"Let everything that has breath praise the Lord," the author writes in Psalm 150, verse 6.
Over the past month, I’ve been thinking about breathing with more regularity. My husband, Justin, got me a smartwatch for my birthday. It contains a built-in stress monitor that incorporates breathing exercises that prompt one to inhale and exhale with intention. It has been miraculous to witness how the watch’s measurement of my stress level decreases as soon as I begin breathing with conscious awareness.
In these weeks of practicing controlled breathing, my curiosity about the spiritual implications of breath has increased! God’s breath and the human act of breathing are both referenced in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word ruachis commonly translated as breath. It also means life and spirit and wind. This special word shows up for the first time in the initial verses of Genesis, which read, "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters." According to the writer of Genesis, ruach(the breath/wind/Spirit of God) was part of creation from the start.
A short while later, in Genesis, chapter 2, verse 7, God is described as forming the first human from the dust of the ground. After that, God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature." It is fascinating to ponder the image of a God who physically breathes life into humanity!
The many Old Testament uses of the Hebrew word ruachremind readers that there is a special spiritual significance to breathing. It is more than an autonomous process we do entirely without thinking. It’s something that connects us to a divine life-source.
In the New Testament of the Bible, one of the Greek words used to describe breath is pneuma. Similar to the Hebrew word ruach, the Greek word pneumais defined as a current of air, breath, and spirit. It is mostly commonly referred to in the New Testament in relationship to the Holy Spirit. Jesus refers to pneumain the Gospel of John, chapter 6, when he says, "Pneuma (Spirit) gives life." This important word is used throughout the Gospels and Epistles.
The more I read about the centrality of the breath of God in Scripture, the more convinced I am that breathing deserves our attention. It is a universal force at work in every body connecting all of creation.
Are you curious to experiment with controlled breathing and explore its potential physical and psychological benefits? Doing so can also be a kind of spiritual practice! Start small. My new watch recommends inhaling for five seconds and then exhaling for five seconds and doing this sequence five times. This brief breathing exercise can take place anywhere and anytime.
As you continue to explore your relationship with breathing and spirituality, I encourage you not to overcomplicate it. Carve out even a single minute a day to breathe slowly and with intention. Observe the impact this has on your own internal senses and stress level.
Trust that God is present in each inhale and exhale. Slow down and savor ruach’s nearness.