If you had walked into our bedroom this morning, you would have found me sitting in the middle of our bed. My eyes were closed, my legs crossed in what yoga practitioners call "half-lotus" (and what my children call "criss-cross applesauce"). I was using "ujjayi" breathing, something I also learned from yoga. My hands rested on my knees, palms up. It would have been easy to assume I was meditating.
But I wasn't. I was praying. I've written before about the ways yoga has helped me to incorporate my body into my Christian practice of prayer. This morning, sitting in an intentional posture drew my attention to my body. It helped me remember that I was bringing my whole self to God. It gave me a physical reminder of my spiritual state–without constant attention, my back curved and my shoulders slumped until I remembered to straighten up again and sit tall. Placing my hands on my knees with palms up gave me a physical posture of surrender, humility, receptivity. A physical way for me to receive from God and offer myself in return. And the breathing. Ujjayi breathing is slow and purposeful. You take a deep breath in, filling the diaphragm, feeling the air expand your lungs. You push the air out using a tone that sounds like listening to the inside of a conch shell. As I breathed in, I prayed, "Breathe on me, breath of God." And on the exhale, "Breathe through me, breath of God." With each breath, I added some thoughts... "Breathe on me in my areas of weakness... Breathe on me in my doubts... in my fears..." With each exhale, "Breathe through me as I care for our children... Breathe through me as I write... Breathe through me as I visit with family this weekend..."
In meditation, as I understand it, breathing is meant to clear the mind, to bring a person to a place of clarity, letting go of everything but the present moment. Prayer is different. In prayer, I am turning over my scattered thoughts to God. I am offering the past, the present, and the future. I am connecting with one outside myself, one who can effect change in the world by the work of the Spirit in human lives. I believe that meditation can bring peace and even some degree of personal healing, and I believe that such peace and healing can be a gift to others. But prayer goes much further. Not only does it offer the benefits of meditation but also a real connection to the God of the universe, a being outside ourselves who invites our petitions, our thanksgiving, our confessions, our pleas.
I am grateful to the yoga teachers who taught me how to incorporate my body into meditation. I am even more grateful to Jesus, who taught me to pray.