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Panic at the Dentist

Recently, all the right (or wrong?) things came together to cause what felt like a minor panic attack at the dentist’s office. Frozen. Panicked. Overwhelmed. So, there I am, a 33-year-old woman wearing that weird paper bib, with quiet tears streaming down her face. I managed to smile a mildly embarrassed “I’m fine” to the dental hygienist who is clearly unconvinced. Great.

Shortly thereafter, the hygienist left the room to wait for the Novocain to take full effect (and most likely to give me space, as well). I weighed what I saw as my current options: (1) awkwardly sneak out, cry it out in the car, and get my filling done another day, or (2) figure out how to compose myself in the next 10 minutes and finish the appointment. I opted for #2 and dug into my metaphorical yoga toolbox for something to help. Left nostril breathing, or Chandra Bhedana Pranayama,

deactivates the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for the body’s flight or fight response) and moves you into a more parasympathetic state (balanced, calm, and relaxed). I covered my right nostril with my thumb and took 27 long, slow breaths in and out through my left nostril. And you know what? It worked. I watched my panic subside and the tears stop. By the time the dentist and hygienist returned, I wouldn’t say I felt completely normal, but I was able to sit calmly and let them finish the work I had come in for.

This, to me is the most valuable and empowering part of yoga. If I could be on my mat practicing pranayama, meditation, and asana all day, that would be incredible. Unfortunately, that’s not realistic. What is possible though, is to take what I learn in my practice and bring it out into the world. What happens during a yoga practice is just that: it’s practice. It’s a dress rehearsal for when life happens off the mat and you need to show up with resilience and presence. And the really crazy thing is that it actually works.

Interested in learning more techniques to deactivate the sympathetic nervous system? Join me for Reiki and Restorative Yoga at Victory Power Yoga on August 18th.

Studies on the effects of Left Nostril Breathing:

Immediate effect of chandra nadi pranayama (left unilateral forced nostril breathing) on cardiovascular parameters in hypertensive patients

Slow Yogic Breathing Through Right and Left Nostril Influences Sympathovagal Balance, Heart Rate Variability, and Cardiovascular Risks in Young Adults

Photo credit: Erin Brown Photography

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