Meditation, yoga, and other stress-reducing therapies teach that slowing down and focusing on the timing and pace of our breath can have positive effects on our body and mind. A recent study in the Journal of Neurophysiology may support this, revealing that brain regions linked to emotion, attention, and body awareness are activated when we pay attention to our breath. This study raises the possibility that particular breathing strategies may be used as a tool to help people to manage their thoughts, moods, and experiences.
Christian mystics and contemplatives have long known that paying attention to one’s breath can be a powerful spiritual practice. Let’s take a look at one of the most widely known – The YHWH Breath Prayer.
The YHWH Breath Prayer As A Spiritual Practice
Centuries ago Jewish people concluded that the name of God should not be spoken at all. The Sacred Tetragrammaton, YHWH, was not ever to be pronounced with the lips. Many Jews believe that God’s name is not pronounceable, but only breathable: YH on the captured in-breath, and WH on the offered out-breath.
God cannot be captured or controlled, but only received and shared as freely as the breath itself—the thing we have done since the moment we were born and will do until the day we die. Yet, God is as available and accessible as our breath itself. Jesus breathes the Spirit into us as the very air of life (see John 20:22). Our job is simply to both receive and give this life-breath. We cannot only inhale, and we cannot only exhale. We must breathe in and out, a metaphor for accepting and letting go in the YHWH Breath Prayer.
As a spiritual practice, take several minutes to pause and breathe mindfully, surrendering to the mystery and invisibility of air, the sustainer of life. Open your lips; relax your jaw and tongue. Listen to the air flow in and out of your mouth and lungs as you inhale and exhale.
Breathe in and out words that describe the character and nature of God. For example, breathe in God’s love for you, breathe out God’s love to others. Breathe in God’s grace towards you, breathe out God’s grace towards others. Breathe in God’s compassion for you, breathe out God’s compassion to others. Throughout the day, let your breathing in and out be your prayer to—and from—God.
Posted on January 21, 2020