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  • Writer's pictureRusty McKie

3.Sit in Stillness - Breath Prayers

The panic attacks started after my wife's brother passed away.

I sat in my car outside a restaurant. I loved this weekly time and the men who hung out from our one-year-old church plant. Yet dread filled my chest.

I felt fragile and didn't know why. Time passed. Grief subsided. But the anxiety persisted.

Discovering a weekly sabbath helped. But after physically stopping, my mind never quieted. In fact, rest sent my thoughts and emotions into overdrive.

Then in 2018, I discovered the third step toward spiritual and emotional stability — breath prayers.

A calm mind is possible

A mentor at the time encouraged me to take responsibility for my meditations (Philippians 4:8-9). 

I had assumed a frenetic mind was ordinary. I began to realize that an obsessive-lifestyle was not what Jesus meant by "abundant life" (John 10:10). 

Here's what I discovered to be essential: 

  • Set aside 20 minutes per day (all at once or spread throughout the day)

  • Sit in stillness and focus on your breath

  • Rehearse Scripture

Here are three reasons why I value breath prayers.

First, breath prayers calm you down

"Research shows that taking longer to exhale than to inhale signals to our nervous systems that we are safe, stimulating the vagus nerve. Both help us stay [calm]. You can also incorporate a breath prayer to anchor you and support you as you breathe... [this] has significant mental health benefits, such as the following: reduced stress; lessening of chronic pain; improved emotional regulation; increased compassion; and heightened curiosity." - Aundi Kulber (Try Softer, 88, 121-122)

When life overwhelms you, consider sitting in silence for a few minutes. The impact will surprise you.

Second, breath prayers connect you with Jesus

Intentional breathing floods our minds with more than oxygen. It can focus us on truth as we intentionally meditate on God's Word.

Breathing also becomes a metaphor for my union with Jesus. Air is in me, and I'm surrounded by air — like Christ is in me, and I'm in Christ (John 15:5).

"Example after example bears witness to this [Christian] tradition that uses breath as a metaphor of divine-human intimacy. But there is also a very practical aspect of this tradition: the use of one's own breath as a way to experience this divine-human intimacy, as an aid to dispel the illusion of separation from God." - Martin Laird (Into the Silent Land, 32)

All this helps us be present to the moment, and the present moment is where we connect with Jesus.

Third, breath prayers train you for future stress

When we sit in stillness for any amount of time, our minds wander. This can frustrate, or it can train us. 

  1. We learn self-compassion when our minds wander from Scripture or our breathing. Failure to focus reminds us of our limits.

  2. We learn focus every time we must refocus. Coming back to Scripture and the breath in prayer trains our minds to pay attention.

  3. We learn resilience in coming back to truth and the breath. The self-compassion and focus gained in these solitary moments transfer into the rest of our life. 

If you want weekly guidance in this essential practice, sign up for my weekly newsletter, Pause to Reset.

What keeps you from sitting in stillness?

The final step in the journey toward spiritual and emotional stability is to invest in friendship


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