A Biblical View of Breathwork | July 9th, 2023
For years, I have attended fitness conferences to stay updated on all the latest research and trends in my industry. More and more, I am noticing the influence of Eastern practices in the classes and certifications offered. From every form of Yoga to meditation, Tai Chi, martial arts, mindfulness, and others, there is a class on how to teach it and experience its benefits. One Eastern practice I have noticed showing up more in my industry recently is “breathwork.”
Here is an excerpt from the class schedule at an upcoming fitness professional convention to which I’ve been invited this summer:
The Art of Breathwork: Learn the background to traditional tenets of Eastern meditation, from principles to prana to practices. Fuse theory and practical meditation techniques to gain a deeper sense of self and consciousness. Learn mindful skills that gradually progress with the potential to develop into a lifelong practice for yourself and others.
With many Eastern practices and religions, you will find that breathwork or breathing techniques are taught to accompany meditation because of the way the breath is viewed as sacred and divine.
Breath in Hinduism
Breath is called prana in Hindu meditation practices and is thought of as a spiritual cleansing as it is considered the divine breath of the universe. Pranayama, an intrinsic part of Yoga, is the practice of breath control. ‘Prana’ means “breath” or “life force” and ‘yama’ means “to control.”
According to Yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar, the physical poses (asanas) in Yoga make the body fit for pranayama and pranayama practice makes the mind fit for meditation.
Eastern meditation in Hinduism is practiced to help people discover self-awareness, their “higher self,” in the attempt to realize one’s innate divinity or godhood induced by using breathing techniques. Because of the spiritual component of breath in Yoga, it is viewed as divine and an aid for emotional and spiritual cleansing.
A Focus on Self
The focus of Yoga and Eastern meditation is always on self, using mental stillness through centering yourself, focusing on your inner self, repeating a mantra (a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation), and a focus on your breathing.
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” – The Bhagavad Gita (one of the ancient Indian texts of Hinduism)
As followers of Jesus Christ, we acknowledge that there is only one God, the Creator. We are to exalt Him, not ourselves. As John the Baptist said in speaking about Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30. Yoga and Eastern meditation teach that the self must increase.
The enemy will do whatever it takes to get us to focus on ourselves rather than on Christ. It is the ultimate deception to elevate ourselves into thinking we can become like God. This lie has continued on since the very beginning…
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:1-5
Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning “union; to unite or connect.” It is the union of the mind, body, and soul. Through body positions and breathing techniques in Yoga, it is believed the body and soul cannot be separated. Of course, we know this is false because God’s Word tells us when we die, the body is separated from the soul. While this earthly tent of our body decays, our soul lives on and will either spend eternity with God because we have accepted Him or be separated from Him forever because we have rejected Him.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 1 Corinthians 15:42-44
All Yoga is based on an Eastern worldview. Yet, many in the West try to teach there is Yoga purely for the physical body and Yoga for the spiritual. However, Yoga is Yoga and all of the positions and breathing exercises are specifically designed for yoking with Brahman, the highest self or supreme self, through attaining “god-consciousness.”
In this state of what is described as a higher spiritual level of consciousness, it is said the mind is elevated beyond awareness of self and enters a place of oneness and unity with the universe. This unity is one of the primary goals of Yoga practice to be able to reach enlightenment.
Our Breath Comes from Our Creator
In contrast to the delusion of having union with an impersonal universe, we are invited by a personal God who created not only the universe, but also each one of us in His image to have a real relationship with Him. It is because of Him we have life and any lungs to breathe. We are not in control of anything. It is by His grace that we can even take another breath!
The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Job 33:4
Sadhguru, Yoga teacher and the founder and head of the Isha Foundation in India which operates an ashram and yoga center, explains the “sacredness” of breath this way: “They say, if your breath becomes 11 per minute, you understand the language of every animal and bird around you. If your breath becomes 9, you understand the very language that the Earth is speaking. If your breath becomes 7, you know everything that is worth knowing in existence.”
In Yoga, breath has been made into an idol and a pagan attempt to counterfeit God because breath is often equated with divinity itself. It is used as a spiritual technique to reach omniscience, an attribute that can only be possessed by God. The goal is to slow your breath down to the point where you can become all-knowing, just like God. That same old lie from the serpent again. Some things never change!
God desires not for our worship to be given to our breath, self, or anything else, but to be given to Him alone:
And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’” Luke 4:8
There is a type of Christianized breathing technique that has been introduced into the evangelical church through a practice called “breath prayer.” It is a form of contemplative meditative prayer such as centering prayer, listening prayer, Lectio Divina, and others which is linked to the focus and rhythms of breathing.
Pastors and other Christian leaders claim it makes the practitioner get closer to or more intimate with God. This is not based on biblical teaching but rather, draws from the teachings of Christian mystics who seek closeness to God through subjective experiences and direct communion with Him. They gravitate toward contemplative prayer practices seeking overwhelming spiritual experiences and extra biblical revelations in their pursuit of knowing God in a “deeper way.”
God has made us so that we breathe automatically and do not usually have to think about it unless we are short of breath from an illness or have to catch our breath after a fast sprint. It is not something on which we were made to focus.
Breath prayers, despite claiming to be “Christian,” are based on the ideas of Eastern religions. The focus is on the rhythm of breath, inhaling as you pray a short phrase and then exhaling as you pray another short phrase over and over, allowing you to be more conscious of your breathing. Repeatedly praying a short sentence bears a close resemblance to mantra prayers of Eastern religions. It is yet another technique.
Techniques are not Necessary or Biblical
Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us we must manipulate the breath for spiritual purposes. Breath prayer is not taught anywhere in Scripture, nor does it help to draw us into the presence of God as advocates of contemplative prayer will tell you. We do not need techniques to remember we are praying to our loving Creator who longs for a personal relationship with us!
Teaching a technique as biblical prayer is very misleading. The model for biblical prayer is clearly written in Scripture. It is verbal (silent or spoken) communication with God that is sincere. It is not repetitive like a mantra or uses any special technique such as focusing on the rhythm of breath.
Here is an example of someone applying the Eastern techniques of breath to Christianity:
“Breathe in God’s mercy, exhale anxiety and worry. Breathe in the love of God, exhale fear of the future.” – Joni Eareckson Tada (evangelical Christian author / artist)
Her intent might be good, but it is in no way biblical. We cannot breathe in positive things and exhale the negative. It reduces God to an impersonal principle or force.
There is no need to have to breathe in God’s mercy. It is freely available to anyone who has believed in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to save them from their sins. He already loves us with a love that is beyond our comprehension. He gave His life for us! Again, no need to breathe it in.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:4-5
And what does God say about anxiety and worry? He does not tell us to rely on ourselves to get rid of our burdens by breathing them out. No, we are to talk to Him about it and let Him carry them. They are too heavy for us! He promises to do so and He will replace our worries with His perfect peace.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
It’s All in God’s Word
Studying God’s Word reminds us He is in complete control of all things, giving us that perfect peace we long for no matter how stressful life becomes. As followers of Christ, we should never turn to anything other than Jesus for the answer to our worries and stress. He provides a lasting peace that is different from the world’s false, temporary peace.
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27
By reading, studying, and meditating on the truth of God’s Word we are given all we need for wisdom and discernment so we can be on the alert for the lies of the enemy that sound so appealing and enticing but can lead us away from the One true God. We also learn how to be obedient to Christ so we can represent Him well and walk in a way that glorifies Him through all we’ve been given, including our breath.
Book Recommendation: Yoga and the Body of Christ by Dave Hunt
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