Saturday, August 20, 2016

More on Deep Breathing for Caregivers: Breath Prayers

Deep breathing can help people under stress relax.  If you're a caregiver of an aging parent or spouse, or if you work in the senior health care field, you know about stress.  Deep breathing, which I discussed in an earlier post, can move us from "flight or flight" to calm.

Early Christian fathers took breathing seriously.  So seriously that they created "breath" prayers:  short prayers they could repeat during the day to keep their focus on God rather than on the problems they faced, or even on the blessings or answers God might give them.

Breath prayers feature a phrase, usually about six to eight syllables long.  That phase is repeated in tandem with taking a breath. The first set of words is repeated as we inhale; the second set as we exhale.  Some words I've used in my breath prayers are "Lord have mercy," and "Teach me to pray." Breath prayers can be spoken or silent.  And they are highly personal.

The concept was introduced to me in 1994 at a prayer retreat led by Bishop Rueben Job, of the United Methodist Church.

"Ask God for the prayer; and practice words until the prayer fits," he said, sending us outside to walk the trails of the retreat center.  I walked, and breathed, and finally the right words came. 

"Lord, teach me to play."  That was my breath prayer then, and it still fits me now, when I take myself and my work too seriously.

Other religions have somewhat similar practices that combine deep breathing and meditation.

Breath prayers don't substitute for other forms of prayer.  But for me, they have turned off my brain, allowed me to relax and give my work, my family and myself--through my breath--to God.

Thoughts may be overrated, said my physician Dr. Henry Hochberg at my recent physical exam.

"People can live without thinking. Not very well, but they can live.  But no one can live without breathing," he says.

How true!  And as a corollary, for people of faith, "No one can live without prayer."

For the technique of deep breathing, see:

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