This post first appeared on Grit & Grace Life
We do it 23,040 times a day and even more if we’re in a state of exertion. Our life cycles start and end with it, from our very first inhales at birth to our last exhales at death. I’m referring to the breath—the universal language of humanity and the vital force that fuels our existence.
There’s no doubt the breath is a majestic and miraculous phenomenon. Yet, most of us carry about our days largely disconnected from this incredible source of life.
I first learned to pay attention to my breath as a third grader. I would lay awake at night, plagued with stomachaches and anxiety. In an attempt to help calm me down, my dad taught me to deeply inhale while saying “God” and exhale “please help me.” This simple prayer proved to be effective for my 9-year-old self.
As I grew older, I quit noticing my breath, minus the times I’d gasp for more of it during my high school swim meets. Then once I hit my twenties and early thirties, I became a serial smoker on and off for far too many years, and my inhales were mixed with tobacco and chemical compounds.
I re-discovered the soothing power buried within the breath six years ago as I battled postpartum depression around the same time I lost my grandma to cancer. I noticed how I would hold my breath when I felt sadness or anxiety. I also noticed how the strong emotions would lift when I breathed deep into my belly.
I’d utter a simple prayer of “God, give me your peace,” as I’d feed my newborn in the quiet wee hours, be on the go with my then-preschooler during the day, and as I watched my tears swirl down the shower drain at night. Just as they did when I was a child, breath prayers quieted the sorrow within me and paved the way for the peace I craved.
On several (alright, more like hundreds of) occasions, my youngest daughter and I have sung the catchy “Daniel Tiger” song about self-regulation:
“When you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four…”
Deep breathing does more than handing us a little self-control during those moments we’re tempted to let out a big “roar!” Breathing is the only autonomous system that can be controlled and altered through conscious breathing practices, such as belly/diaphragmatic breathing. It’s the gateway toward bringing the body to rest, along with several other benefits.
Deep breathing can reorient our minds to the present moment. It can provide physical relief to our bodies amid external and internal chaos. But it can do more: as a spiritual practice, we can visualize our physical breath intertwined with the holy breath—where God is the source of oxygen to our spirits.
We can picture our inhales as God’s love, health, and vitality filling our lungs. Our exhales become vessels for ridding our bodies of impure air, toxins, anxiety, or anything else we may be carrying. The Old Testament word for “spirit” is interchangeable with the Hebrew word “breath.” Consider the ways scripture reminds us of our Maker using the breath to fuel creation:
“The Spirit of God made me what I am, the breath of God Almighty gave me life.” (Job 33:4)
“The spirit [breath] of the Lord is the creative power of life.” (Psalm 33:6)
No matter what is going around us, we can harness this powerful source of life to re-connect with God through breathing prayer. Breath prayer is precisely what it sounds like: prayer synced with the rhythm of the breath.
Go to a quiet place in your home, outside, or in your car if it’s accessible for you (if solitude isn’t an option, that’s okay. Breath prayer can be done anytime, anywhere). Sit, stand, or lie down in a comfortable position. Scan your body, starting at the top of your head, working your way down to your toes. Notice where you may be feeling tension or pain. Try to relax and soften those areas of the body by unfurrowing your brows, unclenching your jaw, and allowing your shoulders to sag.
Place one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your heart, and begin inhaling slowly through your nose for a count of four as you feel your stomach rise. Hold your breath for seven counts and exhale slowly through the mouth for eight counts as you feel your stomach fall. Keep breathing this way and notice what’s taking place within you. How does your body feel? Imagine your breath moving to any painful/tense parts of your body.
Begin to use a phrase that is grounding for you as you inhale and exhale, such as:
Inhale, “God,” exhale, “you are here.”
Inhale, “God,” exhale, “you are my rock/you are my source of strength and healing/you are love.”
Inhale, “Spirit,” exhale, “thank you for your grace.”
Inhale, “Be still,” exhale, “and know that I am God.”
Inhale, “Breath of the living God,” exhale, “fall afresh on me.”
Breathe your prayer as many times as you want and notice any changes in your body, thoughts, and emotions.
Oxygen flowing through our lungs sustains our lives, yes…but our connection with God is an endless source of oxygen to our spirits. As we discover a deeper connection with our Creator, may we continue to receive rest, peace, and vitality each and every day.
What’s a breath prayer phrase that speaks to you? Let me know in the comments below.
Disclaimer: The content on this website is not medical advice and is not intended to provide diagnosis or treatment, but is for educational or informational purposes only. I am not a medical professional, physician, or dietician. Before implementing any of the information on this website, please consult your physician, and do not use the information on this website to diagnose or treat any health issues.