From the Archives: Summer 2005 Lupus Now Magazine
Breaking a Stressful Cycle: Practicing breath prayers can relax the mind and body
by Kathleen S. Lewis
Volumes have been written about the mind’s influence on the body’s natural healing abilities. In learning to live with lupus and many other rheumatic diseases over many ears, I have been experiencing what modern science is finding out about the mind/body connection.
Stress doesn’t happen just in the mind. Stress engages every system of the body, influencing it and often translating into worsened symptoms, which then produce more stress. Unresolved emotional issues can also cause or worsen stress.
You can break this unhealthy mind/body feedback loop by spiritual means. After years of looking for ways to approach life in a healthy way, I learned to combine several techniques into one method, which I call breath prayers. They’ve become a powerful force in my journey with chronic illness. With them, I find I can spiritually transcend my circumstances.
Breath prayer techniques combine many proven psychodynamic approaches to health with a spiritual element. They offer meditation and deep muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, and affirmations. They fit in with such methods as thought-stopping, distraction therapy, and anxiety management training.
Here’s how I do them: I take an affirmation that connects my spirit to my higher spirit as a prayer, and I repeat it as I exhale in a "perfect breath." This yoga breathing technique that harmonizes mind and body involves inhaling and exhaling in a one-to-two ratio. Inhale through the nose counting to three. Hold the breath as long as it’s comfortable. Exhale through the mouth to a count of six. Use the abdominal muscles to pull the breath deep down into the gut. Once again, hold the breath as long as it is comfortable.
The affirmations need to be about seven syllables -- give or take a few -- to fit comfortably in the exhalation of a perfect breath. Repeat the affirmation every time you exhale.
For me, the most meaningful affirmations are found in the Bible. You can find your own in the many books of daily affirmations now available in bookstores. Some of them are specifically aimed at certain segments of the population, such as teens or parents. One of the breath prayers that I use most regularly is: "Your perfect love casts out my fear" (1 John 4:18).
I use breath prayers as my mantra for a period of anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes of deep relaxation and meditation a day. It trains my mind, body, and spirit to relax and gives me a positive, conditioned reflex. After that, my mind, body, and spirit are trained to relax at the signal of the breath prayer no matter where I am or what I am doing.
I repeat this breath prayer on waking, throughout the day, and when falling asleep that night, on the exhaling of each breath. The unconscious mind is most accessible to the conscious mind when falling asleep, on waking, and during deep meditative relaxation. Repeating breath prayers during these times will help replace obsessive negative thoughts and rewrite the unhealthy scripts of my unconscious mind. It’s a mind/body/spirit workout!
Kathleen S. Lewis, RN, MS, CMP, LPC, is author of Celebrate Life: New Attitudes for Living with Chronic Illness, from which this article was adapted.