Christian breathwork, or as I call it, Pneumadelic Breathwork, blends the ancient Bible reading method of lectio divina with a contemporary breathwork technique to create a unique Christ-centered spiritual experience.
This post will introduce you to the broader breathwork movement and the basics of Christian breathwork, including lectio divina, why we use the specific kind of breathwork we do, what a Pneumadelic Breathwork session looks like, and how to participate.
What is Breathwork?
Breathwork is an ancient practice used in cultures throughout the world. Breathwork is is enjoying a modern-day renaissance in the Western world for the physical, mental, and spiritual health benefits.
Breathwork refers to a set of practices that focus on intentional control and manipulation of one’s breath for an array of benefits. These practices often involve specific breathing techniques, patterns, and rhythms designed to influence the breath’s depth, rate, and flow. Breathwork can be a standalone practice or incorporated into other disciplines such as meditation, yoga, or mindfulness. Pneumadelic Breathwork incoprorates breathwork into the ancient Bible reading practice of lectio divina.
The goals of breathwork are diverse and can include promoting relaxation, reducing stress, enhancing mental clarity, improving respiratory function, and supporting overall well-being. Different traditions and cultures have their variations of breathwork, each with unique techniques and philosophies.
It’s important to recognize that breathwork encompasses a broad range of methods, from simple mindful breathing exercises to more structured practices like Holotropic Breathwork or Wim Hof Method. The approaches may vary in intensity, duration, and intended outcomes, catering to different preferences and goals.
Note: Pregnant women should not do psychedelic breathwork and anyone with an ongoing health condition should consult with their doctor before starting a breathwork practice.
Basics of Christian Breathwork
Christian breathwork is Christian not because it involves a uniquely Christian way of breathing, but because of the context and intention surrounding the breathwork.
The context is Jesus, the Word of God, as revealed in the pages of the Bible. The intention is nurturing faith. This doesn’t mean the participant will not experience other benefits of breathwork during Christian Breathwork, they are just bonus.
Lectio divina as a practice dating back to the 3rd Century. Christians have used it throughout the centuries to deepen their relationship with God. But it is different from what you most likely associate with Bible reading or study.
Much Western Bible Study focuses on learning about the Bible, with those in Ivory Towers focusing on dogmatics while pop-Christianity describes the text as Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.
In contrast, Lectio Divina sees the Bible as something we need to experience. Therefore, when practicing Lectio Divina, you do not set out to understand the Bible but stand under the Bible. You do not read the holy text, but allow it to read you.
This happens through a four-movement feast:
The feast begins by taking a bite, which in this context means reading a section of the Bible a few times. We read it slowly, and intentionally.
At my weekly Pneumadelic Breathwork event we use the Narrative Lectionary as a tool to make sure we experience the full story of Scripture over the course of the year. However, one off events can be customized around any verse.
The feast continues by chewing.
In Lectio Divina that means we allow the words to linger. We don’t ask why they were written that way or what they mean so much as we listen for what jumps out and then step into those words.
For example, you might read Jesus saying, “Peace be with you.” If we wanted to understand those words we might look at the context they were spoken in, but if we wanted to stand under them, we would wonder what it would be like to feel God’s peace.
As we chew, we take time to savor the flavor of the feast. Typically, this means a time for prayer. However, with Christian Breathwork, the breathwork is the prayer.
Why does Pneumadelic Breathwork insert breathing here? The kind of breathwork we do at THRIV3, the kind we use for Christian breathwork, is a derevation of Holotropic Breathwork, which creates an altared state of consciousness without the assistance of substances.
How is an altered state of consciousness helpful?
In his book, Desiring the Kingdom (affiliate), theologian and philosopher James K. A. Smith writes that human beings are not in essence thinkers or believers, but lovers. In other words, we feel our way through the world with our thinking often serving the role of justifying our feelings.
At the same time, in the West, prayer, much like Bible study, is typically a very cognitive task and flows from the cerebral cortex. Unfortunately, this means much of our Christian practice exists in direct opposition to what is central to being human. This creates a disconnect between the thoughts and aspirational beliefs of our cerebral cortex and our actual beliefs or actions which come from our feeling-centric limbic brains.
How does this manifest in our everyday life? We get a sense of this when the Apostle Paul writes:
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.Romans 7:15
If the root of all sin is not trusting God, it is not a stretch to see Paul unintentionally highlighting the difference between the aspirational beliefs of our cerebral cortex and the actual beliefs of our limbic brain.
By decreasing the amount of oxygen in the blood, Christian breathwork triggers an altered state of consciousness where the sympathetic nervous system activates, bypassing the cerebral cortex and allowing the limbic brain speak. When it does, it brings our truest beliefs about ourselves and God to the surface.
In other words, Christian breathwork invites us into the rawest and most authentic prayers we can pray.
What is prayer through Christian breathwork like?
What happens when our limbic brain is activated? Different people have different responses. These can include but are not limited to:
- an out-of-body experience
- a deep emotional response (laughter, tears, anger, unworthiness, belovedness, etc.)
- vivid memories (including the emergence of suppressed memories)
- dream-like visions
Whatever happens, we know that Jesus receives us exactly as we are, invites us to lay everything at his feet, and rest in grace.
All feasts conclude with digestion.
Usually Lectio Divina would conclude with a silent prayer where you rest in the grace of God.
In Pneumadelic Breathwork, we create a bit of quiet space to journal followed by a time of open sharing for those who might want to share their experience.
We end with one final reading of the text and a reminder to rest in the graciousness of God.
So what happens when you show up for Pneumadelic Breathwork, be it online or in person? Here is a basic breakdown:
- Welcome (5 minutes) – Every person is invited to share their name, what brings them to Christian Breathwork, and, if we are meeting online, where they are from.
- Breathwork Overview (5 minutes) – I introduce you to the breathwork technique, talk about what you might experience while breathing, and what to do if things get uncomfortable (just start breathing normally again).
- Bio Break (5 minutes)
- Preparation (2 minutes)- We start with guided breathing to calm our bodies.
- Lectio (3 minutes) – I read the text slowly and intentionally, perhaps multiple times.
- Meditatio (5 minutes) – Sitting quietly, we reflect on the reading, specifically focusing on what stands out. Each participant is invited to share a word or two from the reading that will serve as their breathwork intention.
- Oratio (40 minutes) – We will lie down, close our eyes, and begin breathing. Throughout the session, music highlighting themes of the passage will play in the background. The altered breathing pattern will last 30 minutes followed by an additional 10 minutes of normal breathing to allow the body to reset.
- Contemplatio (25 minutes) – This starts with five minutes of quiet time to journal or reflect followed by 20 minutes for those who want to share from their experience to do so.
- Benediction – a blessing to close the experience
How to Participate
If you are a pastor or involved in spiritual formation at your Denver-area church and would like to schedule an event please contact me directly.
If you would like to attend a Sunday night online Pneumadelic Breathwork event, you can sign up here: