When you pray do you pray through your body?

Posted on April 8th, 2021

That is a trick question as we all pray through our bodies whether we realise it or not. We make a choice to sit or kneel or stand when we pray. We slip into familiar patterns of sit here, fold hands like this, feet on the floor like that and away we go. What might happen if we actually used the body that we have to pray with?

As a circle dance teacher, I do use the body in prayer and worship and this statement tends to make people back away with a look of quiet terror, but bear with me! Gesture, what we do with our hands can be a powerful way of praying especially when there are times when words do not come.

Why not try using some of these different gestures in prayer and see how it feels. What difference does it make when you hold your palms up or down or raise your hands? Can you allow yourself to just breathe, be still and hold a gesture? Is it something that is hard or creates resistance? Why?

So here is a short list of gestures you will already be familiar with.

  • Traditional prayer pose with hands together and the fingers pointing up or outwards.
  • As above but with the fingers clasped.
  • Hands resting on the knees when sitting with palms up.

As a choreographer I have to name gestures and some of these come from the circle dance world. If you have to teach and dance and spot where people are having difficulty all at once, you need to have a shorthand! These are easier to do when standing but can be done sitting.

  • Adorante – hands at shoulder height with the palms facing forward.
  • Orans – hands at shoulder height with the palms facing each other.

The difference between these is quite subtle but what does it do to your prayer if you pray with palms forward rather than palms facing each other?

Some body prayer can make you feel quite vulnerable. In dance we talk about opening your heart, and this would be to pray with hands held up and away from the body. Your heart is exposed and this might feel too much. Perhaps then bring your hands to your heart or cross your arms to hold your shoulders to feel more secure and then when you are ready, open your arms again.

In the video below, I’ve demonstrated and named all the gestures I’ve described so far. If it makes you more comfortable, call it embodied theological reflection. Or put on some music and see what gestures come in prayer.

Revd Karen Wellman is a priest working in West London and a recent graduate of the Encounter Course at the LCSD. She is a trained circle dance teacher and runs workshops on prayer, gesture and dance ‘Moving into Stillness. Further details from .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


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