Journey to Sacred Breath
When it comes to accessing inner calm, my "go to" practice has always been connecting with my breath. As a young yoga student, I was amazed at the power of breath to take my mind off current stressors and into bodily ease. Even with that, I had a sense that "something" was missing when it came to a breath practice.
Lamaze classes in my 20s and 30s helped me understand that physical and emotional well-being is restored with an out-breath. It wasn't about breathing in (as in, "Just take a deep breath," sage advice from well-meaning others in a moment of distress), but releasing the pent-up carbon dioxide in our lungs that caused tension. I remember very well the "he-he" panting breathing method used in natural childbirth classes. Another addition to my breath practice, but still feeling incomplete.
In my 40s, steadily walking a spiritual path, I'd heard that a mantra was helpful for meditating. I had friends who'd studied with gurus and were given a special mantra to repeat. I didn't have a guru but I wanted a mantra—very badly!
One day, I recall going to my church and sitting in the chapel, certain that if I willed it, a mantra would be revealed to me. I went into interior silence and prayed. I waited for the mantra. Nothing. I resorted to begging the Divine to please give me one. Nothing. After 30 minutes, frustrated, I got up and walked around, trying to clear my head and heart. I walked over to a rack on the wall and spied a sheaf of papers inside. I pulled one out. I was stunned at what I read there.
"Ruach" - Breath of God
The paper went on to explain that "Ruach" (pronounced roo-ahh) generally means "wind, breath, mind or spirit" in Hebrew. The ruach is the breath that is given by the creator God. It is a creative act, infusing each being (animals too) with life force, and this life force is considered sacred.
I spoke the word aloud: ruach. I felt the breath move into me and through me, slide down the back of my throat and into my body. It all made sense. As I was breathing, I was taking in "divine breath" and being nourished by it. I thought to myself, "This breath IS the breath of God!"
This practice felt so right to me, as if the missing piece I'd been searching for had been found at last. Surprisingly, it wasn't the word ruach itself, but the concept behind it. That breath was sacred: that each time I focused on my breath and allowed it to naturally move through me, I was participating in a divine dance, being blessed. My breath was sacred because it was God's breath moving through me. Every inhale, every exhale, a holy breath, “Ahhh…”
This realization was a moment of awakening for me. Breath practice became the sacred touchpoint in my life—the sacred practice I used (and still use) to come back to center: to relax my body, calm my mind, clarify my emotions and, most importantly, connect with the divine as I understand it.
Ironically, I never used the mantra I had been given that day. Saying “ruach” didn't feel "natural" to me. It felt forced. I simply went back to the breath all by itself, same but different, knowing that—now and forevermore— I would view it differently. As sacred gift. As grace. As Divine Presence flowing through me.
Full circle I've come, from yogini to mother to spiritual pilgrim. The breath is my constant companion and nourisher. It can be so for any of us.
Image created by John Hain
An Interspiritual Breath Practice
You may enjoy using this breath prayer to access the "Holy Ahhh…" for yourself. It is offered in the spirit of yogic tradition and mantra, saying the phrases four times: aloud in a strong voice, softer, in a whisper, then silently. Close the affirmation with the words that resonate with you. "May it be so." "Amen." "Om Shanti." Or whatever feels right. Allow yourself to sink into the silence afterwards.
Oh, Sacred Breath,
I honor you.
I welcome you into my body, mind, heart and soul.
Thank you for the gift of holy nourishment.
Oh, Divine One,
I welcome you into the all of me.
Thank you for the gift of this life.
I am in You and You are in me
Dr. Janice Lundy is the co-founder and director of the Spiritual Guidance Training Institute which provides education and certification in interfaith and interspiritual direction. She is an interfaith/interspiritual guide herself, the author of several spiritual formation books including Your Truest Self and My Deepest Me, and the creator of the Pure Presence® method of compassionate listening. She is currently Visiting Professor of Spiritual Direction at The Graduate Theological Foundation. She resides in Michigan, USA.