Breathing at the Dentist


The practice of mindfulness is one that travels.  We can carry it with us wherever we go.  And the more places we carry it with us the more able we are to connect with a widening circle of experiences happening in the here and now.  When we cultivate connection we’re also cultivating the art of understanding and acceptance.  And the more things we can learn to accept the happier we’ll be.

Yesterday I carried my mindfulness practice with me into the dentist’s chair.  I don’t go to the dentist very often, on account of it being one of the fastest ways to spend a lot of money.  So when I do go it’s because I’m having an issue.  Yesterday I went in to have two cavities filled, one of which made it difficult to chew on one side of my mouth.  I was not looking forward to this experience, as I’m sure most everyone can relate to.  I imagine it must at times be challenging to be a dentist or dental assistant because no one is ever really happy to see you.  While one might be glad to have their tooth pain addressed not many people want to go to the dentist.  I’ve only had one other cavity in my life and so I couldn’t remember how much pain to expect or what the experience would be like but I did know I didn’t particularly want to be there.

These days I enjoy the new opportunities that present themselves in my daily life in order to expand my mindfulness practice so that it can grow and strengthen.  So while I was not thrilled about having to go to the dentist I did appreciate having a new situation in which to carry my mindfulness into.  On the way from my car to the front door of the dental office just before 9:00am yesterday morning, with a bright blue sky overhead and a nice winter chill in the air, I breathed in and out the golden sunshine and paid attention to my steps as I walked.  I greeted the man at the reception desk with  a light disposition and a big smile.  Within a few minutes I was in the dentist’s chair having a numbing agent swabbed on my gums in preparation for the insertion of a large needle.  I closed my eyes and connected with my breathing.  Breathing in I know that I breathing in, breathing out I know that I am breathing out.  Breathing in I feel my stomach rise, breathing out I feel my stomach fall.  

When the dentist put the needle in he remarked in surprise, “You didn’t even flinch, good job!”  I took that as encouragement that my breathing was working and kept it up :)  When he was finished with the needle he told me that the hard part was over and then turned off the light and left the room, in order to wait for my mouth to get fully anesthetized.  The dentist’s chair I sat in faced a large sliding glass door that took up almost the entirety of the wall of the small exam room I was in.  I had a lovely view of a tree just outside the door.  As my mouth started to feel numb and strange I enjoyed the tree outside and the blue sky.  I practiced breathing and smiling with the tree and felt its solidity and beauty and perseverance.  I wasn’t worrying about the procedure or spending time thinking about how painful it was going to be or how I would be spending my month’s paycheck on the visit.  I was breathing in and breathing out and enjoying my breath.

After 5-10 minutes the dentist came back in and said with a smile, “Did you get a little nap in?” and I replied joyfully, “Ya know, I’m a meditator and I can do that anywhere so that’s what I did!”  I laid back, closed my eyes and the dentist went to work.  There were peculiar sounds, like that of an old computer game I remembered playing as a youth with a spaceship zapping intruders with a ray gun, odd vibrations, and the strain of keeping my mouth propped open but no pain.  I stayed with the natural rhythm of my breath and felt my stomach rising and falling.  When I noticed my shoulders start to tighten up (as our bodies tend to do in uncomfortable situations) I practiced relaxing them and deepening my breath.  I did this over and over.  The more I relaxed and let go the easier it became.

It was a relatively pain free trip to the dentist’s office, both physically and mentally.  The practice of breathing and smiling may sound overly simple, and to some even trivial, but in my own experience it has profound affects and is a limitless source of joy and ease – even in the dentist’s chair!

2 thoughts on “Breathing at the Dentist

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