Exploring Embodied Spiritual Practices in the Christian Tradition

Discover ancient and modern embodied Christian practices. Learn to incorporate them into your spiritual practice.

Exploring Embodied Spiritual Practices in the Christian Tradition

This is Part 2 of a two part series about embodied spirituality within Christianity. Click to read Part 1.

Through my lifelong exploration of faith, I have come to my own personal discovery that our spiritual lives are not limited to beliefs that live in our heads. Our spiritual lives are intricately intertwined with the physical essence of our being.

Part 1 of this series explored the impact of the Reformation on Christian practices as well as the insights of modern philosophers and researchers around the concept of embodied cognition. We also saw tons of Biblical basis for embodied spirituality in Part 1. In this article, we’ll discover embodied Christian practices, both ancient and modern.

Click to check out Part 1: Exploring Embodied Spirituality within Christianity

What does it look like for us to connect with God through our body, not in spite of our body?

So what does it look like for us to connect with God through our body, not in spite of our body? Thankfully, in the realm of Christian spirituality, there are various practices that invite us to engage our bodies as sacred vessels as a way to connect with God. First we’ll explore the Sacraments of the Catholic Church and then I’ll share some other practices that you can incorporate into your spiritual life.

The Sacraments

Growing up as a Protestant, my church didn’t overtly discuss the Sacraments, although we did practice some of them, for example baptism and the eucharist (taking communion). In the Catholic tradition (which, remember...prior to the Reformation, there was no Catholic/Protestant distinction), there are 7 Sacraments, and as we explore them, we’ll see that they are embodied in their own way, engaging our senses and connecting us to the spiritual realm through physical rituals.

The Sacraments of Initiation:

Baptism: Practiced since the very beginning of the Christian church, this is an embodied act of entering water and emerging, representing a spiritual renewal.

The Eucharist: Established by Jesus at the Last Supper, again, we see a physical representation of a spiritual truth as Jesus invites us to take and eat his body and drink his blood.

The Sacraments of Healing

Penance/Confession: The practice of speaking out loud is powerful. In the Bible, God created the world simply by speaking and Jesus is referred to as the Word of God. Words have power, and there is a spiritual transformation that occurs when we can confess our deepest secrets out loud, whether to a priest or to a trusted friend or therapist. There is a palpable sense of relief when we hear hear words of absolution

Anointing of the Sick: This embodied practice is ancient beyond the Church. Laying on of hands and anointing with oil has long been a form of supporting someone and interceding for healing.

The Sacraments at the Service of Communion

Marriage: The consummation of marriage is an embodied act, and many Christians believe it is a spiritual act as well.

Holy Orders: The vestments (the special garments that church leaders wear) are a physical representation of the role that this person is playing in the church

Embodied Spiritual Practices in the Christian Tradition

Walking a labyrinth

Labyrinths showed up in Christian practice as early as 324 AD.

A slow and quiet way to embody prayer, you enter the labyrinth and follow the path to the center, symbolizing a path toward God. In the center you experience connection with God. To exit, you walk the path in reverse, symbolyzing that as you walk back out into the world, your connection with  God is with you.Try it:


There are countless Biblical references to singing, and there seems to be a link between joy and singing, whether singing leads to joy, or joy leads to singing. In the Psalms there are also many songs of lament.

Singing is something that modern Christians do well! There is a wide variety of music that you can listen to and sing along with to lift your spirits and connect with your spirituality.

Breath Prayer

In the Bible, the Holy Spirit is connected with the concept of breath. Both the Hebrew ruach and Greek pneuma mean breath, wind, and/or spirit. Within the Orthodox Christian tradition, Breath Prayer appears as early as the 3rd century, with the appearance of the Jesus Prayer, coming from Mark 10:47, "Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Practitioners inhale and exhale, silently repeating parts of the phrase.

Try it: Make it as simple as inhaling and repeating silently, "I," and exhaling and repeating silently, "am."


Gregorian chant began during the Middle Ages in Europe. Each Gregorian chant consists of a single line of music, sung without instruments, usually in Latin. The lyrics are typically taken from Psalms, prayers, or creeds. We need more in the way of modern Christian chants!

Body Prayer

There are many creative ways to combine movement with prayer beyond the yoga tradition, and I hope to see more of this in the future of the church.  You can try breath prayer with movement, such as the Jesus Prayer combined with the physical postures of a sun salutation from yoga, enabling us to offer our whole being to God in worship. As we move through each pose, we engage in a full-bodied prayer. Find a few more practices to try at Wisdom Waypoint.

Try it: Inhale arms up to the sky, Lord Jesus Christ, exhale hands to heart center, Son of God, inhale up to the sky, have mercy on me, exhale hinge at the hips and reach down for toes, a sinner, inhale halfway, Lord Jesus Christ exhale reach for toes, Son of God, inhale all the way up arms to sky, have mercy on me, exhale hands to heart center, a sinner.

Lectio Divina with the Senses

Lectio divina is Latin for “divine/sacred reading.” The origins of this type of prayer can be traced back to the sixth century when Benedict of Nursia established it as a monastic discipline. There are many ways to practice lectio, but one way is to engage our imaginations and our senses. Through this type of reading, we engage Scripture with our whole being, immersing ourselves in the emotions, actions, and sensory experiences of the biblical narratives. My guided meditation, A Journey of Faithfulness with Mary Magdalene uses a similar technique.

Try it:
1. Read the following passage: The Death of Lazarus–John 11:1-44
2. Make a mental list of the people implied or explicitly mentioned in the text, such as main people, others who came to offer support, perhaps professionals involved in the funeral.
3. Choose what character you're going to identify with in this passage. As you re-read, imagine this person’s emotions, actions, thoughts, appearance, sensory input (smell, taste, touch, see, hear). Imagine the actions, expression, and mood of other people as you interact with them.
4. Read v 17-37 again.
5. Imagine what your character may have said.
6. When Jesus says that he is the resurrection, are others watching and listening? What is happening in your heart and mind when Jesus speaks?
7. How do you feel as Jesus weeps? How do you feel now about those who were complaining?
8. Reread the whole passage and consider what you learned through this experience.

Fixed hour/Divine hour prayers

Early Christians continued an ancient Jewish practice of reciting prayers at certain hours of the day or night. In the book of Acts, we can see the Apostles observing the Jewish custom of praying at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, and at midnight. Vespers is a familiar example of the Divine Hours. There are modern resources if you'd like to pray the Divine Hours more formally, like this series by Phyllis Tickle.

Try it: Set an alarm on your phone or watch to remind you several times throughout the day to stop and take a moment to breathe.

Ora et labora

The Benedictine tradition of "ora et labora" advocates for incorporating physical labor as a form of meditation, allowing us to find spiritual resonance in everyday tasks.

Try it: The next time you are doing a chore like folding laundry or washing dishes, taake a moment to tune into your emotions, the sensations in your body and on your skin, the thoughts you’re having. Explore what it’s like to try and be completely present to the task ahead of you instead of listening to a podcast, or letting your mind wander off into the past or future. This is a simple way to begin a mindfulness practice.

Circling Prayer

Drawing inspiration from early Celtic Christians, we can embrace the practice of "circling prayers" or caim, symbolizing a sacred space and the encompassing love of God. By physically drawing a metaphorical circle around ourselves as we pray, we invite our entire being—body, mind, soul, and spirit—into communion with the divine. This practice acknowledges the profound interconnectedness of all creation and invokes a sense of protection, sanctuary, and unity.

Finding an Embodied Spirituality within Christianity

As I continue on my journey of embodied spirituality, I am continually reminded of the profound truth that our bodies are inseparable from our spirituality. By working with our bodies, we unlock a deeper connection with God, ourselves, others, and the world around us.

Drawing inspiration from scripture, philosophy, and personal experiences, we have explored the significance of embodied spirituality and discovered practices that help us cultivate a more embodied spiritual life.

May this exploration of embodied spirituality inspire us to approach our Christian faith with a renewed sense of wholeness, recognizing that our bodies are sacred vessels through which can connect with God.  Jesus, who demonstrated the embodiment of God's love and compassion, invites us to follow in his footsteps. May we embody the divine in every breath we take and every step we make.