Friday, 22 August 2014
To breathe or not to breathe
The Orthodox understanding of the role of the body in prayer rests upon a sound anthropology. The body, soul and spirit act as a single unit, not divided or split up. Therefore, the body has a role in prayer. How we involve the body can be understood in three ways. Sometimes this is called psychotechniques. 1. Breathing, 2. Inner Exploration, and 3. Posture. Across the centuries, these issues have been explosive.
Breathing. Bishop Kallistos Ware says that if we pray the Jesus Prayer for short periods, ten or fifteen minutes at the beginning, then there is no problem matching the words of the prayer to our breath. We are to breath naturally, without playing with the rhythm of the breath. On the inhale, we can say, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God." On the exhale, we can say, "have mercy on me, a sinner." We are to breath and pray slowly and reverently and attentively.
Inner Exploration. Inner exploration usually means following our breath into the nostrils, down into the lungs, around the insides, and out. This is unquestioningly, forbidden. The dangers involved in all this cannot be exaggerated.
Posture. The usual position, as recommended by Bishop Kallistos Ware, is a comfortable sitting position in a chair. Sometimes standing is recommended. Usually the eyes are kept closed. Posture can take many forms, as long as the postures are reverent.
Modern serious and enlightened authors, such as Bishop Ware, St Igantius Brianchaninov and Sophrony all agree that "the fullness of the Jesus Prayer can by practiced without any physical methods at all." In summary, it can be said that physical methods are optional and not at all necessary. Physical techniques are more suitable for beginners, says St Gregory Palamas. Physical techniques are potentially dangerous, and not to be used without a guide. St Theophan suggests, "Make a habit of having the intellect stand in the heart, but not in a physical way."