The act of breathing is an amazing and miraculous process. It is an involuntary process that our bodies engage in independently from conscious volition. Being connected to our breath is intimate; our very lives depend on breathing regularly and yet, for the most part, we often forget and disconnect from this important relationship with our bodies.
This is why mindfulness and meditation have become increasingly popular as a practice in psychology and therapeutic treatment. These practices help in paying attention, and becoming more aware of the present moment, connecting the body and mind. Many are surprised when they learn that meditation as a practice rests at the core of Christian spirituality as an invitation to dwell on, pay attention to, and engage with God, his works, and his words.
We all practice meditation in some form because all of us ruminate. Anxiety, worry, and other negative emotional states are usually associated with rumination. Rumination is a form of meditation where we focus our attention on our distress, and the causes and consequences of that distress. Thankfully, we can work on re-training our brains to reconnect with our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls through a meditative practice called breath prayer.
Breath prayer has been practiced in the church for millennia. It is a form of contemplative prayer linked to the rhythms of breathing. Contemplative prayer is prayer that is focused on being with God, awakening to his presence in all things. Contemplative prayer in some forms can be prayer without words, or few words. This allows us to be released from thinking too much about praying the “right words,” being in our heads too much as we pray, and being released into praying with our hearts instead. This is why breath prayer is also called “prayer of the heart.”
The purpose and desire is to pray a simple, intimate prayer of heartfelt desire before God. It is another way to practice the presence of God (another contemplative spiritual discipline), or staying present to God in the moment. God is close to you, closer than your breath. The more you practice breath prayer, the more you learn to pray without ceasing. Breath prayer is one way to do full and embodied prayers (with your whole being), which brings to mind Acts 17:28: “For in him we live and move and have our being.” It is also a critical reminder that just as we can’t live without breathing physically, we can’t live without breathing spiritually with God as the source of oxygen to our souls.