One of the first yoga skills that I try to cultivate in new students is the practice of paying attention to the breath. Breath awareness is central to all yoga practice: breath draws the spirit inward, calms the monkey mind by giving it focus, and nourishes the body. It’s no coincidence that the ancient words for spirit, ruach (Hebrew), pneuma (Greek), and spiritus (Latin) also mean breath. The quality of the breath reflects our state of being. When we are stressed our breath becomes fast and shallow, preparing us for a quick burst of energy to run away from the proverbial tiger. A deep and slow breath, on the other hand, indicates that the body is in a healing “rest and digest” mode.
I knew all of this in my head but it wasn't until I learned a new way to pray that I was finally able to stop viewing the breath as a physiological event and actually experience my breath as a vehicle of the spirit. This happened last fall when I had the pleasure of attending a women’s retreat with the wise and wonderful Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis. The theme of the retreat was “Savoring the Sacred Pauses: Practices for the Rhythm of our Days and a Rule for our Lives”. I found myself particularly resonating with Bishop Jennifer's descriptions of the Daily Offices or “Hours” – prescribed periods of daily prayer commonly observed in many monastic and church communities. Pointing out that “the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work,” the Bishop described practical ways for us to tap into the spiritual power of praying the Offices to increase our awareness of God’s Presence and experience our Holy connection throughout each and every day. (more…)