One of the most important lessons I have learned from practicing Yoga is the vital role that oxygen plays in the human body. While most people are vaguely aware that the body needs oxygen to function properly, Yogis understand this concept on a fundamental level. When we practice Yoga we can experience and observe the relationship between oxygen and functionality on a first-hand basis.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word which loosely translates to “extension of the breath” or “extension of the life force.” I think it is very telling that the terms “breath” and “life force” are essentially interchangeable in this language. People were speaking Sanskrit in the 4th Century BC, long before any semblance of modern medical science. Yet in those ancient times they clearly understood the important role that breath played in maintaining life.
With the benefit of modern science we now understand that muscles need oxygen to generate energy in a process known as cellular respiration. Yoga requires a great deal of energy and when we practice it our muscles need a constant supply of oxygen. Ujjayi is another Sanskrit word that describes the breathing technique employed in Yoga. When we cultivate our Ujjayi breath we are providing a slow, steady and measured flow of oxygen into the body. This oxygen allows our muscles to generate the energy we need to move through our postures.
When I practice Yoga I have a mantra that I internally recite to myself when things get challenging. It is a simple phrase that reminds me of the fact that breathing is a source of energy. I will repeat the words “Only our breath will save you now” over and over. It’s kind of ridiculous sounding, perhaps a bit dramatic as well, but it works for me. When I repeat this mantra it allows me to find my breath and remain calm and focused even in the most awkward and difficult of poses. It has gotten me through some tough Yoga classes in the past and I trust it will serve me well into the future.