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/