Blood, as defined by Merriam Webster, is “the fluid that circulates in the heart, arteries, capillaries, and veins…carrying nourishment and oxygen to and bringing away waste products from all parts of the body.” Oxygen fuels vital functions within us, as the trillions of cells we are composed of each require oxygen to thrive. When we breathe, oxygen in our lungs travels into tiny air sacs surrounded by blood vessels that carry oxygen into our blood stream, which carries it to our nerves, and muscles, and vital organs.
Rilke’s words are certainly beautiful, but the soarings of his mind that have supplied us with so many wonderful things to ponder were not only a result of his blood, but the air that fed his blood, the outside world coming in. First, air passed through his lips and in beneath the curve of his nostrils, the place where yoga teachers often tell us to direct our attention. “Close your eyes. Bring your attention to the breath,” they might say as class is beginning. And it feels good, doesn’t it? It feels good to be invited to bring down a veil over the outside world, exclude yourself, be in your own darkness. But it’s not just the veil of darkness that is relaxing. Often, if I’m paying attention to myself at the beginning of practice, I feel tense in my temples, my eyes are squeezing shut instead of gently closing. That’s why our yoga teachers repeat themselves. “Focus on the breath.” “Return to the breath,” they say. “Return to the breath,” they say again.
What they don’t always have time to explain in class is that focus on the breath, deepening and slowing the breath works to move oxygen more efficiently through our bodies. It slows down the rate of the pulse, putting less strain on the heart, allowing us to relax. When we allow oxygen to move through our bodies efficiently it can also do a better job of removing waste. Have you ever heard a yoga teacher say, “Let go of anything that is not serving you”? There is more than one way to do this. Invite long slow breaths in to send oxygen through you to remove waste from your body. In doing so, you will become much more relaxed. Then, you can let your mind go flying and soaring, freeing it from what does not serve you.
To learn more, join Kendall Hassemer for a workshop: Detox Yoga, Sunday, April 17th from 2 – 4pm.