Secrets to Success with the Dental-Yogis
Jana Denzel speaks with Cristian Pavel from Dental-Yogis about his journey into creating a movement of mindful oral healthcare providers.
He is also the founder of Revive the Dream Retreats (Dental Aid/Yoga Retreat).
Last year in 2020 Course Karma named him the top course provider in health and wellness and also as a top instructor.
He is known as a wellness warrior, a holistic healer and loving leader. Jana talks to him about his journey into yoga and how he sets out to help dentists improve their state of mind, avoid burnout and improve their health and wellness on the whole.
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Tell us about your background, where did your health and wellness journey start?
It really all began when I began incorporating yoga into my life. For me, this practice came to me by accident.
During dental school, boxing kept me sane because it was the only thing that helped me get out of my head; when in the boxing ring the only thing that mattered was my opponent’s gloves. The extreme physical challenges helped me channel my stress.
Ironically, boxing provided me with a great sense of calm, I would leave the ring feeling far less stressed and anxious. But it was also taking a toll on my body.
Then, during dental school I met my soulmate while in Las Vegas of all places. One day she invited me to accompany her to her favourite yoga class.
At that time I was very rigid and macho in my mindset. I viewed yoga as stretching catered to suburban soccer moms. Boy was I humbled both physically and mentally!
I essentially left the yoga studio feeling the same as leaving the boxing ring only my body wasn’t destroyed. It eventually lead me down this rabbit hole of transformation.
After dental school I began using yoga to escape the stresses I incurred in dentistry. My dental work schedule revolved around my favourite yoga classes/instructors.
I became more aware of the unspoken stressors in our profession. I initially thought that once I finally graduated I could sit-back, relax because ‘I made my destination! I’m a dentist now, I’ve made it’.
In reality, it felt like quite the opposite. Practising yoga helped me realise that I have been conditioned to view everything as a means to another end for my entire life. My every interaction seemed to have another purpose. So my life always felt like I was always chasing goals and this was the source of my stress.
If I’m subconsciously focused on pursuit all the time, I’m essentially placing my body in a constant survival ‘fight or flight’ state. Then I’m scanning for threats and rarely ever present enough to observe and enjoy myself.
Yoga was my first opportunity to reprogram my deeply conditioned sense of urgency rooted in inadequacy.
My primary internal narrative was generally: ‘I have to do X, Y and Z, then I can relax.’
Yoga forced me to isolate myself and turn my competitive praise seeking tendencies inward.
Yoga is a martial art against the self. It forces my body to accept the discomforts of contorted physical postures in an uncomfortably hot room. It helped me notice that when things get uncomfortable my mind would seek distractions and emotional reactions to try to get out of the pain.
In seeing this over and over again, I began to notice that I had been insidiously replacing the X , Y and Z of my to-do lists in my narrative for my entire life; in other words I never allowed myself the privilege of actually being relaxing and enjoying life.
Even on vacations it was all about checking off the boxes of my planned itineraries. And taking the best pictures to post as proof that I was there, even though looking back I wasn’t really fully there.
The practice of yoga for me is a constant reminder to trust that I am exactly where I need to be. And everything from that subtly shifts from ‘I got to’ to ‘I get to’.
Nothing changes on the surface, but everything changes internally. This notion is so easy to forget in our fast-paced society. But this is fundamentally why it’s so incredibly necessary.
As a dentist does having this spiritual, mind and body connection make you a better clinician? If so, how?
Yes, it has on so many levels.
Let me take it from the simplest level. When I first started practising, upon graduating I was more excited for yoga classes than seeing my patients.
This was a reflection of my insecurities of how I appeared as a clinician – the mentality of being the best student instantly morphed into trying to be the best dentist.
My focus was on reputation and sophistication. So I overdosed on continuing education courses and trying to take on everything. I didn’t allow myself the time to integrate the concepts I was paying to learn. I had a terrible tendency of trying to cover up clinical ‘mistakes’ instead of taking ownership for any faults and getting the opportunity to learn from them.
Yoga helped me start to see my competitive inclination for what it really was. That deeply conditioned reflex driven by the need to constantly scan for what is lacking.
From the start, yoga helped me slow down and better interact with my patients. I gradually began to soften this seemingly innate competitive drive to be the best. This in turn helped me really connect with my patients, which right away led me to fall back in love with dentistry and return back to why I really wanted to become a dentist in the first place!
Ironically, this resulted in an exponential growth in my reputation. And it was all a side-effect of allowing myself the space to integrate new skills and receive more referrals from patients who had meaningful experiences with me.
The biggest game-changer for me was learning about and integrating the practice of breath-work into my dental practice. This was through certifying as a Buteyko breath-work clinician.
With patients who are nervous or anxious (uncomfortable or hyperventilating) I always start with three deep breaths. Being aware of what my breathing patterns are can also affect them. Only 10% of communication is verbal.
It’s astounding how this alone has the capacity to create a completely different patient interaction. It enables me to pass on a state of calm, instead of unconsciously taking on their state of anxiety and inadvertently passing that on to subsequent interactions.
I also apply this concept with my dental team as well. It has been resoundingly effective. But it only works if I am calm and centred before I even set foot into the office.
Thus my mantra is to first fill my cup up with the practices that make me feel my best. Then I can offer my best self to everyone I encounter every day!
As well as patients, you also do a lot of work with fellow dentists. How can dentists avoid burnout and improve their health and wellness?
Going back to my story, once I started using yoga as a tool to help me live in the present, I started noticing that there was a dissonance between me and my colleagues.
As I started to enjoy working in dentistry, I began to notice more of the opposite in others. It encouraged me to talk to them and find out why.
I learnt so much through the process of doing so and realised how beneficial yoga is for all dentists.
Upon completing my yoga teacher training in 2017, my fianceé and I envisioned hosting a yoga retreat for other dentists. Here we could come together to nourish our mind, body and soul in order to redefine what it means to be a dentist and a medical healer.
So, in 2018 we founded Revive the Dream LLC to pursue just that. The following spring we hosted our first retreat in Palm Springs California.
That retreat helped us discover that we weren’t the only doctors who have struggled with authenticity and confidence.
In 2017-18, we both devoted an entire year of private coaching towards understanding and redefining ourselves. It was literally life-changing. And so we applied what we learned and combined it with the teachings of yoga.
We were blown away by the impact it created!
We instantly began planning another retreat for the spring of 2020. In the wake of Covid, this transformed into several virtual retreats throughout 2020 that were equally rewarding/impacting!
Then in February of 2021 we held our first Revive Mission: part dental aid, part yoga retreat, 100% transformational.
That was what we ambitiously set out to accomplish with 22 dentists right at the peak of Covid and travel restrictions. And that was exactly what happened!
It was the first post-Covid humanitarian trip. So we took every precaution to ensure everyone made it home safely and also transformed.
Almost every participant made some sort of major life change after the retreat. It changed our lives for the better!
We recently returned to the magical and very remote jungle village of El Vale, Dominican Republic. This time it was with 34 participants (mostly dentists and spouses).
The transformations kept coming! We’re going back in May of 2022 and also going to add our second live patient implant training course as well. This is for another conversation.
What is the one lesson you took away from these Revive trips?
One lesson I took away from the trip is that the only limitation in life is our imagination, and what we choose to believe about ourselves.
We all tend to learn to believe with our eyes. Therefore we tend to believe what is possible based on what we witness. But in yoga we become aware of our ‘third eye’ – the centre of intuition. When we learn to believe with it, to trust in our desires, life becomes limited only by our own imagination!
When we bring together loving healthcare professionals from all over the world in a breathtaking place to celebrate our lives without any formalities/expectations, we all grant ourselves the permission to dream again.
From there we all begin to rethink our lives just a little bit.
One of my favourite sayings is: ‘A creative adult is a child who survived’ (unknown source). Revive’s mission is about rediscovering that inner child in ourselves. The part of us that just wants to love, laugh and play!
Why did you create Revive Mission?
Like most clinicians, I went into medicine to help people. I feel that it is far too easy to forget that.
Our vision is to create a more holistic definition of medicine: traditionally, the medicine men and women of the communities were the healers. Now it seems that most doctors are more like fixers – just patching up the symptoms of underlying states of disease.
We created Revive Mission to resurface the healers in us all.
Our next passion project is creating an online yoga teacher certification for healthcare providers. This will lead right into Revive Mission, where our graduates can teach their first live yoga class at the retreat!
Our hope is to have it ready to go by winter of 2022. Dare to dream and create!
What are you most grateful for?
I am most grateful for all the incredible people that I am so blessed to be surrounded by, both virtually all over the world, and in Chicago.
I’m truly standing on the shoulders of so many giants. Every day I make an effort to reach out to at least one friend to express my gratitude.
I like to measure my net worth by the quality of my network. For me there’s nothing more valuable than surrounding myself by people who inspire, empower and also know how to celebrate!
If you have to set one law for everyone in the world to follow what would that law be?
I would make it a requirement to learn how to breathe properly.
The quality of your life is predicated by the quality of your breathing; I say this in all my lectures and yoga classes because I wholeheartedly believe it.
If you really pay attention, most breathing is up in the chest, it’s short, shallow, and sympathetic. This leads to chronic neck and shoulder pains and major stress/fatigue.
I used to think that the physical stress caused in our career mostly came from improper ergonomic posture in the dental chair. But over time I’ve realised its the stress that we are producing through being tense and having shallow breathing!
I would force everyone to take a mandatory breathing course to know how to breathe properly before taking any pills or medication for their stress and anxiety.
I have witnessed simple breathing practices change lives! For this reason I started a breath work club: dentalyogis.com/breathwork.
If you could have anyone as a dinner guest, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Ghandi, Buddha, Jesus, the Prophet Mohammed, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr.
These figures, along with many others, are, in my opinion, the greatest warriors of all time.
Any animal can react to violence, aggression and oppression with more of the same. But it takes a true warrior to take that battle inward and to respond with a resounding sense of love and peace.
I’d be honoured to learn more about how these figures were able to be so strong and unwavering even in their darkest hours.
You can find out more about Dr Cristian Pavel and the Revive Mission on www.dentalyogis.com.