Saturday, April 6, 2013

Sacred Breathing

“Then the Lord God formed man [Adam] from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7 NRSV).

In the creation story, Adam did not become a living being until God breathed the breath of life into him. We too often take our breathing for granted. Unless we have an ailment like asthma making it is difficult to take air into our lungs, we seldom think about breathing. It is natural. Yet without breath we would not be living beings.

In my forthcoming book A Mellow Heart (Working title), I claim that the existential loneliness in our culture is caused by our alienation and exploitation of nature. Yet without nature we couldn’t breathe. There is a symbiotic relationship between our ability to breathe and nature. We take in oxygen from plants, and we breathe out carbon dioxide. In turn, plants take in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. What is life-giving for humans is poisonous to plants. Likewise, what is life-giving for plants is poisonous for humans. So deforestation, the exploitation of nature for commercial purposes, has a direct effect on our breath and our loneliness. Deforestation (and many other exploitative practices) alienates us from nature because it places us above rather than within nature. In contrast, breathing makes it abundantly clear that in order to be a “living being,” we are dependent on nature.

Recognizing that we are part of nature, and in order to repair our alienation from it, we need to become more aware of our breath. Becoming more aware of our breath puts us in touch with our dependence on nature and that we are part of the created world. Since God created nature, we also become aware of God. When we become more aware of our breathing, it becomes sacred.

I practice sacred breathing by sitting still and breathing in very slowly and deliberately what is life giving and breathing out the same way what is poisonous. Breathe in love, breathe out hate and repeat for 10 to 20 minutes. The physical benefit of such breathing is total relaxation; one can literally feel one’s blood pressure lowering. I also can feel the stress of any given day melt away. Yes, I confess that at times I fall asleep from being so relaxed. That is not bad if we are in need of rest. The spiritual benefit of such breathing is becoming acutely aware of the presence of God, and becoming mindful of one’s place in the larger scheme of things.

I try many combinations of life-giving/poisonous polarities. You can imagine your own. Breathe in peace, breathe out anger. Breathe in beauty, breathe out ugliness. Breathe in my God-likeness, breathe out my propensity to sin. Another combination that I use but doesn’t fit the scheme I’ve presented above is: Breathe in grace, breathe out gratitude. This has been very meaningful to many people who have practiced it.

Sacred breathing helps us to relax, to sense God’s presence, and to mitigate our alienation from nature. Sacred breathing helps to make us more aware, more present. Sacred breathing helps us to be grateful for the “breath of life” that God has given us.

Add you own live-giving/poisonous polarities in the comment box for use in sacred breathing.  


  1. Breathe in God's love, breathe out fear.

    I chose the house I live in because a door from the master bedroom opened out to a secluded side yard. It was nothing but a bed of weeds inviting snakes. But I told Danny...this will be my prayer garden. Two years later he blessed me with the finished garden for Mother's day. Now in addition, I will add sacred breathing to my time in the garden. Thanks for the insights. Jeanette

  2. Another insight is that when we were created, God breathed the breath of life into us. It takes breath to speak words. I have concluded that my words are alive with the creative power of God. They can produce life or death. Lord, help me speak only life!

  3. Yes, words are extremely important and powerful. The Hebrew name for word transliterated is "dabar". I understand that "dabar" contains the meaning of a missile that is launched and that it can never be retracted. That's why when Isaac gave his "word" of blessing to the wrong son, he could not retract it. It had to remain on Jacob. Therefore it is important to use that power, as you say, for creative purposes rather than destructive ones. "Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight."

    Enjoy to the fullest your prayer garden.What a wonderful thing to have a retreat right in your backyard.