This is an article written by Amy Dolan of https://www.oxforddentalidahofalls.com. Amy writes regular inspirational articles on topics related to yoga and dental care on her blog. She teaches yoga, is a dental hygenist, and lives with her husband and three young children in Wayne, PA, about 15 miles outside of Philadelphia.
“With practice all will come.”
I had a dentist appointment this week. While I go to the dentist religiously every six months, every six months I work myself up into a lather worrying about the pending appointment. This week was no different. Here’s a glimpse into my inner-‘fraidy-cat-world. It starts with a heavy sense of dread when the dental office calls to confirm the appointment. Over the next few days, I spend a little energy coming up with plausible reasons to cancel the appointment. Then I give myself an inner scolding for even considering chickening out. By the time the morning of the appointment arrives, I am a full-fledged nervous wreck.
In the midst of this most recent teeth cleaning, however, I had an epiphany. Being at the dentist is really not so bad. In fact, with a little shift in perspective, I even convinced myself that having my teeth cleaned is actually kind of luxurious. The hygienist is very gentle and methodical in making sure every last nook and cranny of my mouth is clean and healthy. There is none of the painful scraping and poking that I am so afraid of. My dentist is delightful and always very caring – not only about my mouth, but about my coming-to-the-dentist psychosis. I leave feeling a little pampered, a little prettier (after all, my smile is brighter!) and knowing that my teeth are good to go for another six months.
So, why all the pre-appointment melodrama?
Well, because I’ve always been afraid of going to the dentist. Duh!
Again, I ask, why all the pre-appointment melodrama if going to this particular dentist isn’t painful or scary at all?
And, as I face that very logical, reasonable question, I realize that all the angst I put myself through in the days leading up to a dentist appointment isn’t real. It’s an old habit I wasn’t aware I had. Maybe at some point in my life I had a rough and tough dental hygienist. Maybe my childhood dentist was a sadist with a sharp pick who liked to draw blood during examinations. I really don’t remember. No matter the possible reasons for my fear, my current reality contains only gentle, caring oral care professionals. When I started seeing my dentist nine years ago my reality changed, which should have rendered my fear of the dentist obsolete. Yet, somehow, that old fear stuck with me. It was a habit. A limiting, harmful habit that I allow to cause me days of pain and suffering every six months!
In yoga’s teachings such limiting patterns of behaviors, habits or beliefs are called samskara. We get loads of practice recognizing these samskara when we work in asana on our mats. For instance, it was pretty hard for me to hold onto my belief that I was a very tight, inflexible, tall person when week after week on my yoga mat I could see my hamstrings and hips gradually opening. You see, when I started practicing yoga, I didn’t just believe I was a tight, inflexible, tall person. I knew I was. Not only was I tall, tight and inflexible, but my brother, my dad, my grandmother and my grandfather were too! These characteristics bound me to my family. They were part of what made me me. Until they weren’t, that is. The day I reached my toes in a seated forward bend the thought flew through my head that I might not be so tight anymore. The day my palms reached the floor in a standing forward bend, I knew I was no longer inflexible. Now, while I allow my height to bind me to my Nobles lineage, I embrace my new, bendier self.
So, why was it easier for me to part ways with the belief that I was stiff than the belief that I’m afraid of the dentist? Well, having tight hamstrings isn’t really very threatening. It doesn’t stir up a lot of emotion one way or the other. While trying to touch my toes could cause some pain and discomfort in the back of my legs, I was in charge of whether or not I tried the stretch. And if I did decide to try, I was in charge of how much I’d allow it to hurt. But going to the dentist does stir up my emotions. It causes fear. And fear is a really powerful feeling that affects us physically, mentally and emotionally. Going to the dentist also brings me face to face with some well-established control issues. When I sit in that chair and open wide, I relinquish control over whether or not my mouth is going to hurt to someone else. And that feels risky!
With practice (lots and lots of yoga and nine long years of regular dental appointments), I finally recognize my samskara about the dentist. Now that I recognize it, I can work on letting it go. In six months, perhaps I’ll get that call reminding me of my upcoming appointment without even a hiccup of fear. And, if I do slip back into my habitual dread, I can rest assured that I’ll have another chance to practice again in six months. As Pattabhi Jois says, “With practice, all will come.”
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