Breathe in – breathe out. So automatic. So natural. So necessary. If you stop, you’re done.
I’m indebted to Ciona Rouse (The Upper Room Magazine May-June 2013, pg. 40-42) who suggests using “breathe in-breathe out” as a prayer during her running. The extra exertion tuned her into her breathing, which she adapted in praying John 3:30. She breathes in “more of You, Lord” on the inhale and breathes out “less of me” on the exhale. A natural rhythm.
What’s more natural than breathing? I thought.
What’s more natural than praying? I thought.
It sounded like a simple way to invite prayer into my active life. But when I tried it, it spoke way more than simple. Here’s what I have learned so far:
- The natural rhythm begins with breathe in, but if you first breathe out “less of me,” you make room to breathe in the “more of you, Lord.” Emphasize the less-of-you. Yup!
- As your effort increases, perhaps as you trudge up an incline, you emphasize the exhale and shorten the inhale….less of me…less of me…Time is short to draw in the quick breath of God. Your inspirations change with the terrain. Go figure!
- As you crest the hill or cruise into the finish, your inspirations deepen. Your body intuitively recovers from the oxygen debt it’s been in by breathing in deeply. The view from the top or the finish line invokes inspiration. Of course!
- Patterned breathing as a prayer isn’t just limited to running. You can walk it, climb it, cycle it, swim it.
- It also comes in handy moment to moment. Say, in a tense moment. Breeeaaaattthhhhhe Me in. And breathe out you. I can do this when someone else exercises my patience. A weapon to be wielded in my own self defense. Don’t hold your breath. Breathe.
Isn’t it cool that God designed us with a mechanism to adapt our breath to our needs? Even our need of Him? That a stretch sensor in our lungs and a carbon dioxide monitor in our brains are part of our blueprint. Fully engaged we can adapt the rhythm and depth of our breath to the needs of our life – moment by moment.
Oh, we can override this system, for sure.
- We can hold our breath till we’re “blue in the face” just to make our point.
- We can hyperventilate in preparation for a longer breath-holding session, tricking the self-monitoring system into delaying our “need to breathe.”
- We can blow into a paper bag, re-breathing carbon dioxide, to calm our anxious hyperventilation.
Yes, for our own ends, we can recalibrate our design. Even our internal reflexes are subject to our free will. Sounds very familiar. But what an amazingly simple system. Inspiration, supplying our needs. Expiration, expelling our waste.
Less of me. More of you, Lord. Repeat. Amen.
My recent excursion into the MRI tunnel still has me recalling the voice ‘from the outside’ saying..
“Hold your breath…” whhhiiiirrrrrrr, ratatatatatata…
Oh, it felt good to let go of that breath.
While I was waiting, I was totally focused on one thing: taking my next breath. Being the rule-following type, it did not occur to me to cheat or sneak in a breath while she wasn’t looking. I was gonna do it or die trying.
But this did bring to mind days gone past, (I’ve written a bit about it here) when we had a competition on the swim team for how far we could swim underwater. This was supposed to inspire us (pardon the pun) to push ourselves in training. To hold our breath a bit longer, because breathing slowed you down. The one who took the fewest breaths usually made it to the finish line first.
Well, there is a trick to this one of the older swimmers showed us. If you hyperventilate first, that is, if you take a lot of quick, shallow breaths, you can “blow off” carbon dioxide and trick your body into keeping quiet about that old breathing thing. Later, as a physiologist I learned and then taught students that this practice actually fools your brain’s internal breathing centers into thinking you don’t have to breathe yet. This is a bit of a dangerous practice. However, once you pass out, your body comes to your rescue and makes you breathe.
But today this has me wondering whether this isn’t often my approach to life. To hyperventilate, gasping the full volume of air because I can hold my breath longer. Does the force of my life silence my body’s signal to breathe? Is finishing first really worth it?