When I was a child I was taught to kneel by my bed to say my prayers at night. At other times, like in church, I learned to sit with my hands folded and my head bowed as the pastor prayed. Images of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane typically show him kneeling next to a rock with his hands folded and looking up. In another situation, described in Matthew 26:38-39 we learn that “he fell with his face to the ground and prayed,” in one of Islam’s prayer positions. Another prayer position I learned later in life is a standing posture with arms outstretched and looking up, the way popular culture depicts Native Americans praying.
I read somewhere that it’s not the body’s posture but the heart’s attitude that counts when we pray. That may be true, but I have done enough yoga, tai chi, and Japanese tea ceremony to know that body posture also matters. When I am doing a posture or movement correctly there is an energy flow. I don’t have the language to describe it, but I can feel the difference when the yoga teacher repositions me during practice.
This morning I began a new yoga class, returning to a practice I have done off and on for many years. The teacher spoke of integrating body, mind, and spirit. I felt opened and awakened. I’m not sure what this has to do with prayer, really, except that it opens the channels to allow for communication with the divine.
In settling into waiting worship I often pay attention to my posture. Sitting in a chair is not the optimal position for prayer, or worship, but it can happen. I lengthen my back, put my shoulders back and open the chest (opening the heart), feel myself suspended from above, and plant my feet firmly on the ground, if possible.
I once sat in on one of Marcelle Martin’s classes on body prayer at Pendle Hill. I don’t remember the exact movements, but I remember how liberating it felt to pray with my body in different positions. I think the Muslims understand this, as there are 5 postures for daily prayer. It seems traditional Jewish practice also included different postures, including the prostrating one. I don’t know enough about those different postures to know if they represent different attitudes of prayer, e.g. gratitude, supplication, praise (thanks!, help!, wow!, as Anne Lamont puts it), but in my own practice I will try to mindfully consider what positions or movements reflect those attitudes.