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How to Pray - How to Engage Your Whole Self in Catholic Prayer

Updated on September 29, 2014

Engaging Your Body in Prayer

It is important to pray with the whole person, and that means with our bodies as well as our spirits. The question remains how do we engage our bodies in prayer? There are two basic ways we use our body in prayer: postures and movements. These are certainly not the only two ways we use our body - think of incense, sacramental signs, and music. But postures and movements are two of the most basic. Catholic spiritual tradition offers a number of postures and movements that are fitting for prayer. Some of them are common (kneeling) and others not so common. When was the last time you prayed in cruciform? Whichever postures or movements you choose, the three guidelines below will help you choose methods that really benefit your prayer.

Your Body is An Expression of Your Spirit
Your Body is An Expression of Your Spirit
Use prayer positions that keep you attentive in prayer
Use prayer positions that keep you attentive in prayer

1. Choose APPROPRIATE postures & movements

Pray with an attentive posture. Choose to kneel, sit or lie prostrate. Choose your posture based on a balance of comfort and attentiveness (unless you are led by the Spirit to a posture of penitence). You don’t want to be too comfortable, not only because you are likely to fall asleep in your prayer, but also because your attention on Jesus will get lazy. You also don’t want to be so uncomfortable that your thoughts are distracted from God by your discomfort.

2. Choose MEANINGFUL postures & Movements

Saint Dominic’s "Nine Ways of Prayer" uses nine prayer positions that are tied to specific spiritual truths. Bowing means humility before God. Prostration means contrition for sin. Kneeling and rising means the strength of faith. Saint Dominic would use these prayer postures during the Divine Office at appropriate places - lying prostrate during the penitential rite, standing attentively during the readings, etc. He would also use them during his private prayer as the Spirit moved him.

How Am I Supposed to Pray?

What postures and movements will help you be attentive during prayer and best express the meaning of your prayer?
What postures and movements will help you be attentive during prayer and best express the meaning of your prayer?

3. Choose HELPFUL postures & Movements

Finally, use postures that match your personal prayer style. Prayer is a relationship with God. Since every person who prays is unique, each person’s prayer is unique too. Some people need quiet in prayer. Some people need to be active and moving in order to focus during prayer. If you are the former, use prayer postures that will allow you to quiet yourself but still keep you attentive. If you are the latter, use prayer postures that keep your body active without offering distraction. You might pray as you walk, for example.

Learn Some Appropriate, Meaningful Ways to Use Our Bodies in Prayer

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Your Challenge

Think about each of the three points above. Choose one posture or movement that you can use in prayer that fits each description (appropriate, meaningful, helpful) and try it out. There is really no way to know for sure if it will fit you unless you try it. Come back here and let us know in the comments what you chose and how your experiment went.

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