by Deborah Charnes

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 told me 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 doctor was obviously skilled, I attribute the ease at which he was able to complete the procedure to my state of mind. From the time the doctor informed me of the problem, until he laid down all his tools, I was in the zen zone. I was practicing pranayama (breathwork) and silently chanting the healing mantra Ra Ma Da Sa.

Dental Anxiety

Jennifer Closshey, a Chopra Center certified yoga and meditation instructor, recently addressed therapists in Austin at the International Association of Yoga Therapists’ annual conference. She said 9-15 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 website, “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 in a dentist’s chair is difficult to control, which can make the “fight-or-flight” mechanism kick in. Blood pressure rises, perspiration increases, the adrenal glands pump out adrenaline and cortisol, which causes a tightening of the chest and uneasy breathing. This doesn’t just make the dentist’s job difficult; overactive fightor- flight response can lead to diabetes, obesity, suppressed immune system and heart disease.

Restful awareness and selfregulation 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.

Yogi Anti-Anxiety Tips

Here are several yogi options for calming anxiety in a dental chair (and in many other anxious situations):

  • Prepare. Before you lie horizontal with your dental 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.
  • Breathe. 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.
  • Digit count. For intense anxiety, Closshey recommends touching the fingers for a count of 10 on each digit.
  • Tap. 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 office.

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.

Deborah CharnesDeborah Charnes is a certified yoga teacher with advanced training in Ayurveda and yoga therapy. She owns The Namaste Counsel ( and The Write Counsel (FaceBook >TheWriteCounsel) in San Antonio and can be reached at 210-381-1846.

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