Meditation and breathing exercises have been used by religions for centuries especially in the last 2000 years. In the last 10 years, the desire to jump from the burning ship of the noisy world, and dive into the ocean of silence has never been more popular. There are many reasons why people are seeking the spiritual, so listing just one or two would never satisfy everyone, but I can think of one.
Materialism, this false god carved out of wood that exists in each and everyone’s heart is a god who does not respond to the hearts true petitions of a life lived happily, so we are looking now to the divine. Some prefer to continue worshipping this false god claiming they’re happy and all is well, but don’t believe them. When people are saying all is well with them, you can be 100% sure they’re a mess.
The question then is, how much can a person take of being up to their necks in the noisy and hateful sewage of the world before they cry out ”I’ve had enough”? The worldly sorrow in us, the constant feeling of being upset with life, like a never-ending vicious cycle that eats us up daily. Like a murderer whose victim exposed his dirty deeds and so he kills them, we murder the part of our conscience that cries out for something more and then bury it quick that we may never look at it again. If we don’t see it, we can continue living in the mess we’ve developed for ourselves, deluding ourselves of our innocence in all of this and how happy we are.
There are so many theological reasons why the different religions differ in their approach to what meditation is. I will speak of only the Christian one and focus my attention here while making a brief reference to the eastern ones like Buddhism for example.
I’m going to hit you with a sledgehammer here for what is the mere breaking of sand and say that, breathing in prayer is not necessary for salvation or communion with God in the Christian tradition. If it’s not necessary should we bother? Just as people have different ways of organizing their living room to make the room more comfortable for their personality and taste, so too Christians have different ways of worshipping the Lord that helps them. One may like to pray the rosary, others focus their attention on the Divine Office. Some speak, some sing whilst others dance and then some breathe.
Breathing goes back to the Early Church fathers who practised it in the caves whilst focusing on the words ”Lord Jesus Christ Son Of God”. The breathing helps create an environment of silence while helping them focus more on the prayer being said. Many of us don’t need this, I did it years ago but no longer breathe during prayer as I found the breathing to be distracting. See? Different strokes for different folks.
There are also physical benefits to breathing that have helped many with their anxiety and depression, and these are fine. However, when we practice meditation to the exclusion of God it becomes more about the self than communion with God. And in the Christian tradition, we fall into the trap of pride by deluding ourselves that we can rely on our power to change ourselves rather than Gods. This is why Catholic bishops advise against Christians practising eastern meditation according to the Buddhist spiritual tradition.
Why? Because when we practice or commit sin, we open doors for demons to enter, and that’s essentially what we are doing when we seek ”self-enlightenment”. A spiritual journey that does not accept God as the tour guide for our spiritual lives, leaves a person on that path vulnerable to having their souls robbed of Grace by the thieving demons.
In the Christian tradition, enlightenment is achieved by a renewal of the mind, a reliance on Gods power to transform us into other gods by participation in the Divine Will. Anything that deviates from that would be as if a soldier jumped out of his trench and ran into ”no mans land” where he will be mowed down by gunfire.
The bottom line is, breathing is ok when it’s directed towards achieving focus and communion with God. Some theologians would disagree and write it off as originating in the Eastern world, but if we can Christianize a pagan tree and put it in our living room, why not breathing? Furthermore, the fact that it was practised by the early Church fathers for the sole purpose of being able to rest the mind, and focus on communion with God, tells me that it’s a safe practice. Like dancing or sitting still, it’s just another way to worship.
In summation of all that has been said, the benefits are that it helps to quiet the soul from distractions that act as an impediment to prayer. The pitfalls are when practised independent of the Christian tradition, we leave ourselves vulnerable to attack. When it’s looked upon as something necessary for praying we likewise fall into great error. It’s a very small thing that simply helps some people in their worship, that is all.