In times of stress and times of joy God’s people can come to Him in prayer. Even for Jesus prayer was vital to His ministry and relationship with the Father while on earth. Breath prayer is a type of prayer and spiritual practice that can calm your spirit and reconnect you with God in a powerful, but simple way.
In our busy daily lives we can easily feel off kilter, stressed, and spiritually disconnected. Breath prayer is a great practice to incorporate to help you grow in your faith and find more joy in your everyday moments.
What is a breath prayer?
A breath prayer is a short prayer of praise to God or request to God that you pray silently while breathing deeply.
I didn’t grow up in a church that taught about breath prayer or held guided prayer in much esteem. I stumbled into by accident started out as a running mantra. As I ran I simply began to match my prayer to my breath.
Inhale — “The Lord is…..”
Exhale — “…my strength and song” (Psalm 118:14)
Many breath prayers only contain 4-6 brief words of prayer and are easy to stop and practice in our everyday life. This meditative act combines the spiritual (prayer) and the physical (breathing) for a profound spiritual connection with Jesus.
Breath prayers help me align my kingdom (my thoughts, attitudes, intentions, fears, struggles) with God’s kingdom.
History of breath prayers
Although breath prayer has been a relatively new practice to my faith–it is far from new to the followers of Jesus.
Breath prayer seem to be first used by the desert fathers and desert mothers between the third and sixth centuries. This group of believers withdrew into the desert and formed the first type of community centered around contemplative practices (prayer, meditation) and self denial.
These early practitioners taught that repeating a prayer can aid in creating inner stillness to allow God’s spirit to work.
A variety of faith traditions practice breathing and guided meditation. But the ancient practice of breath prayer isn’t equivalent to yoga or a buddhist practice simply used to center people.
Through modern science we know now how beneficial deep breathing can be to the brain and body–it can reduce blood pressure, alter the ph of your blood and trigger a calming response in the Vagus nerve. (Source)
What a gift God has given us to be able to pair our prayers and breathing!
How to practice breath prayer
The breath prayer instructions are fairly simple–breathe and pray. The exact words of the prayer don’t matter as much as if it is a prayer of the heart.
- First thing, find a quiet place (this can be outside your minivan after buckling the kids in, on your commute to work, on a walk in nature or even in a bathroom stall.) Any place with the presence of God is a holy place!
- Second, decide on a simple phrase to pray.
- Take a deep breath on the inhale pray silently (think the words) the first half of your phrase.
- Exhale while thinking the words of the second half of your phrase/prayer.
- As you continue to pray keep your mind in the present moment. Try to practice your breath prayer for 1-5 minutes and build up from there.
Traditional Breath Prayers
There are many traditional breath prayers but the most popular by far are these two. They are often used in the Catholic church and more liturgical faith communities around the world.
The Jesus Prayer
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.“
The first section “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” is said on the inhale and “have mercy on me a sinner” is said on the exhale.
The Jesus Prayer has been said to be the most widespread orthodox spiritual prayer and is a great way to “be constant in prayer” as the apostle Paul says in Romans 12:12.
This is an insightful article on the Jesus Prayer which can help you learn more and go deeper in utilizing it in your faith.
The Kyrie Eleison
Fun fact: when I began researching for this article and came across the phrase “kyrie eleison” I thought it was a female writers name. Dear friend, it is not.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Kyrie Eleison is a transliteration of the Greek. The phrase “Lord have mercy” is used throughout the Bible, but especially in the Psalms of the Old Testament.
We also see it used three times in the gospels speaking to Jesus. In the New Testament, the Greek phrase occurs three times in the book of Matthew.
- Matthew 15:22: “A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
- Matthew 17:15: “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water.”
- Matthew 20:3 “Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
How to create your own breath prayer
Although their are many breath prayers you can borrow from other Christians my heartfelt advice is to create your own breath prayers to use in your time with God or on the go during your day. This allows you to tailor your breath prayers to the unique ways God is speaking to you from His Word and the particular help or praise you want to pray for.
In my breath prayer rhythm I like to incorporate a name of God and a brief sentence (often pulled from the Scripture) but it doesn’t have to be.
There is nothing magical about breath prayers–there is no spell book for them. So feel free to create your own– a number of times my breath prayer is simply:
“Jesus, help me.”
8 Examples of breath prayers
I hope you see in these examples how simple, yet profound breath prayers can be. Shorter prayers help center me and keep me aware of God’s presence rather than have my mind wander.
“Lord God, be near.”
-Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
“Holy Spirit, guide me.”
-John 16:13 “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
“Be glorified in me.”
-2 Thessalonians 1:12 “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Jesus, You are my peace.”
-Ephesians 2:14 “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,”
“Give me today, my daily bread.”
-Matthew 6:11 “Give us today our daily bread.”
“I will sing to You, as long as I live.”
-Psalm 104:33 “I will sing to the LORD as long as I live. I will praise my God to my last breath!”
“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
“Not my will, but Yours be done.”
-Luke 22:42 ““Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
More ways to grow your faith
Learn more about breath prayers
Breath Prayer: An Ancient Practice for the Everyday Sacred by Christine Valters Paintner
In Breath Prayer, Christine Valters Paintner, online abbess of Abbey of the Arts, introduces us to this spiritual practice and offers beautiful poem-prayers for walking, working, dressing, cleaning, sitting in silence, doing the dishes, living in community–breathing the divine into our daily lives. Over time these recitations become as natural as breathing. We don’t so much recite the prayers as the prayers recite us, guide us, and open our hearts to the everyday sacred.” –Source
Breath as Prayer: Calm Your Anxiety, Focus Your Mind, and Renew Your Soul by Jennifer Tucker and Ann Voskamp (releasing August 2022)
Find hope amid anxiety through the spiritual practice of breath prayer in this beautifully illustrated and practical guide to connecting body, mind, and spirit during times of stress.
Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom Sayings by Christine Valters Paintner
Quotes and parables from the Desert Fathers and Mothers organized around themes with modern commentary.
Every Moment Holy by Douglas McKelvey
“Every Moment Holy brings new liturgies for the ordinary events of daily life, such as A Liturgy for Feasting with Friends or A Liturgy for Laundering or A Liturgy for the First Hearthfire of the Season. These prayers are ways of reminding us that our lives are shot through with sacred purpose even when, especially when, we are too busy or too caught up in our busyness to notice.”