Self-Care: Breathe

Breathing deeply among Redwoods. Photo credit: Thomas Robinson. See

One of the many healthy ways to practice physical self-care is to learn to breathe. It sounds odd to me also to read, “learning to breathe,” because we breathe without thinking about it. Take time today to breathe slowly for a few minutes. It may sound elementary, but I am going to state it anyway. Breathe.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe slowly. Breathe unaware. Breathe aware that you are breathing. Take time to become more aware that you are breathing.

The first breath a human ever took was the breath of life from God, as witnessed in Genesis 2:7. Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.

Breathing is part of our automatic, involuntary survival practices; ways our bodies function whether we are awake or asleep, conscious or unconscious. There are ways to voluntarily control our breathing. Here are a few examples: pursed lip breathing; diaphragmatic breathing; equal breathing; deep breathing; box or square breathing. These various approaches to voluntary breathing involve ways to use our breathing to focus our minds, calm our anxieties, relax our stressed or tense bodies, or involve our whole body in self-care.

Breathing is essential to living. When we stop breathing, our lives are at risk. As an asthmatic, I’ve been more aware of my breath than many other people who do not have breathing problems. When wheezy, I do not get enough oxygen into my body, I get light-headed, and my health is easily compromised. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I knew I was a candidate with “underlying conditions,” a person who was especially vulnerable to this disease that attacks the respiratory system.

Every morning, one of my regular activities is to sit quietly in a comfortable chair, put my feet up, allow my two siamese kitties, Tus and Tak to come nestle themselves on my lap and fall asleep, as I simple sit quietly and breathe.

I breathe as I pray. I view prayer as breathing. As we inhale, we receive God’s breath of life into our bodies and souls. As we exhale, we offer to God our souls and lives. As I breathe, I pray Jesus prayer found in John 15:4, “Abide in me, and I in you.” I pray this prayer as two full breaths: Abide (inhale), in me (exhale), and I (inhale) in you (exhale).

There are many examples of what is known as breath prayer, or prayers that are offered to God in rhythm with our breathing. A Trappist monk once told me that he believed prayer is as essential to our spiritual life as breathing is to our physical life.

I am grateful to live so close to the Pacific Ocean, just a few blocks away. Every time I open a window in my home or in my pastor’s study in the church building, I breath in cool, refreshing air coming in off the ocean. I love going outside to listen to the song of the sea, and breath in the fresh ocean air. I love the lyrics to the song “Great are you Lord”: It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise, we pour out our praise!