I will often ask my directee’s if they feel anything in their body and if they do, what is the feeling, where is it and what does it seem to be saying to them. There are times when this body-focussed attention brings insight, when it shines a light into their journey and helps them move a little further onwards. Our bodies have a lot to say if we give the time to listen.
In some ways our culture is body-obsessed. Image can become everything, what we present externally can become the main thing about us. There is great pressure to be “body-beautiful” – whatever that actually means when in reality it is an illusion. The diet and fitness industry continues to boom, often promising way more than it delivers. I am all for healthy living, for doing what I consider the best I can for my body within the financial and time constraints of life. I would still like to be supple in old age and I’d like to do what I can to support good, lasting health. But beyond this, I want to engage with my body in a deeper way and allow it to speak to me, I want my body to become a living, daily part of my prayer life.
I no longer see body, soul and spirit as separate from each other. They are deeply and mysteriously connected and I want to take a closer look at what these connections may offer me. Embodied Prayer is a way for this to happen and can bring great insight, healing and wisdom. Here are a few thoughts I’ve had around ways in which we can connect more meaningfully with our bodies and invite them to speak with us.
I find it fascinating that how I sit when I’m in a contemplative prayer has a huge effect on how that prayer feels and how engaged I am with it. I love Centering Prayer (more about this to come) and I get the most connection with God and myself if I sit upright with my hands intentionally resting on my knees or in my lap. It is a posture of intentionality and commitment. It opens airways and keeps me attentive and alert in a way that a more relaxed posture would not do.
There are many other postures that we can take to reflect an inward intention – kneeling or lying prone in surrender, hands upwards or downwards, arms lifted or relaxed, standing or sitting, still or moving. Adopting different postures causes us to engage in prayer in different ways and elicits different responses in our hearts.
I love yoga and some of its postures elicit responses in my heart that inspire. Child’s Pose is a wonderful way to be completely surrendered whilst Warrior Two reminds me that I am empowered.
It’s helpful to check in with our posture throughout the day – are we closed, open, clenched or relaxed? What are the internal and external circumstances that are causing a particular posture/ body response? Is there anything I can do to change my body response and therefore my heart response? Simply unclenching the fist or jaw releases calmness and the stress response begins to diminish.
How we breath is of vital importance and can have a profound effect on how we feel. When entering a prayer time, I always take some deep, wide breaths. They still my heart and my mind and bring me to a more peaceful state. Returning to breath is a common way to re-centre during meditation. It is so simple to come back to being present to the flow of air in and out of the lungs and to gently deepen the breath.
Breath prayer is also very easy – simply inhale saying a word and exhale saying a word. E,g. – Yahweh (inhale) Is here (exhale). To repeat the words with the breath for a few minutes becomes a wonderful embodied prayer.
What a simple thing to do and something the majority of us take for granted. And yet a potentially deeply transformative vehicle. Erling Kagge has written a small, but incredibly insightful book entitled “Walking – One Step at a Time.” It’s worth a read. In it Kagge talks about the many benefits to body, soul and spirit that walking offers.
He talks about moving slowly enough to be present to what is present, to absorb what surrounds us as we walk, to be mesmerised by a leaf, a passing butterfly or the cracks in the pavement. To allow our surroundings to impact us, speak to us and change us. Slow walking, slows us down and helps us engage with what whizzes by whilst in a vehicle. He also says about pace that – “The degree of slowness is proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.” Walking fast can keep emotions at a distance whilst slowing down allows them space.
Kagge talks about walking being a powerful way to engage with the world around us. In walking we are given many opportunities to interact with others, to say hello, make eye contact, talk about the weather. In todays fast paced society walking offers us a reminder that we are all connected and in it together. Kagge has walked around every district of his city simply to get to know it, to have a feel for it and be engaged with its inhabitants. This has given him a great love of where he lives and of those he shares it with.
I love the rhythm of walking, it’s a prayer for me, a time to surrender, to receive, to welcome God into all the parts of myself, especially those that hurt or feel small and afraid. It always centres me and reminds me that “all is well”. I get to walk in woodlands surrounded by countryside, but even on city streets there is so much offered and we only need to look up to see the sky!
It seems there is still so much to say about these embodied prayer practices and I’m sure I will return to the subject again.
For now, may be there’s a practice that seems to be inviting you. And if not, perhaps you just want to be a little more open to listening to what your body is saying to you. It speaks and what it says can open many doors of insight and wisdom.
If you’re interested in Erling’s book, Walking, One Step at a Time you can find it by clicking on the image of the cover opposite.