This month our spiritual formation practice focuses on the awareness and power of our breath.
Inhaling and exhaling is something our bodies are trained to do naturally. So much we forget we do it and pay little attention to it. However when we give intention to the process we unleash a power that is beyond what we know. Martial arts, ancient yoga, and other mindfulness trainings have been using breathing for millenniums to gain self control and power. These century old art forms have found the benefits and power of using breath.
Intentional breathing has also been harnessed by the spiritual community. Breath prayers have been utilized since the 6th century and in particular by Russian, Greek, and Eastern Orthodox churches. Traditionally this was a repetitious prayer used with the rhythm of the breath.
Breath Prayers have naturally evolved through history to include various methods and techniques. Let's explore the impact of intentional breathing on our body and the various intentional breathing/ breath prayer techniques being used.
Impact of Deep Breathing On The Body
Numerous studies have researched the impact deep breathing has on the brain and how it actually changes the brain. In fact it affects the brain stem and the arousal level of an individual. Deep breathing triggers our relaxation, changes our emotional states, and impacts our overall thought processes. Check out these articles by The Verge or Forbes for further information about our physical changes from deep breathing.
It's just like when we eat a big meal or Thanksgiving Dinner. Our bellies are full pushing back on the Vagus nerve which is wrapped around the stomach, esophagus, and intestines. The Vagus nerve triggers the parasympathetic nervous system slowing our heart rate and other bodily functions. So there is a direct link to breathing fully and our relaxation. "The Science of Breathing" by Jessica Levine is also a wonderful read to understand the anatomy of our breath cycle and how it impacts our overall body and mood.
Deep breathing also helps focus our attention on our body and our surroundings enhancing our awareness. Our personal awareness scope widens when we use it on a regular basis. Paying attention to our breath is about training our conscious mind to be observant. The more we are able to identify what is going in our heart, mind, and body the more we can direct our life. How else are we to correct the course we are on if we do not know where we stand at the present moment?
Ways To Use Intentional Breathing
I will not be able to cover the extensive array of breathing techniques out there but hopefully will shed light on a few. First Dr. Chad Walding shows you three breathing techniques that you can use anywhere to help you relax.
Guided Imagery - Some of us our visual people and need to be able to see something or picture something instead of just focusing on our breath. Guided imagery/ visualizations are an awesome resource helping us intentionally breath while also creating visual structures in our thoughts. If you would like to look at a few guided imagery scripts please go to Inner Health Studio. You can also find some on youtube.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation - This technique also provides structure around our breathing by focusing our intentional breathing on tensing and relaxing our muscles. Here is a script by therapistaid for you to try. Search online for others if this is what works for you.
Equal Breathing - This technique focuses on breathing in for a count of four and out for a count of four. It creates balance in our breathing and our body systems.
Breath prayers intentionally link our thoughts with our breath. Breath prayers have been called the "prayer of the heart" because it stops us from worrying about saying the right words. Our souls speak to what we feel and want in our relationship with God and the world.
One form of breath prayers is to breath in with a word or phrase meaning something to you in that moment. On the breath out you can also say the word or phrase. The intentional focus is thinking about what it means to have that word or phrase breath in you and out on the world. Another intentional focus would be on invoking the presence of the Divine in our lives.
Sometimes people will breath in with a word they feel they need (peace, love, joy, etc.) and out something they want to release from their body (stress, anger, negativity, etc.). If you are struggling on what phrase to use check out "50 Breath Prayers" put together by Jean Wise providing a great list of words and phrases.
Of course this is just a few ways to use a breath prayer. There are numerous ways to conduct breath prayers and I encourage you to search for more. This may not be what works for you but our spiritual journey's are about being vulnerable to trying and experiencing ways to find God in our lives. I wish you the best!
Chihowa Reunion is just around the corner. If you want to take a week out and focus on your spiritual life come to this event. To register please go Midlands Mission Center.
This week attempt to try one technique of intentional breathing/ breath prayer.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.