Still Better Than A Root Canal

I'm gearing up to finally finish off some dental work I got started a couple of years ago. So I revisited my thoughts on such a thing at the time and find them helpful still. As you read, think about what fear you could face head on with some of the conscious breathing and relaxation you've learned through yoga. Share it with me in the comments, so I don't feel so all alone! :-) 

What's better than a root canal? Pretty much anything, right? At least, that's what I've always heard. So, last weekend I ventured out to the dentist only to hear him say something like, "Blah blah blah root canal, blah blah root canal blah." I'm sorry, what?! Are you actually saying I need a root canal? I came in to the dentist with a very tender molar. All my other teeth are fine. They're great, in fact. But this one molar...

I must interject here to give you a little background. When I was very young, it was discovered that I was one of a select few individuals who had an extra set of baby teeth. I actually only had extra front teeth; but still, that's pretty spectacular if you ask me. And don't go thinking that these were just any normal teeth. These were some seriously Cenozoic era tooth-like structures. I felt so special. Then came the verdict that these teeth must be extracted because, well, they're abnormal. So, in to the dentist's chair I went. The dentist I loved so much: he gave me vouchers for a milkshake at the Dairy Queen every time we got a checkup. When that jerk stuck me with that anesthetic needle, I commenced a crying scream that didn't stop until sometime on the long drive home, milkshake stop included. I was 5 years old.

So, it comes as no surprise then that still today I experience a deep-seated fear of dental work and dental pain. I'd say it's one of my worst fears. That's why I was pretty nervous going in to the dentist with that tender molar. But, I must say I never imagined I would hear the words root canal, much less get one.

Lately, I've been teaching a lot of conscious breathwork for anxiety, stress, and pain relief. Breathwork in general involves understanding the countless beneficial physiological and emotional effects of breathing well, and learning how to breathe more efficiently and effectively on a regular basis. We do breathwork all the time in yoga. In fact, I think it's no stretch to say that breathwork is really the foundation for yogic practices, just as it is the foundation of our physical survival. I haven't been to the dentist in so long, though, I've never had the presence or opportunity to use my breath in a situation like this that really puts it up against a great fear. So, I started breathing.

Believe it or not, the anesthetic was actually the worst part. This was only because a nerve got knicked at the end of the second shot that literally crossed my eyes for several minutes. But even after that, I practiced viloma pranayama for a bit and almost fell asleep, I got so relaxed. After getting a lot of numbing (2-3 times what the apparent average person gets for this procedure), I had only to deal with the psychological warfare of the sounds, smells, and vibrations of the root canal. Yes, I've heard of the people who get complicated and painful procedures like this done with no anesthetic, only breathwork to soothe them. I believe it's possible. I'm not one of them yet. I'm not even ready to try. I still think my dentist should give me milkshake vouchers (or more like smoothies these days).

So, what is better than a root canal? Breathing through a root canal, that's what. This breathing thing really is something. Because I chose to focus on breathing well, I now fear the dentist a little less, and I trust myself a little more. I just marvel at this work that I know will keep evolving over a lifetime. My study of yoga, with my breath at its foundation, is just a way to frame my larger study of my life. As we practice yoga, we all see parallels relating our journey as yoga practitioners to our journey as human beings on Earth, realizing at points that they are one and the same thing. We are all living beings with the need to breathe. Yoga just helps us see that union. So, breathe deeply.