Receiving grace is like breathing. You can experience personal surrender and receive God’s grace through the simple daily interchange of inhale and exhale. How so? An awareness of your breath and its spiritual symbolism can provide focus and bring depth to your prayer life. There are profound similarities between the emptying and filling of your lungs and your interaction with the Holy Spirit. Come, and let’s explore this mystery together.
IN THE BEGINNING — THE BREATH OF LIFE
Everything, and I mean everything, starts with the breath. Both physical and spiritual life find their origins here:
- “The LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)
- “It is the spirit in a person, the breath of the Almighty that gives him understanding.” (Job 32:8)
- “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4)
- After His resurrection, Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22)
THE SCIENCE BEHIND YOUR INHALE
Scientist Crystal Goh has documented some very interesting findings in relation to the breath. According to researchers from Northwestern Medicine, nasal breathing plays an essential role in coordinating electrical brain signals within the olfactory “smell” cortex (the brain area that receives input directly from your nose). It activates a response from the amygdala (which handles emotions) as well as the hippocampus (which manages memory and emotions). Scientists noticed that particularly during nasal inhalation, the fast electrical rhythms in both became stronger.
In a final experiment, when shown images, people experienced better recall if they first encountered the pictures on an inhale through the nose. This specific type of inhalation altered cognition and improved both memory and emotional processing.
RECEIVING GRACE: THE BREATH OF GOD
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and its word for breath is ruwach (pronounced roo-ah). It’s the same word used for wind and spirit (both human and Holy). A similar comparison is found in New Testament Greek. The word pneuma (pronounced noo-mah) – means spirit, breath, and wind.
Think of the amazing spiritual parallel. This interchange of air symbolizes the sinner’s surrender to Christ:
- You exhale, and pray in your spirit: “Less of me.” This is the emptying of self.
- You inhale air, which becomes breath, and pray in your spirit: “More of You.”
Through this breathing discipline, body and spirit are harmonized, while unseen truths become tangible. Known as Breath Prayer, it’s been practiced by Christians for millennia.
LET’S TRY IT YOUR FIRST BREATH PRAYER!
- Sit in a comfortable position on a chair or the floor.
- Allow your body a few moments to settle in.
- If you’re feeling tension in your jaw or shoulders, try relaxing them on the exhale.
- Close your eyes and pay attention to the natural rhythm of your breath. Don’t try to change anything. Right now you’re merely observing.
- How many counts is your natural inhale? How many counts is your natural exhale? There’s no right number. Just notice.
- Now lengthen your exhale by one count. The edge between inhale and exhale will soften as you relax.
- Keep your focus on the breath. It’s normal for your thoughts to wander. When you notice a distraction, calmly acknowledge it and redirect your attention back to inhale and exhale.
- Try to keep this going for five minutes. (Set a timer so you don’t find yourself fighting the nagging impulse to check the clock.)
- Now, add the spiritual dimension. Starting with the exhale, pray: “Jesus, less of me.”
- On the inhale, pray: “More of You.” (You can pray other things too. Just make sure the words are short, and flow easily with the breath.)
- Practice once each day, slowly increasing the time in subsequent sessions, stepping up to about 10 minutes total when you feel ready. You’ll find your body relaxed, mind grounded, and connection with the Holy Spirit enlivened.
KEEPING YOUR FOCUS
Let’s face it: Breathing can be boring. Try bringing some variety to your worship / breath / prayer practice by adding movement. Here are two great options:
Enjoy A Gentle Holy Yoga Class
Did you know the word yoga means to yoke with? It’s the union of breath and body! The breath initiates and movement follows. Simple as that.
Yoga is just as much about the breath as it is about the poses. Add to this the incredible bonus of yoking your spirit with Jesus during this time, and things get even better! This is where the worshipful practice of Holy Yoga offers so much goodness.
When I sit and focus on the breath, my mind wanders so easily. My struggle with OCD doesn’t help much either. 😉 That’s one of the reasons I’ve created this website. These disciplines are challenging for me, personally! Yet when I commit to doing them, I’ve experienced amazing results. Combining motion with breath maintains my focus while in prayer and relaxes my nervous system.
Click the following link for free access to beginner yoga videos, and start connecting your body and your breath today: Holy Yoga with Ali.
Go for a Worship Walk
The next time you want to pray, try going for a walk. This offers similar benefits: it focuses your mind on the breath while giving your body something to do. Try praying impressions rather than words. Wordless prayers are wonderful. Give Him thanks! Praise Him as you walk! God’s greatness is so beyond words! Prayer from the heart straight to the Lord feels restful, leaving your mind free to observe the inhale and exhale. As you walk, your body will naturally connect with and follow this breath.
BE FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT
Make room for God in your life today. Surrender that space. This is an essential part of salvation, but it’s also the continuous work of sanctification. Walking in the power of the Holy Spirit is necessary in order to claim victory over the sinful flesh. Less of you. More of Him. Emptied, so that you may be filled.
I pray that out of God’s glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – THAT YOU MAY BE FILLED WITH ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD. – Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)
I loved this post and I will share some of this with my yoga students. I love the reminder that God Breathed into us the Breath of Life. Thanks Ali ❤️
Your welcome, Carolyn! Isn’t it amazing and humbling how dependent we are upon God? Every breath. But there’s no greater place of freedom than this – to be completely dependent upon the kindest, most powerful Being in the Universe.
This is so interesting, Ali. For years I have used the ‘trick’ of breathing in and out slowly to fall asleep quickly, and now I see that there is actually a good deal of science behind it. Fascinating! Many thanks!
Yes, Han. It’s amazing when you actually can feel it working too!