Visiting the dentist is one of those things that we all have to, and should, do.
My failure over the past decade to get regular dental check-ups has cost me dear; namely the loss of a couple of teeth and a rigorous oral hygiene programme that includes frequent visits to see the dental hygienist.
The dental hygienist is taking me (and my teeth!) through a course of treatment where my teeth are ‘deep cleaned’. I won’t go into a graphic description of what ‘deep cleaning’ actually entails but suffice to say it is not pleasant.
At the moment I visit on a monthly basis to have a quarter section of my mouth cleaned. Although it involves some short-lived mild discomfort, it is something that I show up for and do because it will (hopefully) stop the rest of my teeth falling out.
I’d been to one of my regular yoga classes prior to this particular visit and so was feeling pretty calm and relaxed as I climbed into the chair. The hygienist put me at ease, as she always does, by saying that she would be gentle with me.
Having first numbed my mouth with an anaesthetic mouthwash it was time for the injections and the proper anaesthetic. Just before she began the hygienist said, “remember to breathe”, and then each time she went to inject she would say, “deep breath”.
I remembered back to my yoga class a few hours earlier and the pranayama; I closed my eyes, turned my gaze inwards and focussed on my breath. Each time I was injected I took a long, slow, deep breath. I felt relaxed and calm. I didn’t notice the injection.
Of course, once you’ve had the anaesthetic the real work begins. In my case that meant the ‘deep clean’ and whilst my hygienist does her best to be as gentle as possible she does have a job to do and the procedure can be uncomfortable. Each time she reassures me by saying, “if it hurts, raise your hand and I will stop.”
My immediate reaction is to want to raise my hand, so that she will stop immediately and the mild discomfort will go away. If I did that though the work would never get done, so I don’t raise my hand. The question then is if I will raise it, and when.
This is where lesson number two from the mat hit me. When I practice yoga I am often left holding poses and wanting to come out of them prematurely, because they require effort and discipline. I learned early on that often my head will tell me to stop when my body can actually go on, and that when that happens it is only shortly after that the teacher will announce the move to the next pose, or say, “take a well deserved break in child’s pose”.
I realised that in facing the discomfort of having my teeth ‘deep cleaned’ I could use this lesson. So when I wanted to raise my hand I decided, instead, that I would breathe and simply hold on a short while longer (safe in the knowledge that nothing lasts forever).
This worked a treat. In no time at all I was done and out of the chair.
Lessons from my yoga practice had had a positive effect in helping me through an unpleasant experience at the dentist. In fact what they enabled me to do was alter my perception, that the whole thing was terribly unpleasant, and change it into one where the whole experience was actually OK.