It was a crazy morning. Not so much what was going on outside. But inside. Mind racing. A terribly anxious feeling in my gut. That awful, free floating, up in the air kind.
I’d had several hectic weeks and a to-do list that felt completely overwhelming.
But this was my day with my daughter. No work schedule at all. It seems it’s always when we stop that the lurgies rise up and release a rebellion in the mind.
By the time I’d bundled my daughter in the car to head off to the dentist I was frazzled. Add traffic and the need to find a toilet stop in the middle of it all, well, I was running late and completely frantic.
We were late for her appointment. Then we were late for my appointment.
Then something completely unexpected happened.
As I reclined into the dentist chair a warm calm descended.
One doesn’t customarily associate the dentist with relaxation. Yet here I was, mouth stretched unnaturally open, a woman probing my teeth with ominously sharp silver instruments, and I was utterly at peace.
I started practicing a specific breathing technique at the dentist some years ago now. It all started when I’d had a bad adrenal reaction to a needle. From then on, whenever I was in the chair and especially when I was to have a needle, I would work hard to stay with my breath to keep myself calm.
It’s a soft sounding breath – known to yogis as ujjayi or victorious breath – and aptly named so because by focusing on gently constricting the throat to make a soft sound with the breath, we are able to conquer the mind and create some distance between ourselves and our incessant thoughts.
Initially I had to put in conscious focus and effort to breath like this when I went to the dentist. Over time and with practice, it became easier to do. Then, as I realized recently, at some point it kicks in automatically.
Neural plasticity is truly miraculous*. With a little focused attention and effort, we can change old patterns and forge new, healthier connections in our minds.
This is precisely what happened to me. Without any conscious thought or effort at all, the minute I hit the dentist chair, I started the victorious breath.
And that’s exactly what it was – a total annihilator of anxious thoughts and conqueror of the racing mind. The rest of the day unfolded with a more easy-going mindset and in a far more relaxed way than it had begun.
All thanks to a little mindful breathing.
With silly season in full swing and as we run from one social engagement to another, lurch from one appointment to the next, race through to-do lists and shopping lists, perhaps you can find a few moments to pause and steady your breath.
You never know, you might just find a moments rest in the most unlikely of places.
*For more information on the power of neural plasticity refer to Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself.