The natural rhythm of the breath is a perpetual cycle of inhale and exhale keeping us alive and animated. It is often wild for me to think that this necessity of life happens, for most of us, without a conscious thought toward it at any point in the day. We breathe, we live, and we don’t have to intentionally focus on our breathing in order for it to happen. It naturally sustains us with its involuntary cycle of in and out.
When we contrast the involuntary act of breathing with the intentional act of prayer, it can feel like the two are separate planets in the solar system of our lives. But, what happens if we combine the two? What happens if we take the natural rhythm of the breath we often don’t think about, and intentionally sync it with prayer? The worlds collide for a practice that is accessible anywhere you find yourself, with no extra tools required, boasting benefits for your mental, physical, and spiritual wellness.
Breath prayer is an ancient Christian prayer practice dating back to at least the sixth century. Historically, it is associated with the Eastern Church, particularly Greek and Russian Orthodox churches. Known as the “Jesus Prayer” or “Prayer of the Heart,” early practitioners would repeat to the rhythm of their breath the phrase, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” In time, the prayer was shortened to, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy” or simply, “Jesus, mercy.”
Breath prayer is a good example of “praying without ceasing” as Paul encourages us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. In my current favourite translation, The Passion Translation, it says “Make your life a prayer.” Allowing the words of our prayers to align with our inhales and exhales truly feels like a way to make our everyday living, our very life, a prayerful experience; a life lived remembering we are forever connected, not separate, from God, the one whose breath and spirit, often the same words used interchangeably in scripture, permeates us and the endless universe.
Breath Prayer is a beautiful way to pray that keeps us present to the current moment as we notice the rise and fall of our in and out breaths, and even allows us to shed the stress or perfectionism of ‘saying the right things’ when we pray. It gets us out of our heads, and into our embodied experience of prayer as flowing through us, permeating our being, and releasing into the presence of God around us.
A simple way to go about forming a breath prayer is as follows: your inhale expresses a name of God you feel comfortable and intimate with, and your exhale expresses your desire (or any other form of prayer, including gratitude and expressions of noticing and presence).
What do you desire? I invite you to simply ask yourself, what do you truly desire from God at this moment? Notice what comes up. Do you desire to be aware of God’s presence? Do you desire comfort from grief and pain? Consolation during a time of desolation? To be full of wonder at the presence of the Spirit all around you? Do you desire the fruit of the spirit? Galatians 5:22-23 in TPT describes the fruit of the spirit as “divine love in all its varied expressions: joy that overflows, peace that subdues, patience that endures, kindness in action, a life full of virtue, faith that prevails, gentleness of heart, and strength of spirit.”
Today, let’s practice breath prayer together using the fruit of the spirit as a guide.
What you’ll need:
- Timer (on your phone or a microwave)
- A comfortable place to sit and be present
Make your breath prayer:
- The Inhale:
- What is a name for God that feels comfortable for you? God? Father? Mother? Creator? Abba? Yahweh? Beloved? Healer? Spirit? Author? Advocate? Divine Love? Just to name a few.
- The Exhale:
- Read through the fruit of the Spirit and identify what your desire, in this moment, is for: “divine love in all its varied expressions: joy that overflows, peace that subdues, patience that endures, kindness in action, a life full of virtue, faith that prevails, gentleness of heart, and strength of spirit.”
- Put it together: Inhale, ‘name of God, grant me’, Exhale, ‘the phrase from the fruit of the spirit.
- For example:
- Inhale: Creator, grant me
- Exhale: Kindness in action
How to practice:
- Take a few moments to settle into your space. Eliminate distractions by closing the door of the room you’re in, make sure you’re comfortable in your space.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep inhales and exhales. Feel free to exhale out the mouth and imagine your exhale is sending all your worries, to-do lists, distractions or thoughts far away from you. Then settle into a pace of inhale and exhale that’s comfortable and relaxing for you.
- Acknowledge the presence of God here and now however is most comfortable and natural for you. You could use words spoken out loud or internally, physical gestures with your hands or body, or anything else that gives you space to let God know you’re aware of his presence.
- Set your timer for 5 minutes.
- As you inhale, say your inhale
- As you exhale, say your exhale
- Repeat this breath prayer until your 5-minute timer goes off.
Tip! Try closing your eyes to reduce the sensory input and draw your awareness to where you feel your breath in your body to help you focus. You might feel your breath in your belly, your chest or even your nose. Focus there while repeating the breath prayer.
- When your timer goes off, take a moment of pause when you open your eyes in stillness and silence. You just spent 5 minutes enjoying a time of breath prayer! Consider how you imagine God might be feeling right now.
- Take a moment or two to reflect on your experience:
- What was it like for you today to practice using scripture as your guide?
- Does the passage feel more real and alive to you than before your breath prayer practice?
- What is one thing you learned from your experience of breath prayer today?
While I encouraged you in your practice to close your eyes and set a timer to begin to engage this experience, eventually, you’ll be able to sink into the practice of breath prayer at any time. You could be driving to and from work while engaging in a breath prayer practice. You could be out on an afternoon walk, in the shower, doing the dishes, or pulling weeds in your garden and syncing a prayer to your breath. Soon, a practice like this can become a routine that allows you to be in consistent awareness and intentional connection with God as you live, breathe, and enjoy your being.
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✨Step by step instructions on how to craft your very own breath prayer.
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✨Reflection questions for your own growth and connection with God.