Originally posted in the “Bridge”, May 2020, by Rev, Julie Sterling
During this time of uncertainty, many of you may be looking for a way to deal with stress. One option involves an ancient form of prayer that has been used by Christians as part of their spiritual practices. In the April 21, 2020 Presbyterians Today article “Ancient practice synchronizes breathing with sacred words”, Diane Stephens Hogue describes how breath prayer can help both spiritually and physically as we respond to the Convid 19 threat:
“We take about 25,000 breaths per day. The air we breathe contains 21% oxygen, 0.04% carbon dioxide, 78% nitrogen and small amounts of other chemical elements. The air we exhale is different only in the amounts of oxygen and carbon dioxide, now 16% oxygen and 4% carbon dioxide. In that exchange, we have oxygenated our blood with nutrients our cells need for energy, intelligence, imagination and love.
But we tend to be shallow breathers, using only about 15% of our lung capacity, which exacerbates fear and any anxiety we may be feeling. Deep breathing (also known as diaphragmatic breathing, abdominal breathing and belly breathing) is the antidote, and it is as straightforward as filling the lungs by inhaling deeply through the nostrils, holding for three counts and exhaling slowly through the mouth.”
It is very important for us to keep our lungs healthy during this pandemic. Breath prayer is a great way to do that. Below are the steps for practicing breath prayer as part of your own spiritual discipline.
- Choose a phrase of up to 12 sacred words.
- Divide it into two parts. You will be praying the first part on the inhale and the second on the exhale. For example, take words from Psalm 23 and as you inhale, pray, “beside still waters” and as you exhale, say, “you lead me.” Or these words from Romans 8:38–39 (inhale): Nothing can separate us, (exhale) from the love of God.
- Sit comfortably. Close your eyes. Tune out any distractions.
- Take three deep breaths, slowly. Resume your normal pace of breathing.
- When ready, introduce the first part of your prayer on the inhale. Exhale the second.
- Repeat the phrase in the silence of your heart as you breathe naturally, up to 20 minutes.
- Slowly let the words fall away. Tend to your breathing. Open your eyes and reorient yourself.
- Carry your breath prayer with you as God’s word to you today.