The Practice of Breath Prayers
When life is swirling around feeling like it's out of control and we are completely exhausted, feeling bad about our personal health, spending too much time worrying, dealing with the same challenges day after day after day, it feels almost insulting for people to ask or talk about rest. There is no space for rest. The moment I take time to “rest” things fall more apart. Let’s be honest, even trying to use the bathroom is an ordeal sometimes, and a shower...please, not happening, right? If there was a way to slip in effective moments of rest without doing any preparation, and without truly removing oneself from the needs of life, this could be a lifeline we need. There’s a practice I was introduced to in a mentoring class at our church called “breath prayers.” This technique has helped me effectively recenter myself and get the lasting moments of rest I need throughout the day. Engaging in the practice of breath prayer is an opportunity to exchange my stress and worry for peace with God. While it is taught to be more of a full body meditation of breathing and relaxing the areas of our body we are holding stress, I find myself using breath prayers all the time without dedicating a place and time for quiet. Engaging in this intimate communion with God is effective, and God ministers to us in exchange for the moments we turn our thoughts to Him, even if we are keeping a watchful eye on our kids.
There is solid science behind taking time for the practice of breath prayers. Breath prayers increase oxygen to our brain as our sympathetic nervous system is engaged when we are feeling nervous, anxious or stressed. This is our fight or flight response. Our body’s typical response when the sympathetic nervous system is engaged is increased heart rate, respiratory rate, sweating, interruptions to our digestive system and more. Intentionally working against these negative responses by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system is the science behind breath prayers. The parasympathetic nervous system promotes the maintenance of the body at rest. Controlled breathing, paired with scripture, is what helps our body engage the parasympathetic nervous system and reconnect with God, rest and continue to press on with his strength and provision. Spend some time building your breath prayers and memorizing short scripture verses that speak to you in your times of need. Breath prayers typically have 2 parts, an inhale and an exhale.
SOME SCRIPTURE I LOVE IN THE CONTEXT OF A BREATH PRAYER ARE: Matthew 6:8-- (inhale) Father, you know (exhale) what I need. Joshua 1:9 --(inhale) Do not be afraid (exhale) do not be discouraged (inhale) for the Lord my God (exhale) is with me always. Psalm 46:10 (inhale) Be still (exhale) and know I am God.
Once you have chosen your breath prayer scripture, inhale and exhale very slowly as you recite the words of the scripture to yourself. Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose and feel your lungs fill completely. Try to focus on deeply filling your lower lungs/diaphragm so that your stomach expands while your upper chest remains still. Then slowly breathe out. The exhale should be the longest. Empty your lungs slowly and fully. Meditate on the words of the scripture as you breathe. Repeat several times over and over calming your body and mind more and more with each deep, intentional breath.
I like to close my breath prayers with one final breath prayer-- (inhale) I am entrusting my _____ to you, Jesus (exhale) and let go of ______.
IN A SMALL MATTER OF TIME, YOU HAVE INTENTIONALLY AND EFFECTIVELY CALMED YOUR HEART, MIND AND BODY, WHILE CONNECTING WITH GOD--EVEN WITHOUT CHANGING YOUR SITUATION, OR LEAVING THE THINGS AT HAND.
Written by Naomi Brubaker