Fear As an Adventure

Fear As an Adventure

Dear Yoga Community,

I have a confession, I am terrified of needles. I know it seems strange coming from a person with many tattoos, but it is true nonetheless.

Earlier this year when I was assessing my health insurance I decided now was the time to add dental insurance and address my poorly neglected mouth and its needs.

My expectations were to go into my new dentist walking distance from my house, have a routine cleaning and have no real problems. After my X-rays I was told I needed a deep cleaning (requiring novocain), four cavities filled and a crown replaced. I could feel myself going into panic. The very kind dentist told me we were not going to do all of these procedures at once, and I promptly left and continued to neglect my mouth for another six months.

I was recently on retreat with one of my dearest friends at Harmony Hill, and I heard something to this effect: you can think of fear as fear or you can think of fear as an adventure.

I decided to take on this dental/medical fear as an adventure. Last week I went in to get one quadrant of my mouth cleaned and I met my fear with many of the tools I teach in my private yoga therapy practice: lovingkindness, repetitive and rhythmic movement and yoga nidra. I still cried with the last shot, but I did not go into full panic mode. My legs did not shake. My mind did not race into horrible situations that could happen, they rested on my lovingkindness phrases. I did not even cry before the needles came into the room.

This week I had the other three quadrants cleaned. I woke up that morning and did a yoga nidra that helped to calm my nervous system. Every time my thoughts drifted to the upcoming appointment I felt my right foot, then my left foot to help re-ground me into what was presently happening. When I arrived at the dentist’s office I plugged in my own yoga nidra recording and listened in the waiting room. I looked at people who appeared calm and at ease and just observed them. (I recently read a study that showed when we are experiencing anxiety our nervous systems will actually start to relax just by observing others who are relaxed and calm.)

When the cleaning started I offered myself and my dental hygenist lovingkindness, which made me feel more connected and more loving toward the person whom I normally would feel fear towards. When my mind became distracted I would feel my right foot and then my left foot. I would move my right foot ever so slightly with my inhale, relax it with my exhale and move and relax the left foot with my next breath. I would do this several times before going back to my lovingkindness phrases.

Although the whole experience was less than enjoyable, it was also quite transformative. For the first time I actually felt like I had some tools that I could use to work successfully with the situation. I have tried deep breathing, closing my eyes, and I was even a participant in a dental fears study years ago. Yet none of these tools seemed to help me.

I could not tell you this for certain, but I believe my daily lovingkindness meditation helped prime me to be ready to work with this fear in a new way.  I also believe that by practicing these tools when I am not at my highest level of anxiety helped them to be more successful when I needed them most.

Now I still have to go back for my cavities and my crown, but there is a very small part of me that is interested in learning more about this fear as an adventure instead of fear as just fear.

I look forward to seeing you on or off the mat!

Laura Humpf and Satmato Yoga Therapy