We constantly express ourselves through our bodies, whether or not we are aware of that. Our posture communicates openness or judgment. Our gestures indicate willingness or fear. The way we walk can tell people that we’re feeling free or angry, are happy to be on our way or are dreading the day.
So, if we’re already speaking with our bodies, we might as well be more intentional about it. A good place to start is when we pray. Here are six simple movements; you may be surprised at how they influence the way you experience prayer.
1. Kneel. We feel a certain way about ourselves and the world when we’re on our knees. It’s really difficult to be proud and pushy in that position. Humans have knelt in the presence of the Divine for probably all of our history. We also kneel in the presence of people or events that stun us with awe. We kneel because we need help and have come to ask for it.
2. Stand. Hebrew and Christian Scriptures tell us to kneel and show humility before God, but they also encourage us to stand up: to come before God, confident that God wants to help us; to stand up for those who are weaker than us, to help them speak; to stand in gratitude and awe of creation and God who gives us every good gift. This kind of standing is firm and straight-shouldered, firm-footed. It is a strong pose, a glad pose.
3. Bow down. Practicing Muslims give us an excellent example of this posture when they go through the physical forms of their daily prayers. A yoga position that is similar to this is the child’s pose; you are on your knees and then stretch out to lay your arms, torso, and head on the ground in front of you; your forehead touches the floor. This is a position of honoring another, of obedience, of making yourself vulnerable. This is a posture that says, “I offer myself to you, and I trust you.” Bowing also says, “Please, help me, give me the grace I need today.”
4. Hands folded in prayer. This movement focuses our attention on quiet, attentiveness, and humble conversation with God. Folded hands cannot also be abusive or resistant hands. Folded hands show a form of waiting, of holding everything at attention while we listen and look for God’s message to us.
5. Hands open. You can open your hands and place them on your lap, palms upward, while you sit in prayer. It’s rather astonishing how distinctive it feels to open hands and leave them open; they signal to us and to God that we are open and receptive. Open hands say, “I’m letting go,” or, “I accept whatever you give me.” Open hands relinquish our so-called control of a situation.
6. Arms outstretched. Whether your arms are stretched out to your sides as though you’re about to give someone a hug, or they are raised above your head as though you’re waving at heaven, such a posture has a strong impact on how we feel when praying. Raised, outstretched arms communicate freedom, praise, our sense of awe before God, and our desire to embrace God.
What prayer movements or postures have strengthened your sense of communication with God?