Monday, November 28, 2011

Art Journaling: Attitude of Gratitude Workshop Session1 Remember to Breathe!

Original drawing by M. Estes Zywar
A yoga teacher once told me, “If you change the way you breathe you will change the way you feel.”  It is so true.  When I’m stressed I don’t even notice that I’m taking shallow breaths or holding my breath altogether.  But when I am conscience of breathing in a relaxed, even manner it changes how my body holds tension.  I become conscience of my breathing and notice my muscles in my shoulders are tight and I can work on relaxing them.  I breathe and notice my stomach is tied up in a knot and I can release the tension.  Stress has such a physiological effect on our bodies and breathing is a great way to start paying attention. 
For the first part of my four week Attitude of Gratitude Workshop leading up to Christmas I want to start with being mindful of how we breathe.  I started by looking up breathe in the Bible starting with Genesis 2:7 –
Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. 
Breath is found in Psalm 150:6 –
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.  Praise the LORD. 
 And again in John 20:21-22 - 
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you!  As the Father sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” 
I pasted these verses in my Gratitude Journal. 
I wrote “Breathe” in my journal and doodled around the word while thinking about how I was breathing and working on releasing tension I was holding onto.  There is actually a process for meditative doodling that is called zendoodling or zentangle.  It can be used as a tool for finding a calm state where your mind can be released from stresses and worries and you just focus on the repetitive pen strokes.  My  mother told me about this tool for meditation which she used during her long wait at the airport when traveling to see her father after he had suffered a stroke.  My mother and I also made up some coloring pages for my workshop that people could paste into their journals and color with crayons.  Remember coloring with crayons when you were a kid?  Have you tried it lately?  It can be very relaxing too!
After spending some time in our journals I introduced my group to the idea of a breathe prayer.  It is a concept that has been around for a long time and my husband uses it as a tool for meditation and prayer with parishioners who go on weekly prayer walks in our community.  You take a phrase and repeat it quietly to yourself as you breathe in and breathe out.  For example the most ancient is “Lord Christ Jesus” on the inhale and “Have Mercy on Me” on the exhale.   One that I liked this week was “Be Still” on the inhale and “know that I am God” on the exhale.   Our group warmed up by walking and practicing these breathe prayers before doing a series of stretches led by a professional  dance instructor who is a member of our congregation.

In closing we said the following prayer together.  I hope that everyone participating in our workshop will open their Gratitude Journal this week and be reminded to breathe this holiday season!

Lord, you breathed life into each and every one of us.  Help us not to take it for granted, but rejoice in it; for each breath is a gift. 
Help us to continue to breathe during this season
as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ. 
May we breathe in the sweetness of the Holy Spirit
and exhale tension and stress
Teach us to breathe in the Holy Spirit that we might praise you with each breath. 

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