Katherine Thompson, practising psychologist and academic, is Australia’s Christian mindfulness expert. She draws on the rich Christian tradition to present Christian mindfulness exercises which help us slow down, connect to what is happening inside ourselves and make space to listen for God’s guidance in everyday life.
Breathing is something we take for granted. It just happens.
Stop what you're doing and fill up on the breath of life
This simple exercise will settle your soul
Enjoying the world around you is easy. Just ask my cat
An adult who is resting takes an average of 12 to 18 breaths per minute. We take slightly longer to breathe out, than we do to breathe in.
Our body is designed to maintain balance, called homeostasis. This means that when we become stressed, our breathing rate goes up and this engages our fight and flight response (sympathetic nervous system) that serves to protect our body from threat.
Conversely, when we are relaxed our breathing rate goes down, and our rest and recuperation response kicks in (parasympathetic nervous system).
To maintain our health and wellbeing, we need these nervous system responses to reach equilibrium.
Our breath actually matters.
If we are too stressed and breathing too fast, this is usually an indicator that we need to take steps to calm our body down. We can train ourselves to activate our rest and recuperation response intentionally and regularly. This has direct benefits for our physical and mental health. It can reduce pain, lower our blood pressure, and improve self awareness so we have more emotional control and ruminate less.
Understanding how our body works gives us knowledge and power so we can be more self aware and slow down to breathe. It also reminds us of the wonder and creativity of the Spirit of God.
Our breath actually matters.
Connect to your breath
Why not stop and take a moment to measure your own breathing rate? You can do this by counting the number of breaths you take over a 60 second time limit on your watch or phone. If you come out in the average range, it means you are healthy. If your breaths per minute is higher, it indicates that you might be stressed and need to do something to slow your body down.
Notice what you can feel.
Take a moment to feel where you are breathing from. You can do this by placing your hands on the bottom of your rib cage and feeling the movement of your body as you breathe. Healthy, restful breathing will come from deep in your diaphragm, and cause your lower ribs to expand and contract, whereas anxious or stressed breathing will come from the top of your chest, and might be shallow and have a faster rate.
If you are aware of where you are breathing from, you can change it.
Try and take several deep breaths to direct your breathing to deep within your chest. If you continue for several minutes, you will start to slow down and relax.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.
Katherine Thompson, practising psychologist and academic, is Australia’s Christian mindfulness expert. Christ-Centred Mindfulness is available at Koorong.