Breath prayers are a form of meditative prayer that follow the rhythm of your breathing. They can be good for ground yourself if you’re anxious or overwhelmed, or they can be good for practices of stillness. Breath prayers can be great for children, as well, because they combine a practice of stillness and mindfulness with simple prayers that can be easy to learn.
This is part of the Prayer series where I describe various ways of praying in the hopes that you can find something (or multiple somethings) to help diversify and/or enhance your prayer life.
The Basics of Breath Prayers
Breath prayers can be done anywhere you like. Because of the meditative nature of breath prayers, and because I have some background in various forms of meditation, I prefer to be in a sitting, cross-legged position, but that isn’t required. You can be in whatever position is comfortable for you. Try to relax and breath in and out in a steady rhythm. I recommend focusing on your breathing for a minute or two before beginning the actual prayers. Hopefully, this can help your body and mind to steady a bit, calm any nerves, and give you a chance to enter a place of mindfulness.
Breath prayers consist of three pairs:
- Your breathing and the words of the prayer. I find that breath prayers are the most helpful when the breathing and the prayers align closely. The rhythm of your breathing will, to some degree, dictate the rhythm of your prayer, and vice versa.
- The inhale and the exhale. Your breathing can be broken down further into the two basic parts of breaths. Each part should be consistent, even if they don’t match each other. For example, I might take a very long inhale but a shorter exhale, or vice versa, but try to make all the inhales the same and all the exhales the same. I’ll talk more about that below.
- The two parts (breath and prayer) of each inhale and each exhale. Breath prayers sometimes have distinct parts for the inhale and the exhale and correspond with specific parts of the prayer. I’ll talk more about that below.
The Process of Breath Prayers
I mentioned that your breathing might be offset (i.e. longer inhales, shorter exhales, or vice versa), but if you’re just starting out, I suggest making your breathing as steady as possible. If you pause between inhaling and exhaling, your pauses should be about the same length, as well. If you’re familiar with the “square breathing” or “box breathing” techniques, feel free to use those as a breathing pattern. If you’re new to breath meditations or don’t like those particular techniques, feel free to use another.
My own breathing varies, depending on my mood. Sometimes I use shorter pauses and longer breaths, and sometimes I don’t pause between inhaling and exhaling for a steady flow of air. You’re free to experiment and find what works for you.
The same is true for the words of your prayer. I’ll provide some examples below, but the basic idea is that you breathe through your prayers. Or, to put it another way, you pray through your breaths. Your breathing and the words are paired together. The goals is to align the two closely so that they feel intertwined.
Breath prayers are usually silent (said in your mind to yourself) so that they don’t interrupt your breathing. Breath prayers are also often short so that you don’t have to read them or think of them on the fly, which could disrupt the meditative aspect.
I mentioned that the words often have distinct parts for the inhale and the exhale. What I mean is that the first part (during the inhale) often follows a patter, such as naming a characteristic of God. For example, you might pray, “God of peace,” as the first part. The second part is often related to that characteristic; what is it you wish to say or ask that relates to “God of peace?” For example, “Give me peace.”
As you inhale: “God of peace,”
As you exhale: “give me peace.”
Because of the often short, simple nature of breath prayers, they can be highly repetitive. That’s part of why they work as meditative prayers. The repetition can help us stay centered or focused. They’re great as a way of grounding ourselves or re-centering ourselves when we become anxious or overwhelmed. Even praying a breath prayer for just one or two breaths, however, can be helpful.
The simplicity of breath prayers may also help you trim your thoughts into more basic ideas. What aspect or characteristic of God are you appealing to? What is a simple form of what you want to say to God? Of course, this isn’t the only pattern for breath prayers. Here are some examples and other patterns you might follow.
Description of God – Request
“God of peace,
give me peace.”
“Lord of mercy,
have mercy on me.”
“Holy and righteous one,
lead me in right paths.”
Description of God – Praise/Confession
“You are merciful and just,
Your love endures forever.”
Inspired by 1 John 4 and 1 Corinthians 13:
“You are love,
You are patient and kind.”
“You are love,
You keep no record of wrongs.”
Reciting Scripture Directly
From John 15:5
“You are the vine,
I am the branch.”
From Psalm 23
“The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.”
“He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He restores my soul.”
You can pray whatever’s on your heart. You can recite scripture. You can follow a template. You can change your prayer with every breath or every so many breaths or every few minutes. Whatever you want to pray in whatever pattern is helpful for you, breath prayers are a tool to help enhance your prayer life.
Breath prayers try to match praying with breathing. Don’t be in a hurry; try to keep your breathing steady. Pray as slowly or as quickly as you need to, and don’t be afraid to repeat the same prayer over and over. This is a way of focusing and meditating on simple thoughts about God, yourself, and your relationship with God.
Feel free to explore with different breathing, different physical positions, and different words. Feel free to recite scripture, mix and match, highlight characteristics of God, make requests or confessions, or praise God. Feel free to pray for lengthy periods of time or for short periods of time. You may, for example, only pray for a few steadying breaths and then get back to work. These things are all for you to explore.
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