Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Joy of the Dentist


I had a not-so-fun dental procedure (forgive my redundancy) done today, and you may be wondering from my choice of post titles if it included any laughing gas. It didn't; however, I'm choosing to view it as a positive experience because of the opportunity it offered me to enrich my mindfulness journey, believe it or not!



I have recently picked up the book 10 Mindful Minutes by Goldie Hawn (yes, the one and only!). The first half of the book is an overview of mindfulness and brain development, which go hand-in-hand,  and the second half delves into techniques you can use, either as a parent or a child care provider, to encourage basic mindfulness practices in family and/or school settings. Hawn's organization, Mind UP, has introduced mindfulness programs to children globally.



I decided to bring this book with me to the dentist. One of my ITM (i.e. time management) strategies is to "always have a book" with me when I may have some idle time. As predicted, I had to sit for about 15 minutes while I waited for the Novocaine to set in. Not only was this some idle time, but I'm not a real fan of either medication or needles, so I was riding a bit of a panic wave.

So, I grabbed my book and started reading. I hoped it would distract me from feeling like I was going to pass out. Ironically, I was at the chapter on mindful breathing. Mindful breathing is a form of meditation, where you sit and just pay attention to your breathing. Only your breathing. For your first few times practicing mindful breathing, it's recommended you find a quiet setting with minimal distractions where you can sit, close your eyes (or find one simple focal point to stare at) and just breathe. Try to send any thoughts that creep up on you "away in a cloud" and truly focus on just your breathing.

What are the benefits of this practice? According to a renowned study by Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindful breathing:
  • Calms the stress response
  • Strengthens attention
  • Promotes brain integration
  • Fosters better sleep
  • Strengthens self-awareness
Continuing on with my book, Hawn addressed how one might feel this practice takes too much time out of their already-busy day, despite the widely-proven benefits. Then I read: "All that is needed to create change is three minutes of mindful breathing a day, according to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

At that point, my mouth was numb and my lip felt fat, so I had to put my book down and endure the actual procedure. However, at another stopping point I had to sit with my teeth clenched into a gooey mold and the dental hygientist told me I would have to wait "three minutes." Ha! I bet you can guess what I did during those three minutes? This happened two more times during the appointment and, yes, I practiced my mindful breathing all those times.

You don't have to make a dentist appointment to practice your mindful breathing. Here are some other places where three minutes of your time can no longer be wasted:
  1. In bed--either right before going to sleep or right after waking up.
  2. Your kitchen, waiting for the pasta water to boil for dinner.
  3. The shower.
  4. The oil change place.
  5. The line at the check-out (be it Target, the grocery store, what have you)
  6. In the car, waiting to pick up your kids.
  7. Any waiting room for any appointment.
  8. The bus stop.
  9. The airport, between connections.
Many of these places come with one or more distractions, so if you're just starting out at this like me, you may want to practice in the comfort of a peaceful place in your own home. But if you're like me, then your life is also filled with distractions, so you're going to have to get used to mindful breathing amidst them.
Where I wish I could meditate!
I encourage you to practice some mindful breathing today. It is a very simple thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones to improve your overall wellness.

Whether you've been doing it for years or a novice like me, I hope you'll share your experiences with mindful breathing!! How did you feel afterwards? Where is your favorite place to meditate? What benefits has mindful breathing brought to your life?