Thursday, November 09, 2017

What is Body Prayer?

Previously: What is the Examen?, What is Lectio Divina?, What is Fasting?, What is the Labyrinth?, What is the Liturgical Calendar?, What are Prayer Beads?

You can find an endless supply of resources that will tell you all kinds of proper techniques for prayer. Many of them will encourage you to find a quiet and secluded spot, breathe slowly, and sit as still as possible.

For various reasons, a lot of people can't do parts of that at any given time. Maybe there's too much crammed into the day to find that quiet and secluded spot. Maybe you aren't capable of sitting still and would rather move around more or you've had a particularly rough day and have energy to burn.

Fortunately, there are forms of prayer that involve active movement, some of which I've written about already such as walking a labyrinth and using prayer beads. (See the links above for more information.)

But both of these fall under a much larger umbrella of spiritual practice called body prayer.

Body prayer can vary in terms of specific methods. Many of them involve movement that is slow, repetitive, or both. Yoga is perhaps the best known form of body prayer, using a series of deliberate stretches and positions that call you to focus attention on what your body is doing and how it feels. Any body prayer will include becoming more in touch with what you are doing physically and what you are experiencing as you do it.

Many forms of exercise can be considered body prayer. Jogging for a few miles, hitting a heavy bag, or doing a series of calisthenics all could be adapted to include a prayerful component. Not only are you already paying attention to what your body is feeling as you do them, but these repetitive movements can also focus your mind and channel your energy toward what motivates you as you do them. Such regular motion can help you work out what you are carrying in your spirit, whether anger, sadness, or anxiety, in constructive ways.

Essentially, body prayer involves the entire self rather than only the mind, which helps improve physical strength as well as provide mental focus.

Here's a simple practice to try.
  1. Choose a series of 6 or 7 stretches to do that engage various parts of the body. Here's one as an example.
  2. As you do each one, notice what parts of your body are involved. What muscles and joints are you using, and how do they feel as you do each one?
  3. What are you feeling as you engage this activity, or what joys or concerns have you brought to this time of stretching? How does doing each stretch change or enhance those emotions?
  4. When you come to the end, again reflect on what is different inside you. How might this activity have released tension? How might it have caused you to notice your body's needs in a deeper way?
  5. Conclude with a prayer of thanks.
(Image via Pixabay)