“Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”
Dante’s frigid salutation pulsed in my mind as I waited for the Novocain to kick in. It began to waft through my face in stages: first my gums, then my lower jaw, finally my tongue. As I sat, glued to the dentist’s chair, waiting the removal of my four wisdom teeth, I was so utterly paralyzed by anxiety that a portion of my brain clicked the off button.
This was the “eye of the hurricane,” that uneasy placidity one finds before that first drop on a rollercoaster or before the killer jumps from the shadows in a horror flick. It’s a polarized sibling to the more universal images of tranquility we may carry – such as Buddhist monks meditating or reading in a hammock. It’s eerie, but still a state of calm.
I am terrified of surgery. For the weeks leading up to this procedure, my insomnia came back with a vengeance and Mr. Panic Attack came a-knockin’…several times.
Of course, I practiced. The day of the procedure, I awoke at dawn and did my usual Mysore asana practice. I sat for a forty-minute meditation. I counted ujjai breaths. And the clock ticked…
Back to the dentist’s chair. The Novocain was now in full effect and the doctor began to proceed. Allow me to tell you a little secret: however smooth a tooth extraction may be (mine were apparently very swift and simple), it isn’t a pleasant experience – a certain amount of yanking and cracking comes with the territory.
The pressure was excruciating. A sickening crunch followed by a squelch. Was this a tree being yanked from the ground? No, just my tooth being pulled from the gum. Blood and bone fragments splattered into my throat. I began to cough. “Breath through your nose,” the doctor demanded. And so I did. I lifted mula bandha and began to take fierce ujjai breaths in through my nostrils.
When my lower tooth was split and the doctor grabbed my jaw in a death grip to assist with the pulling and I completely submitted. My eyes rolled to the back of my skull, I gazed towards ajna chakra, and I transported myself to the Broome Street Temple, one of my favorite practice spaces. Suddenly, a familiar mantra began to materialize: om gam ganapataye namaha om gam ganapataye namaha om gam ganapataye namaha om gam ganapataye namaha. Yes, the Ganesh mantra was rinsing my brain and escorting me through change. How ironic. How perfect.
Suddenly it was all over. Gauze was stuffed into my cheeks, I was given a prescription of Vicodin, and my friend accompanied me home where I have since been glued to my bed watching old movies and reading travel literature.
The powers of the yoga practice never cease to surprise and amaze me. Had I not been a regular practitioner, I probably would have been back with Virgil on the shores of the Acheron, being stung by wasps and hornets. Fortunately though, I am committed. And my commitment paid off.
— Michael Laskaris