The essential practice of Body Prayer

A body prayer is any prayer that incorporates movement. It can be as simple as taking a walk with the intention that your every step be a prayer. The most popular form of body prayer today is yoga. Combining breath and movement with the intention of connecting with the source of life is a powerful form of prayer.

Spiritual directors frequently suggest body prayers for people who are particularly drawn to kinesthetic experience. If someone tells me they pray best when they are running or exercising, then I know body prayer will be important for this person. They are also good for people who are having trouble feeling “grounded” or fully present in their bodies.

Another popular body prayer is walking the labyrinth. A labyrinth is a pathway on the ground in which the path in is the same as the path out from the center, symbolizing the spiritual or life journey. Labyrinths are found all over the world, with the most famous being the one at the Cathedral at Chartres in France. There are hundreds of varieties of configurations of labyrinths. I even found a square one that someone had created in a desert wash near my home!

There are many ways to pray with the labyrinth and quite a few books on how to do this. I’ll share with you a traditional model for walking the labyrinth.

  1. Stand at the entrance of the labyrinth and take a few moments to open yourself to God’s presence. Ask for greater awareness of God as you walk this labyrinth.
  2. While walking around the labyrinth on the way in, reflect on ways you might let go of all that is weighing you down along your spiritual journey. This is traditionally called the way of Purgation.
  3. When you reach the center, stop and linger as you continue to pray. Be fully present to the moment in God. You may sit, kneel or stand. This is called the way of Illumination.
  4. As you walk the winding path out of the labyrinth, reflect on your life and how your spiritual journey connects with the wider world. This is a time to integrate the wisdom you received while praying your way into the labyrinth, letting go of burdens and weights, and the time spent with God in the center. This is the way of Union with God.
  5. Pause again at the end (which is where you began this journey) to express your gratitude to God for the journey.

If you want to do this prayer practice but aren’t sure where to find a labyrinth, begin by doing an internet search for labyrinths in your area. Many churches and retreat centers have them painted or constructed outdoors on their campus and are delighted to have people come and walk the path most any time during the day. Some are even built wide and smooth enough for a person in a wheelchair to navigate. Another option for an all-weather labyrinth experience is a finger labyrinth—a wooden or paper representation of a path that you “walk” with a finger.

Body prayers are wonderful ways to experience God in motion. Keep a journal of your labyrinth experiences and share them with your spiritual director.

For more about spiritual direction as I practice it, check out my website. If you have questions or comments about the content of Spiritual Direction 101, please let me hear from you in the reply section below.

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