The Air Prayer Hack

The Air Prayer Hack

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of conversations with my friends of a spiritual nature, and today experienced an epiphany that combines my two current preoccupations: improving focus and maintaining connections with people:

  1. Angela, my music teacher, and I have been having some excellent discussions about Christianity and the nature of love with respect to the teachings of Jesus. We both agree that love is a vast and inclusive feeling. This is what “being connected” really is.

  2. I have started making up rituals to get me focused in the morning, and this has led to an awareness of long-standing meditative practices. Breath control is at the root of many disciplines, I’ve realized.

  3. Ashish had bought me that book I mentioned the other day, The Four Agreements, which has a prayer in the back of the book that equates the feeling of love with breathing: Focus your attention on your lungs, as if only your lungs exist. Feel the pleasure when your lungs expand to fulfill the biggest need of the human body–to breathe. Take a deep breath and feel the air as it fills your lungs. Feel how the air is nothing but love. Notice the connection between the air and the lungs, a connection of love. Expand your lungs with air until your body has the need to expel that air. And then exhale, and feel the pleasure again. Because when we fulfill any need of the human body, it gives us pleasure. To breath gives us much pleasure. Just to breath is enough for us to always be happy, to enjoy life. Just to be alive is enough. Feel the pleasure to be alive, the pleasure of the feeling of love…

<

p>I gave this a try, and found that mindful breathing is indeed pleasurable. As I reflected upon the feeling of being alive and healthy, I breathed deeply and felt thankful to the powers that be for that moment. I was actually in the moment, not thinking about lunch or work or whether I should ditch my old notebook for the shiny new MacBook Pro 17. To breath is the fundamental human need, primal and immediate. Not only is it a calming feeling, breathing is highly portable. I can bring this sense of peace with me wherever I grow, so long as I remember to be mindful.

When I was a kid, our family always said Grace over dinner. Our prayer was the old standard: God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for this food. Amen. As I grew older, the saying of Grace turned toward the silent bowing of heads, excepting special holiday occasions when the most wizened / least starving of us would launch into a meandering monologue of thankfulness. So we haven’t used the “God is great, God is good” prayer in quite some time, perhaps because it seems a little inappropriate to me as an adult. This is because I say it the same way I did when I was 9 years old, using a sing-song hop-scotch delivery that really tries to make the almost-rhyme between “good” and “food” work. I enjoy the playfulness, but as an adult I really can’t get away with it anymore and be sincere.

But what if I prayed actively saying anything at all? It occurred to me that I could just pray with air. That is, through mindful breathing. I called it The Air Prayer, and it goes like this:

  1. Take a normal breath, deliberately.
  2. Take a longer, slower breath, savoring the sensation of the air entering your lungs.
  3. Take a deep lazy breath, hold it for a pleasurably long while, and then exhale slowly.
  4. Say “Amen”.

It combines meditative breathing with the feeling of love and life that comes from it, presuming that you don’t have lung problems. Call it love, call it life, call it a meditative mind trick: it was the most basic affirming prayer I’ve made in quite some time. When I was feeling stressed today, I found that I was always just a couple breaths away from completing the prayer; I just stretched the next breath out and uttered an Amen of thanks for being alive.

And so, I thought I would share. Enjoy!

9 Comments

  1. Chris Huff 11 years ago

    I’m encouraged by your interest in spiritual things.  What you describe sounds a little more (to me) like transcendental meditation in which you empty your mind of all thought except maybe focusing on one object, in your case love.

    Prayer is defined as “a devout petition to God or an object of worship.”  I would ask you, then, who or what are you praying to?  What is your goal in prayer?  If it’s to experience a feeling of love, what is this love directed towards, and how is this love shown?

    I mention these things not to criticize your practice, as I think such techniques can be calming and helpful, but just to bring up a few things to think about.

  2. CricketB 11 years ago

    I like that concept. It’s much more personal and far-reaching.

    My favourite for sharing is the World Hunger Grace, which can also be sung, and doesn’t encourage speedingn up.

    For food in a world where many walk in hunger,
    For faith in a world where many walk in fear,
    For friends in a world where many walk alone,
    We give Thee humble thanks, Oh Lord.

  3. Dave Seah 11 years ago

    Chris: Hm, that’s an interesting question. I think I’m just trying to open myself up to a feeling of connectedness and communion, from which stems a lot of positive action. If I were a card-carrying Christian, I would probably say that I am mindfully becoming aware that love itself is the manifestation of God and Jesus Christ, and that by allowing myself to reach out and allow this sensation to flow, starting with myself and extending it to all other living creatures, I surrender myself and become an instrument for living God’s plan. But I’m stuck on the requirements of faith and the technical details of the doctrinal aspects of Christianity, so right now I can at best say I’m a gum-chewing rational agnostic with a penchant for positive thinking. Perhaps my subconscious petition, by even broaching the subject, is that my faith in WHATEVER IT IS becomes clear. In the meantime I like the feeling of being alive, breathing, and thankful to the powers that be for this opportunity. I could see this as a small step, or a reflection of my limited scope of spirit.

    CricketB: That’s a nice prayer. How does the melody go?

  4. Cricket 11 years ago

    http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=58264
    There are two MIDIs of “World Hunger Grace”. This is about half the speed I’m used to, but the melody won’t support racing.

    Guides and Scouts have collected zillions of graces to sing before meals, suitable for all ages, denominations and situations. Most lyrics are on the internet. Check the songbooks in your local Scout shop.

    My best friends as a kid raced through the Lord’s Prayer before meals, and it was totally meaningless to me—totally independent of the event. Grandma’s was something like, “This food to our use, and us to Thy service,” which made more sense to me. It’s only in the last few years that I understood private and family rituals as offering of yourself rather than following nonsensical rules.

    One pastor defined prayer as talking to God, and meditation as listening to God. Communication needs both talking and listening.

  5. Cricket 11 years ago

    One last thing: If you’re exploring faith, check out Jane Lebak. Winter Branches is my favourite. Her blog’s also worth exploring.

  6. Mike Dunham 11 years ago

    My wife still uses the same “God is great, God is good” prayer to say grace.  I’ve always used the Boy Scouts’ “Philmont Grace”:

    For food,
    For raiment,
    For life,
    For opportunity,
    For friendship and fellowship,
    We thank Thee, O Lord.
    Amen.

    Simple.  Covers everything.

  7. GreggT 11 years ago

    David, if you aren’t familiar with it already, you might explore yoga, which is primarily about breathing, with some motion thrown in for good measure ;-). Check out http://www.yogiwade.com for excellent podcasts of yoga classes.

    Ironically, I originally found the benefits of deep breathing while hung over – I could feel the positive benefits immediately. Later I also discovered that deep breathing while I sleep has a tremendous positive effect on my health. I cured myself of plantars fasciitus and some arthritic joints by teaching myself to breathe deeply while I sleep.  My suspicion is that one of the reasons an hour of aerobic exercise a day is so good (check out _Younger Next Year_) is that you breathe deeply during the workout.

  8. Evelyn 11 years ago

    Mindful breathing is a wonderful thing. I found the introduction to meditation talks on audiodharma.org very helpful, especially talking about the different mental states that arise as you meditate. It’s also helpful for learning about different meditative techniques, such as sending good will and receiving ill will on the breath (tonglen).

    All the best,
    Evelyn

  9. Lynn O'Connor 11 years ago

    For a number of years now, I have been engaged in a Kundalini Yoga practice. I recommend it highly. I began with “Anna and Ravi, *Beginners and beyond*” which you can get from Amazon. Eventually I found a teacher, who has been guiding me (as much as I allow). I take months off, get off track, “fall off the wagon.” But then I resume my practice. Why I stop I don’t know, but as long as I pick up again, I feel I am making progress. In kundalini yoga I have learned several (many actually) breathing practices. There is a physiological science to them.

    Then two years ago I began studying Tibetan Buddhism. I can’t explain why, only that I am still at it, studying and engaged in a daily practice. I do “concentration on a single point” meditations,(which bottom line, are focus on breathing, and then visualizations, and “analytical” meditations. The concentration meditations have had a profound effect on me. The analytical meditations of Tibetan Buddhism are like “mind experiments” and appeal to something in me. The sound of Tibetan Buddhism calls to me.

    Early on this path, I heard the promise of “training your mind.” I knew I had a mind that needed training. Eventually I found a teacher, a Tibetan Buddhist scholar, a Lama, born in Tibet, and trained from a young age at a monastery before the monks and nuns had to flee. I feel fortunate. I was raised with no religious training, and therefore adopting Buddhism has not put me in conflict with family of origin religion. I think your interest in spiritual practice has meaning, and reflects many of your readers (like me). I don’t talk about the changes I have gone through. Many of my friends (for 20, 30, even 40 years now) know, but don’t “approve.” As usual, thank you for bringing up something that has become so important to me personally.

    Lynn