Recently, all the right (or wrong?) things came together to cause what I can best describe as a minor panic attack at the dentist’s office. Frozen. Panicked. Overwhelmed. So, there I was, 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 was 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 the body 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. I would love to be on my mat practicing pranayama, meditation, and asana all day. 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.

Photo credit: Erin Brown Photography


Catherine currently teaches at Victory Power Yoga in Clayton, NC. You can find out more about her practice and teaching at www.catherinestriegel.com.