Centering Prayer and Breathing Exercises for Uncertain Times

Our encounters of mortality are what I refer to as a boot camp for the soul. 

If you are struggling with your own or someone else's mortality, there are things to do to recharge your stamina and resiliency in facing grief and fear.

Centering Prayer:

Centering Prayer (also called Prayer of the Heart) is the prayer first described in the spiritual classic, "The Cloud of Unknowing".
Centering Prayer is thought to be based on one of the contemplative prayer forms St. John of the Cross describes as “the practice of loving attentiveness”.

Research has been conducted on Centering Prayer. (Article: "Centering prayer for women receiving chemotherapy for recurrent ovarian cancer: A pilot study". Oncology Nursing Forum 36 (4)) This one-year Centering Prayer study conducted by the Mind Body Medicine Research Group studied prayer practitioners, along with other spiritual practitioners, for the Spiritual Engagement Project, a research study on how engagement in spiritual practices and community influences health and well-being.  Participants completed the myriad tasks for this project, including online questionnaires, two eight-day periods of daily telephone surveys, forms and emails. The findings indicate that it may be helpful for those receiving chemotherapy, and that it may help people experience a more collaborative relationship with God, as well as reduced stress.

This prayer form is a meditation technique which works primarily with the repetition of a sacred word or formula.

Centering Prayer is a silent, non-conceptual form prayer and therefore different from conventional spoken prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer or mentally repeated prayers. The practice of centering prayer seeks to still the activity of the mind in order to experience a loving awareness of God’s presence.
Centering Prayer takes shape in four very simple steps.

  1. Choose a sacred word or phrase such as Abba, Jesus, Shalom or Love.
  1. Sit comfortably with good supported posture and with eyes closed begin repeating the chosen sacred word.
  1. When ever other thoughts arise, do not fret, just keep coming back to the sacred word.
  1. At the end of your prayer, remain in silence for a while, observing your breathing.
Possible sacred words or phrases for Centering Prayer are: 
  • Jesus
  • Christos
  • Father
  • Mother 
  • Abba
  • God
  • Love
  • Peace
  • Mercy
  • Yes

You can make this your own, based on you unique beliefs and convictions.

The singular word is very helpful for making a simple assertion. When I was having my "Whole World Melt Down" in 2008, I began to use the word "peace" and I still use it today. It has borne fruit in my life that I now see today.

Try the Centering Prayer when you are ready. It will be there for you when it is the right time.
Breathing Exercises:

Breathing Exercises also 
are beneficial for stress reduction and centering. 
 (If you have any medical history with complications of breathing – consult a physician first.)

This particular technique is from the discipline of Tai Chi. I have mentioned it before, it bears repeating.

Sit with both feet firmly planted on the ground and in an upright and alert position that is comfortable.

Take 3 short inhales.

Let go of 1 long exhale.

Repeat this sequence five times.

This pattern brings what is typically an involuntary bodily process (breathing) and makes it an intentional process, thereby bringing awareness to your core self and assisting you with grounding and offering stability. Breathing gets at the sympathetic nervous system, which is the system that can become aggrivated and cause panic attacks and anxiety related disorders.There are many breathing exercises to try, this one is a place to begin.

Be well.