New Article: Breath Prayer: An Ancient Spiritual Practice Connected with Science

We are happy to welcome Nancy S. Wiens to our authors. Her piece is featured today as the most recent article on the website.

Ever had times in your life where the eloquence of words escapes you, and all that’s left is the smallest words you can utter to God?

Read here: https://biologos.org/articles/breath-prayer-an-ancient-spiritual-practice-connected-with-science

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Enjoyed the article. I’ve practiced meditative prayer from time to time, but not consistently. I wonder how many folks here have tried it, or something similar to Breath Prayer?

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I didn’t quite catch what breath prayer is? Did I miss it in the article? How does one do breath prayer? Also, are there any studied benefits to those that are not under the umbrella of “anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, hostility and aggression, attention deficit disorders, and autism spectrum disorder” as per the one source?

Finding the science in psychology and psychiatry is difficult at times. So much in the way of symptoms is subjective. While attempts are made to quantify changes in neurotransmitters with various treatments and modalities are made, it still is hard to separate results from background noise.
Despite that, this and other prayer techniques maybe of benefit to the individual and are helpful is focusing and calming. It is just hard sometimes to find the science in it.

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It’s saying a short, repeated prayer in time with inhales and exhales. It weirds some Christians out because it seems too Eastern, but I guess it has a long history in Christian practice as well.

Jay, one thing I love about Breath Prayer is that it can happen at any time and in any place since we always have our breath with us. It helps me let go of any struggles I might have with my inconsistency of praying. Mostly, it helps me listen to God, as my body and thoughts calm down. Curious to hear, if you were to try it, how it goes!

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Matthew, the original prayer practice was to say, “Jesus Christ, Son of God” on the inhale and, “have mercy on me,” on the exhale. Often that biblical prayer is shortened or changed to just a few words, as Christy described. I like to listen for how God is speaking to me and use those words. For a long season, I prayed, “Trustworthy” on the inhale and, “God,” on the exhale.
As to the research, because voluntarily-regulated breathing practices, whether they include prayer or not, impact the interplay of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, they play big roles in sports performance as well as recovery from surgery. As Phil noted, the scientific studies work hard to measure changes. Cortisol levels are usually a strong indicator of the impact of re-harmonizing the Autonomic Nervous System.

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Christy, thank you for this link! I love its clarity and brevity.

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Thanks for this post. It reminds me of the “Breathe” song by Michael W Smith, as well as “pray without ceasing” by Paul in I Thess 5:17.

Counselors frequently use breathing exercises in “mindfulness training.” I’m not sure if there is a relationship or not–the thought is that it regulates and decreases excess CO2 blowoff.

I am not sure if there’s a role for another thread, but do you have thoughts about teaching children to pray? As my kids grow older, we’ve been trying in our bedtime prayer to graduate from “help us to sleep well” to incorporate first thanks, then prayer for others, then prayer for themselves (if they want to use the last). It seems to train them to confidence and other-orientedness. However, I have a lot to learn!

Thanks.

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That reminds me of a song by Michael Card called “A Breath of a Prayer.” Now I’ll think of it in a whole new way – thank you!

It takes a single breath to pray:
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy
A breath of a prayer to say:
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God
Have mercy on me, a sinner
Father hallowed be Your name
Your kingdom come (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy)
Give unto us each day our daily bread (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy)
Forgive us, as we forgive all those who sin against us
And lead us not into temptation
It takes a single breath to pray:
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy
A breath of a prayer to say:
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy

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I made an effort to try it today, and I must say that I got something from it. By coincidence, I had a lot going on, and praying as you suggested actually did have a calming effect, and I gained some clarity from the spiritual exercise.

Now, the problem is that I have a dusty exercise bike in sight right now. I’m really good at resolutions. Ouch!

That was how I felt about all forms of meditative prayer for most of my life. (Edit: It also goes by the name of “contemplative prayer” in many Catholic writers.) But I ran across Dallas Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives in the early 2000s. He introduced me to Richard Foster, who introduced me to a whole stream of Christian spirituality that was tossed aside in the Reformation.

Anyway, one of the disciplines that I practiced for a while (longer than a couple of weeks!) was meditative prayer. It was interesting and worthwhile, but I have to admit that I suffered from what’s called “monkey mind.” I could never really clear my mind. Every time I got close, either I would fall asleep, or some mundane thought would pop into my head and set me spinning. I don’t think I’m wired for meditation. Breath Prayer is a little simpler for my monkey mind. haha

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Since we’re talking about Orthodox spirituality, I wonder if our friend @GJDS would like to weigh in.

Laura, thank you so much for letting me know about this song!


Gorgeous blend of voices and guitar.
Amen!
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Randy, yes mindfulness training is connected in that it ties the breath to the focusing power of the brain when it is in the calming branch of the nervous system. That is, we are able to be more mindful when we are not in fight/flight or freeze. The excess CO2 has to do with the body’s interpretation of our surroundings as dangerous and that it is no longer nourishing for our body, which needs O2 for life.

I’m always happy to talk about teaching children to pray! A very simple approach is in the book Sleeping With Bread. Simply, look over the day for 2-3 experiences that stir gratitude/playfulness/happiness in the child. Have them say them aloud and after each one say, “God, thank you.” Then look over the day for places where they felt sad/fear/pain/grumpy. After hearing them say, “God, help me.” If you want to join in the sharing of your experiences (obviously adapted for children’s ears), then you can amend the response to, “God, help us.” This prayer form is based on the Examen from the Ignatian Exercises. If you would like other options and ideas, feel free to contact me through my website www.EmergenceInitiatives.com.

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Thank you, Pastor Wiens! This is fascinating. Just so I don’t distract from your original article too much, I posted another thread; maybe you can expand on that more? I appreciate your expertise and experience.

I am aware of Orthodox monastic practices that require quite and repeating “Lord have mercy” and these are based mainly on the teachings of St Palamas. I took and active interest many years ago as a young man, and I feel the practice of meditation and prayer, helped with the Psalms, was very beneficial for a spiritual peace and a good outlook. The many cares and duties of family life and work however, soon flood one’s mind and time seems unavailable. This is unfortunate.

I guess I cannot contribute more to this discussion, :smile:

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I imagine it was more like this:

Than this!

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Love them both.

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Just one question about “breath prayer” – is its intended effect to induce some sort of altered state of consciousness or other?

I’ve never heard that. It’s supposed to capitalize on the mind/body/soul connection.