentle arching and relaxing of the back, filling the lungs with air on the back bend and exhaling stale air with the forward rounding movement.
Once you’re lying down on the chair, breathe in for a count of four, and out for a count of six. Focusing on the breath, and the smooth inhalation and exhalation, is one of the primary methods that yogis use to calm themselves.
Mudras are hand positions, and Closshey likes uttarabodhi mudra where hands are held together with fingers interlaced. For females, the right thumb is over the left, and for males, the left is over the right. The index fingers are pointed upwards, together.
For intense anxiety, Closshey recommends touching the fingers for a count of 10 on each digit. The thumb represents fire, the index finger represents air, the middle finger is ether or space, the ring finger is earth and the pinky is water.
Finally, tapping on the back of each hand, below the knuckle, between the ring finger and pinky, is an antidote to stress at the dentist’s.
For 5,000 years, yoga has been used to bring about a relaxed state of mind. In our fast paced environment, it makes sense to bring the calming transformative practice to where ever one is not feeling at ease, including the dentist’s chair.