The breath of life

Breathing in life by Damemusic, on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons licensing.


One of the most life-changing things I learned in my yoga teacher training class was how to breathe.

Of course, we all breathe every moment of the day without even thinking about it, but I had no idea how much impact the way I breathe had on my body, my mind, and my emotions until I learned how to breathe well and how to control my breathing.

As I was reading Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See over the weekend, I learned that the breath may be even more meaningful than I thought!

Rohr writes of the Sacred Tetragrammaton in Hebrew, the four unpronounceable letters that are the name of God as God gave it to Moses in Exodus. These four letters are roughly the equivalent of YHVH in English and is translated as “I am who I am.”

Many people now try to add vowels to this set of letters in various ways in order to make it pronounceable, but the Jews believed that any attempt to reduce this name to speech was to take the name in vain by attempting to limit into language that which was bigger than anything we could know.

According to Rohr, many have claimed that the correct pronunciation of the word “is an attempt to replicate and imitate the very sound of inhalation and exhalation.” This would mean that the word is not actually said, it is breathed.

I don’t know enough of the scholarship behind this to know whether this is true, but I find the idea intriguing.

What if every breath we breathe all day every day was repeating the name of God?

Breathing is something that we have in common across the entire human race. There is no religion-specific way to breathe. It is not practiced by only those of certain faith traditions. It is not differentiated by race or gender or creed or orientation or political affiliation or citizenship or status or wealth.

We all breathe, and we all do it the same way—with an inhale and and exhale.

What does that mean for our ability to access God?

Every one of us has equal access without need for specific locations, practices, intermediaries, or beliefs. The divine is available to all of us every moment from birth until death .

It gives a whole new meaning to the story of God’s breathing life into the first human in Genesis. The story of the wind that brings the gift of the Spirit upon disciples at Pentecost also takes on a new flavor when taking into consideration that in Hebrew for wind, spirit, and breath were all the same word (pronounced ruach).

Life arrives with the breath of God. The Spirit arrives as a wind. Life ends in the absence of breath.

What if every breath is a prayer? A wordless, undemanding, formless prayer that keeps us connected to that which is More as it keeps us connected to life.

What if the Divine is as close as our next breath?

What if each breath offers us the chance to connect to the Divine, to engage our spirituality, to absorb Spirit?

As I say in yoga classes, the breath is the connection between mind and body. When we bring our attention to the breath, it brings our minds back into this present moment in this present space where our bodies always reside. We spend much of our time with our minds obsessing on the past or worrying about the future, but noticing the breath brings us back to the present moment, which is all we really have anyway.

What if this noticing of the breath also brings us back to our connection with all this is?

What if each breath really is speaking the name of that which is More? That which is Life?

Notice your next inhale. Breathe deeply into lungs so that they expand down into your belly. Notice the feel of the air in your nostrils and the way your body expands to take in that breath.

Notice your next exhale. Gently release every bit of air in your lungs, with your belly and chest retracting inward to push it all out. Notice the warm, moist air leaving your nostrils.

What if that was a moment of prayer?


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