I once opened a workshop on prayer with the Bible quote: “Pray without ceasing.” I’ve always found this a very challenging command, after all, most of us usually manage a few minutes a day – how do we pray but also do all the other things we need to do each day?
I used to think that monks achieved this by devoting their lives to prayer, and eradicating most activities so as to pray a lot. However, people like Brother Laurence, who wrote The Practice of the Presence of God, suggest that they actually did pray during their daily activities.
And when you think about it, there is so much that our bodies and minds are doing while doing our everyday activities, it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to work out that we can intentionally do other things too!
As someone who loves multitasking and killing three birds with one stone, the idea of praying while doing other things really appeals to me. Which is one reason I love breath prayers. Another is that I’ve been practicing intentional breathing, or Breathwork, described as:
“any breathing exercise or technique. People often perform them to improve mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. During breathwork, you intentionally change your breathing pattern.”
Many forms of breathwork therapy involve breathing in a conscious and systematic way. Many people find breathwork promotes deep relaxation or leaves them feeling energized.”
In breathing prayers, we can combine a physical activity which is health-giving for our body, mind and emotions (even the NHS recommends it!), with a spiritual activity to add spiritual or faith benefits too!
So how do breath prayers work?
The writer and speaker Sarah Bessey combines slow breathing in and out with a short sentence to repeat, one part on the in-breath, one part on the out-breath. This could be a Bible verses such as:
Breathe in: “The Lord is my shepherd”
Breathe out: “I lack nothing.”
It could be a truth about your relationship with God:
Breathe in: “I am fully loved.”
Breathe out: “I am free to love.”
It could be done without words, perhaps with a picture in your mind:
Call to mind or imagine a place where God dwells, a place where you feel closest to God. As you breathe in, step up to the threshold of this place, the doorstep, the entrance.
As you breathe out, step inside this place and imagine what you experience as you do.
On your next breath in, move to another part of this place.
As you breathe out, pause, stand still or sit and notice what you can hear, see, smell or feel.
Use your in-breath to move a little, then your out-breath to pause.
When you are ready to leave, move towards the place you came in, pause then step outside again.
As a teen, I was a fan of the Arrow Prayer, a simple ‘Helps!’ shot up to God in the middle of a situation I found difficult. A breath prayer version which I love is to simply breathe in, imagining breathing in all the goodness, strength and love of God (or whatever aspect of God’s character you need right now), and as you breathe out, breathing out fear, anger, disappointment (or whatever difficult thing you are processing).
Or for a super simple one, why not try breathing in thinking: God is…. then breathing out saying, …with me.
Why not have a go now? Try one of these for 10 breaths and see how you get on!
If you’d like to find out more about how breathwork can build our faith as well as regulate our sympathetic nervous system, someone worth following is Jo Hargreaves, who describes herself as the Faith Filled Psychotherapist – check her out on instagram.