Prayer is an integral part of our Christian walk. Through prayer we communicate with God, we encounter His presence, and we grow in our relationship with Him. We all have different prayer routines. Maybe you focus on the length of time you pray for. Or maybe you think about the regularity of your prayer, the words that you use or the particular time of day you pray. However, one area that we often neglect is the role that our breathing has to play in our prayer life.
Throughout the history of the Christian faith, breathing has played an important role in prayer. The ancient practice of ‘breath prayer’ has helped Christians to pray for the last 2000 years. In this blog we will explore this topic afresh, unpacking the importance of breathing in prayer and considering some practical ideas for incorporating breathwork into a regular routine of prayer.
What Difference Does Breathwork Really Make?
Firstly, does breathwork really make a difference? Research from the academic disciplines of Neuroscience and Psychology tells us that the answer is an overwhelming ‘yes’! It’s been proven that breathing techniques have a positive effect on our physical and emotional health. Breathwork can regulate our heartbeat. It can help us to develop a better immune system, and it can release stress hormones in our body. It helps to combat anxiety and stress, both of which affect many people today. Focussing on our breathing and implementing breathing techniques can significantly impact our body and mind for the better!
Certainly, the biological and mental benefits of breathwork are well known. It is equally true that breathwork can have a significant impact on our spiritual lives too. Focusing on our breathing can play an important role in improving our prayer life and drawing us closer to God. It can help us to truly “pray continually”, as Paul exhorts us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
Desert Fathers And Mothers
The Desert Fathers and Mothers were a group of Christian believers who lived just 200 years after Jesus. They withdrew into the Egyptian desert to practice a simple, monastic life. They were devoted to following Jesus and becoming more like Him. As a result of their hermit-like life, they developed some powerful routines of prayer and worship. They included breathing techniques in their times of communication with God. This tradition continued through the early church and through to the Middle Ages. Many Christians today still incorporate breathing techniques into their time of prayer.
One technique the Desert Fathers and Mothers developed was a simple prayer which centred upon the rhythm of focused breathing. As they exhaled, they focused on the confession of sin and the breathing ‘out’ of those things that they were intending to discard from their lives. As they inhaled, they focused on the forgiveness and grace of God, breathing ‘in’ the identity that was theirs through Christ.
This example from the Desert Fathers and Mothers is a simple breath prayer, but it is one which can help us to develop a basic breathing technique in our prayer life. It can also remind us that embracing breathwork in prayer is not about trying something new but rather continuing an ancient practice that we observe throughout Christian history.
The Jesus Prayer
One of the most famous breath prayers is The Jesus Prayer. In the last few hundred years, many Christians have utilised the Jesus Prayer as a way of growing in their relationship with God.
The Jesus Prayer is a concise prayer, consisting of just 12 words: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is based on the response of the tax collector to Jesus in Luke 18:13. The Jesus Prayer involves the participant simply repeating this phrase with a breathing technique of slowly inhaling and exhaling. It allows for repetition and it draws the participant into a closer relationship with God.
Often, the first part of this prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God”, is said while inhaling slowly. The second part, “have mercy on me, a sinner”, is said while exhaling. When repeated slowly, this prayer draws the individual into a place of communion with God, through a rhythmic repetition of these biblical words. This can be a really simple way of taking the first step of incorporating breathwork into your time of prayer.
Breath Prayers – Where To Begin?
When it comes to including breathwork in a daily routine of prayer, there are many accessible ways of beginning this journey. One great starting point is simply to begin your time of daily prayer with some deep breaths, to slow your breathing and your heart rate. Taking a minute or two before you pray simply to breathe deeply can help to set the tone for your time of prayer and draw you closer to God.
Another option is to make use of the great examples of breath prayers that Christians have prayed through the centuries. The Jesus Prayer is one such example; you can simply recite the Jesus Prayer and incorporate the breathing practice to centre all your mind and emotions on God. Alternatively, you can research other Christian breath prayers to find one that resonates most with you.
Remember, focusing on your breathing in prayer is not a radical step. It is not about clearing your mind or about stopping yourself thinking. It’s simply about slowing down your body and seeking God afresh. Breathing slowly focuses your body, mind and soul on the presence of God and it helps you to seek God with all of your being.