There was a time when the only deep breaths I would take were as I sat in a doctor's office and they would place their cold stethoscope on my back to see if my lungs were clear. But now, now a day does not go by when I either say the words as I begin leading a spiritual practice with another person or in my own daily rhythms and practice.
I'm convinced we don't breathe deeply enough in our everyday lives. So, before you read further, take a deep breath. Or two or three. Perhaps you can feel your shoulders loosen or your face muscles relax.
There's a LOT of research out there on deep breathing and why it's good for you, and I'm no research scientist so I'll leave that to someone else. But, I have found taking deep breaths helps me settle in to myself, brings me back to the present, calms my thoughts and relaxes my body.
Also, not a Hebrew scholar, but I have read that the name of God, Yahweh, in Jewish culture spoken with just sound of the letters YHVH, which are the only consonants in the alphabet not articulated but are breathed, with a relaxed tongue and lips apart. So, as we breathe deeply, inhale and exhale, we breath the name of God. It was that knowledge that really brought to life the concept of praying without ceasing (which just so happens to be the intention of the desert mothers and fathers who started the practice). When I'm present to my breathing, I'm present to God. Breath is an invitation into prayer. Life is prayer.
One way that I love to bring myself actively into prayer through my breath is with what is known as a breath prayer. Known more commonly as the “Jesus Prayer” early practitioners would repeat to the rhythm of their breath the phrase, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” In time, the prayer was shortened to, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy” or simply, “Jesus, mercy.”
Breath prayer has the potential to become as natural as breathing and it is intended to be a very short prayer with just six to eight syllables. The inhalation of breath is a movement that expresses an attitude of invocation or supplication and the exhalation is a movement that expresses an attitude of receiving or acceptance. The words of the prayer can be easily adjusted to whatever longing is in your heart.
Invocation is made by calling on one of the Divine names such as God, Jesus, Lord, Father/Mother, Christ, or Spirit or whatever name of adoration you prefer. Then put words to your request or intention. The breath prayer is usually said silently within, repeating the prayer over and over keeping your attention on your breath and the prayer. If your attention wanders, gently return to the prayer.
Practice 1. Close your eyes and recall the line “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Be still, calm, peaceful, open to the presence of God. Take a deep breath and release it slowly. Repeat this a few times. Let go of the thoughts and be present to the practice. Take as long as you need until you feel the thoughts settle. 2. With your eyes closed, imagine that like the blind man on the road to Jericho, Jesus kindly looks you in the eyes and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Take time to sit here and and see what comes up inside of you. If you have more than one answer, write it down. 3. Select the name that you are most comfortable using to speak with God and combine it with your written answer to the question God asked you. This is your prayer. 4. Breathe in your invocation of God’s name and breathe out the second phrase/word to express your request or need. 5. Repeat the prayer as you breathe in and out for any amount of time. 6. Rest in God’s presence.