Intentional breathing is a natural good which can be put at the service of our on-going relationship with Jesus Christ. Secular groups such as HeartMath Institute (https://www.heartmath.org) have shown how meditative techniques that integrate awareness with breathing has a multitude of benefits. In both the Eastern and Western Christianity, praying with the breath has always had a role within the tradition, though not always as public and widely practiced.
The following are three ways that praying with the breath can be a great tool for your spiritual life.
1) Dealing with Stress
Intentional, rhythmic breathing can help move the body from an excited state to a more calm, gentle place. The main way it does this is by helping to calm and regulate the beating of the heart. The literature of groups such as HeartMath seem to show that erratic heart rhythms can be calmed through techniques which combine physical awareness with intentional breathing. This in turn helps us to process and let go of stress for there is profound interconnection between our interior life and our bodies.
2) Cultivating Stillness
In Eastern Christianity, stillness, or apatheia, was considered the prerequisite for what they called pure prayer. Their understanding was that by gently guiding disordered patterns of thinking, feeling, and desiring to a place of repose and receptivity, one became more available to God.
In this way, our intentional effort and role in the work of transformation consists of us disposing ourselves to receive from God with an open heart. Praying with the breath can help cultivate such a disposition by helping us to gently master our interior life.
3) Preparation for Prayer
Before we begin Mass or before we enter into a set period of prayer, we can use intentional breathing to help us transition from our daily activity. Although we should be careful not to try and forceable rid ourselves of “distractions,” using the breath with a kind of patient consistency can help us to maximize our time in prayer and meditation. Thus, I would argue that preparing for prayer by using the breath is an integral component of opening our hearts to the spontaneity of the Spirit. In this way, it is not an end in itself, but the means to an end, namely an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
For a practical guide on praying with the breath, see http://www.contemplatio.us/taming-our-interior-life-with-the-breath/
Father, thank you for sharing this. This practice is profound and brings a close connection to the Holy Spirit…
Thank you for a very interesting blog! I have gradually become more interested in meditation. It helps me find some serenity and grow spiritually. When I was (much) younger I learned transcendental meditation. Have you any thought on if it is possible to lift out some techniques from this, e.g. exchanging the mantra and incorporate it in my prayer life, without risking syncretism, that is. Would be grateful for some thoughts – or pointers to reading material – on this subject.
Thanks for the comment. I will give your question an answer soon.
Hi Joakim, I think to answer your question we would need to make a few distinctions. First, in its strictest sense, TM is a non-relational form of meditation which helps the individual to realize self-actualization (though they might not put it that way). By non-relational, I mean that it is not intended as a technique to draw you closer to a personal, loving God who has been revealed in Jesus Christ. In this strictest sense, I would advice against practicing TM.
However, if you mean that you would take the valuable insights you learned from TM and apply them as a way of relating to Jesus Christ, go ahead. In fact, I would say that you should look into the great Masters of the Christian tradition, and you will find many techniques which are quite similar to TM. The distinction between Christian Meditation and non-Christian Meditation is not so much in techniques, but in our understanding of having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Hope that helps.
Larry Dossey writes that Benson demonstrated that the body responds to these practices with what he calls the relaxation response, which consists of “a lowering of the heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate; a reduced need for oxygen; less carbon dioxide production. Can Spirituality Influence Health?
That’s my thinking…