As many of you know, I’ve had a long-time interest in physical exercise and the martial arts. And in particular, in the techniques used by martial artists and athletes to build focus and enhance performance, as well as to reduce the pain and stress that is often a part of competition. Eventually I learned that many of those techniques either had roots in meditation or a deep closeness in approach.
I have been working for several years now on a way to bring together the best of these approaches, and to streamline and simplify them. I’ve called this emerging set of practices and exercises Refuah Tikun Chai — Refuah for the Hebrew word healing, Tikun for the word repair, and Chai for the world life. I’ve never made RTC part of my day-to-day dental practice, although I personally practice it daily and I feel that it’s made me a better health care practitioner; a dental cleaning is a dental cleaning, and not the time for a lecture on the topic of meditation. But a number of my patients who know about my interests in this area have come to me and asked whether RTC might have some applications in the area of dental treatment. And of course anything that aims at reducing stress and fostering healing would seem naturally to have such applications.
Such being the case, I would like to review some of my RTC methods for controlling our reaction to stress. Unfortunately, the prospect of dental treatment does from time to time confront some people with genuine stress. Our body’s nervous system has very efficient systems in place for self-preservation. Our survival was predicated on these very old ingrained automatic responses, one of which is simply to avoid the possibility of pain, even in those cases where pain might be an unavoidable step on the way to better dental health, and even in some where the possibility of pain is likely to be zero, owing to the appropriate use of anesthetics during treatment.
Nonetheless, people worry, and worry involves stress, and stress takes its toll, which includes many physical and emotional consequences. Our consciousness controls our mind, which in turn controls our body. Can you take steps to reduce the effects of stress by gaining better control of the thoughts and feelings that make up your consciousness? Many studies of meditation make a compelling case that you can. But where to start?
Let’s begin with abdominal breathing, along with guided imagery, as the medium to enhance this consciousness-mind link. We should revert to breathing much the way we did at the beginning, as infants. When we inhale, our belly should become fuller. Imagine water pouring into a basin. It fills from the bottom to the top. We should fill our lungs with air the same way, from the bottom to the top. This allows for using maximum lung volume of air and also initiates a natural relaxation response while exhaling.
Here’s an exercise that will demonstrate abdominal breathing. Lie down flat, in bed or on the floor. Place a book on your stomach. Slowly inhale, and consciously try to make the book rise. You are distending your diaphragm, allowing your lungs to inflate. Exhale, and feel the book lower. Practice this exercise for several minutes. You now understand the concept of abdominal breathing, which we will use during the following RTC meditation.
This RTC relaxation meditative technique may be practiced anywhere, anytime. However, in order to gain mastery of this technique, begin by practicing in a quiet room for 5-10 minutes every day. After a few sessions, you should have the foundation and confidence to effectively do this in times of stress.
Sit in a comfortable chair in a quiet room. Breathe in an abdominal breath, and as you exhale, slowly think in your mind, “Relax, relax, relax.” Feel stress leave your body with each exhalation. Imagine steam escaping from a boiling tea kettle. At the same time, let a heightened awareness and a clarity of thought flow in, taking the place of the stress flowing out. Inhale. Feel the energy flow into your body. Exhale. Feel a sense of calm wash over your body, accompanied with heightened awareness. With each breath you are forming new neural networks, literally evolving your brain.
Practice this for 5-10 minutes once or twice a day. After a few days of practicing in a controlled environment, start practicing it a few breaths at a time randomly. For example, do the meditation while in the shower, eating breakfast, going for a walk, driving to work, exercising, sitting at your desk, or at your computer. Whenever you are breathing (which I hope is all the time!), you can practice. This simple technique of “following the breath” has been used by meditators to quiet the mind and calm the spirit literally for centuries. Will it reduce your concerns over scheduled dental treatment, or enhance recovery after treatment? It certainly stands a better chance of doing so than frantic breathing, a pounding heart, and falling into fearful and negative thoughts.
As a health care practitioner, I do all that I medically can to help my patients. But I have also seen many patients help themselves further by approaching their medical challenges with calm and peace. A disciplined mind will surely help, and there are many paths to cultivate that disciplines. I hope that RTC may one day find a place among those paths, but I know that the best way to find a path is simply to look, and then to take the first step. Whether the challenges a person faces is dental, medical, social, or personal, I wish them luck in finding the path most favorable to them