Breath Prayer

It’s early April and we’re deep into the Lenten journey, making our way to the promise of new life that we celebrate at Easter. There’s something alluring to me about the season of Lent; a time when we pay close attention to the path of Jesus and his invitations, and to our own spiritual journey.

In my younger years, my Lenten practice often centered around giving up some delicious food that I was supposed to feel guilty about eating. A type of holy resistance to something that I enjoyed but wasn’t good for me. It was just about how disciplined I could be for 6 weeks. As my life and understanding has evolved so has my practice during these 40-days. Now it’s more about taking an inventory of my spiritual life and asking what needs to find its way to the compost pile. What old beliefs, patterns, wounds, practices no longer serve me well? A little Marie Kondo-ing with my spiritual closet. A lot of releasing so space is made for the new that’s coming. That’s what I try to practice on the Lenten journey – though I admit that letting go does not come easily for me.

Paying attention is a great spiritual practice. It’s a tangible way to hone our letting go skills. And, it has the power to help us wake up to the holy within us and all around us. One way to nurture this is an ancient form of contemplative prayer called breath prayer. It’s built around the natural rhythm of the breath as it moves in and out of our bodies. We spend so much time in our heads – thinking, critiquing, analyzing, planning, etc. The breath prayer moves us from our head space down into our heart space by connecting us to the life stream that flows through us – breath given from God. The Hebrew word ruach can be translated “breath,” “wind” or “spirit.” It’s the word used in Genesis when it speaks about the Spirit of God hovering over the waters; and later when God creates humankind and breathes life into them. Breath is essential to our existence. It connects us to the Divine, the very source of our breath.

I’ve been practicing breath prayer for several years now as a way to ground me into the present moment and move me out of my head space where I can get caught up in “what if’s,” my long to-do list or some past or future event. Breath prayer invites me to be in the moment, to pause and let go of whatever is distracting me from being right here, right now. When I ground myself in deep breaths moving in and out of my body, then I’m more likely to give my full attention to what’s before me. That may be the clerk in the check-out line at Target, the young 7-year old practicing her reading skills for me, treasured moments on the phone with a friend or family member, or a quiet walk on the trail with my exuberant puppy. The invitation is to give myself to that thing, that person, that moment and nothing else. When I can do that, I begin to notice the holy in my everyday life and realize that it’s all bubbling over with divine goodness and revelations.

I invite you to try breath prayer. I’m a big proponent of making a spiritual practice your own, so make it work for you. There’s no right or wrong way – seriously! Like any spiritual practice, the fruits are never immediate. It’s always about being patient and faithful – the ways of God are slow but sure.

Practicing Breath Prayer

              You can do this in a traditional meditation mode – sitting for an extended period of time (10-15 minutes), or as you go throughout your daily activities. I love to sprinkle the breath prayer throughout my day as a way to center myself.

  • Choose a short phrase. Traditionally a word for God is used on the inward breath followed by naming what you desire on the outward breath. The phrase I use is “Spirit, ground me.”
  • Breathe in and out deeply. The expansion of breath energizes our body and calms our mind. Let the first part of your phrase come to mind as you breathe in and connect the latter part to the outward breath.
  • Continue your prayer for a set period of time or until you feel you have settled into a space of stillness and communion.

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