If you would like a pre-written script for leading breathing exercises, here is one available: Pre meditation breathing script
Correct breathing, and breathing exercises, are a fantastic way to prepare a group for prayer. Here is a simple exercise for beginners to help them learn the basics to enhance their prayer.
Theology of breath as prayer itself:
In Exodus 3:14, we first hear the name of the Lord. Depending on what bible you have, you may have any number of translations such as ‘the LORD’, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ or Yahweh. Yahweh is the closest to what the original actually says and is the Latinisation of the Hebrew הוה. These symbols actually translate as YHWH and in Hebrew are interchangeable with the Hebraic sounds for breathing. What the Lord is saying to us in its most simple form is that his name is breath. This brings with it many beautiful reflections such as how simply saying God’s name gives life.
To use breath as prayer itself, use it like reciting a rosary; the breath/words focuses the mind and with this focused mind we then enter meditative or contemplative prayer.
Have your group either lay down if they are on the floor or sit up on their chairs. Take time ensuring that they all have plenty of space to themselves and, particularly if they are lying down, ensure that none of their heads are close together.
This is crucial as if a group member is not at first open to doing the exercise it is important to remove any possible distraction they think they can get away with, as if they don’t find anything they may refocus on the exercise while if they do they likely won’t.
This is the most simple way to begin learning to breathe properly, but there are many other ways to learn or go more advanced once you have mastered this.
Have your group close their eyes as to focus on the exercise.
Explain that for this exercise they will be using their whole lung to breathe, rather than the normal 1/3 most people use in day to day life. At this point you may like to share some of the benefits to breathing exercises, such as increased awareness, higher levels of endorphins and dopamine which result in a reduction of stress and depression, higher pain tolerance, larger lung capacity etc.
While this is not necessary, it can be handy as a way of encouraging those who are less eager to start the activity. The main benefit for us is that by focusing on breathing, it helps stop your mind from wondering and relaxes the body, which is beneficial as it allows us to pray for much longer and deeper without distraction.
Explain that to inhale properly, they need to inhale through their nose, directing their inhaled breath to the lower abdomen. Inhale slowly for about six seconds for beginners, slowly filling the lungs not forcing the breath.
Hold the breath for a couple of seconds.
Exhale by slowly breathing out through the mouth for about six seconds for beginners.
To relax the body further in preparation for meditative or contemplative prayer, follow the following instructions:
- As you inhale; tense up tightly both your feet. As you exhale, relax your feet
- Repeat with lower legs
- Repeat with thighs
- Repeat with hands
- Repeat with arms
- Repeat with core and backside
- Repeat with chest
- Repeat with face
At this point, the person doing this activity will be relaxed and focused, hopefully ready to go further into the prayer. Keep breathing in this way throughout the prayer and, as the leader of the prayer etc., you may like to remind your group to do this throughout the exercise to help refocus any group members whose minds may have started to wander.