T’ai Chi in the Dentist Chair

Many thanks to Ferrell Mercer for this unique application of T’ai Chi principles.

Recently I have been undergoing a sequence of complex dental procedures. At one point I spent three hours in the dentist chair. As usual, I used my T’ai Chi training to consciously relax during the process and I am certain that doing so led to my having less discomfort both during the procedure and afterward.

The process of even simple dental work is pretty much designed to cause tension. There is the expectation of pain, even though modern dentistry has greatly reduced or eliminated the actual pain of most procedures. Then there is the fact that generally two people have their hands and a variety of tools in your mouth and around various parts of your face. There are also vibrations, strange noises and strange odors that all can make us tense.

T’ai Chi teaches us to become aware of tension in our body and to relax that tension. Over time we can achieve conscious control over our instinct to tense. I found T’ai Chi push hands particularly helpful in learning to relax with someone else in my ‘space’.

In the dentist chair, the first places I find tension showing up are in my shoulders and in my face. With little else to do, I spend my time looking for tension in my body and relaxing it. I am convinced that I feel better afterwards by doing this.

As I do during standing meditation and when holding postures, I start with my breath. I check to make sure that my breath is deep and slow, trying to “breathe into my tan tien”. Once the breath is relaxed and full, I start at the top of my head and scan downward looking for tension. Where I find it, I focus there and consciously relax the tension until I feel it soften and diminish. As I mentioned above, I find in the dentist chair this most often is in the face and shoulder area, but sometimes I find I need to relax my abdomen or my legs as well. I spend all my time in the dentist chair alternatively focusing on the breath and focusing on scanning the body for tension.

Something I have experienced multiple times is that the dentist feels me relax and asks if I am in pain. I think they are conditioned to feel their patient’s body change and see it as a signal of discomfort. I have begun to explain before procedures that I will be consciously relaxing and that any movement they feel will be that unless I tell them I am uncomfortable. It seems to help the dentist also relax.

The next time you are in a dentist chair, try using your T’ai Chi and consciously relaxing. I think you will find it helps you feel better when the procedure is done.