Most yoga practices have a strong focus on the breath. The breath is a tool that creates heat, releases tension, calms the nervous system and helps provide a meditative focus. But how about using it as a means of practicing santosha?
Santosha loosely translates as contentment or gratitude. Taking time everyday to express gratitude will, in my opinion, contribute as much to your overall state of health and happiness as any physical yoga practice.
There are an infinite number of things that we can feel grateful for. Feeling grateful for the breath we breathe is a nice one because it is such a focal point of our practice already, but also because it points to the fact that “all things are connected,” which is the heart and soul of the state of mind called yoga. It is also the heart and soul of environmentalism. When David Suzuki writes in his book The Sacred Balance, “Every breath is a sacrament, an essential ritual” it is clear that environmentalists and yogis are on the same path.
Realizing the history of oxygen is a great way to turn every breath one takes into a sacrament. In primordial earth 4.6 billion years ago, there was no oxygen necessary for life as we know it today. Instead earth’s atmosphere was much like Mars’ atmosphere was today, 95-98 per cent carbon dioxide. As the earth cooled geological activity increased and gases were released by volcanoes. These gases known as greenhouse gases behaved like the glass of a greenhouse keeping heat in the earth’s atmosphere.
The theory is that the heat of the earth at one point got as high as 85-110 degrees Celsius. When volcanic activity stopped, the earth cooled and as a result the condensation-rain-evaporation cycle that thankfully continues today was established. Eventually oceans were formed.
Two and a half billion years ago primitive microorganisms evolved a process of capturing energy from the sun called we all know as photosynthesis. To crudely describe this process, plants use carbon dioxide, water and light as a form of usable energy. In this remarkable process, six molecules of carbon dioxide are transformed into sugar and six molecules are released as oxygen as a byproduct. And what a byproduct! If it were not for this amazing process of plants converting carbon dioxide into sugar and releasing oxygen, the opportunities for life as we know it would never have been created.
When plants invaded the land the diversity of and numbers of living things blossomed. Herbivores evolved to feed on plants. Carnivores and omnivores fed on them. And the beat of the dance of life increased.
So with each breath; each time our lungs capture some of the atmosphere around us and feeds this oxygen to our to our blood cells, let’s feel grateful for the how intimately connected we are to all things around us. The sun, trees and plants, the rain, the water cycle, beings that have lived here before us.
Take a little time every yoga practice and be mindful of how intimately connected we are to all things around us. We just cannot spend enough of our day contemplating how lucky we are to be able to play a small part of this divine dance of life.
Every breath truly is a sacrament.