I have three children. They are teenagers now, but I remember when each was an infant, and they were crying—or screaming. I really wished they could talk so they could just tell me what was wrong.
As time passed and they started talking, I realized they still weren’t all that accurate in their ability to pinpoint their need. “I’m hungry” might actually mean, “That candy bar looks good, and I want you to let me have it.” “I have to go to the bathroom” might translate to, “I’m bored sitting here having to be quiet during worship.”
I’ve come to realize I have the same problem with my body. While my body might be letting me know it needs water, my mind decides eating something crunchy is the answer. I know when I exercise regularly, my body rewards me with clearer thinking, more energy and stronger emotional resiliency, yet my mind helps me come up with a long list of things to do instead of exercising. Many adults are no better at identifying their true physical needs and being honest about their desires than a toddler.
One reason for this is most of us never have made a strong mind/body connection. As a part of my coaching continuing education, I recently completed a course called “Mind Body Mindfulness for Coaching,” led by Rebecca McLean and Roger Jahnke. The course gave coaches tools and concepts to help clients strengthen the connection between body, mind and spirit.
This is something I have come to understand gradually. Even though I grew up going to church, I don’t remember being taught that our body—how we feel about our body and listening to our body—is important to our faith development, because God created us as a whole. For some reason, the church’s tendency has been to value the mind and the spirit and devalue or ignore the body. Or even vilify the body, making us feel the need to distance ourselves from our physical cues
A few years ago, I went to the doctor. As he was writing my prescription, he casually mentioned if I would rest a few days, my body would heal just fine without the prescription. He told me our bodies often are completely capable of healing without taking medicine if we rest. But the problem is we don’t want to take the time to let our body heal. We don’t want our busy schedule interrupted.
Strengthening the connection between our mind and body can be extremely beneficial to our physical health, our stress levels and our connection to our creator. And as Jahnke says, “There’s no co-pay!”
Today, let’s think about one aspect of the mind-body connection—breathing. Most people know breathing deeply has numerous benefits, and we know most of us are shallow breathers. Why the disconnect? What if we thought of our breathing as a spiritual practice we carry with us throughout the day—a practice that has physical, emotional, mental and spiritual benefits? Do you see the mind-spirit-body connection? Also, it’s something you are going to do all day anyway, so why not do it in a way that has profound positive ramifications.
Physical benefits of breathing deeply (the short list):
• Mobilizes the immune system
• Lowers blood pressure
• Increases effectiveness of oxygen and nutrition to the cells and tissues
Mental/emotional benefits of breathing deeply:
• Increases brain oxygen for clearer thinking
• Calms anxiety and reduces the effects of physical and mental-emotional tension and stress
Spiritual benefits of breathing deeply:
• The Greek work for for breath, pneuma (like pneumonia) is the word used for “Spirit” in the bible. When we are aware of our breathing, we become aware of the holiness of our breath, of the Spirit within. Paying attention to our breathing, slowing down, breathing deeper makes us more aware of God’s presence and more connected to the Spirit of God within us.
There are many suggestions on deep breathing. Basically, it comes down to this: Try to think about your breathing occasionally throughout the day. Make sure you are breathing deeply enough that not only does your chest expand, but your stomach moves out too. Every once in awhile, stop what you are doing for just a few seconds and take the time to sit or stand up straight, take a few deep breaths and try to clear your mind of distractions and preoccupations. You can obtain smart-phone apps that serve as an occasional reminder.
God breathed the breath of life in us. I pray we all would make the connection between our breath and the life God desires for us.
Terri Springer is a coach with the Center for Healthy Churches.