The three-minute breathing space is considered one of the most important practices in mindfulness. It’s a simple exercise meant to bring a formal practice into everyday life when we feel stress. Here’s how I learned what it is and how to breathe in three steps.
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Sounds pretty good, right? Imagine spending just three minutes to breathe, feel better, and exhale stress away. When I first read about the 3-minute breathing space, it sounded so simple, I thought I was missing something.
It works. I wish I would’ve known how to do this in high school. Fortunately, we can pass this on to students so they can be more relaxed, study more easily, and be happier.
Back in the early 1990’s, I was a pretty anxious kid with heavy course loads. I also had my share of obligations that took a ton of time. Time itself felt like a ton of bricks. My parents, with the best of intentions, told me to relax, to calm down… so, how would I reply?
“I don’t have time for that.”
You may have heard that one before. The funny thing about thinking “I don’t have time to relax,” is that this is exactly the time to relax. We know from research that when you feel stress and crunched for time, that’s exactly when you’ll feel better by spending three minutes to center your mind.
Here’s how to practice the three-minute breathing space.
Adapted from The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Stand or sit upright with a dignified posture. Close your eyes if possible. Take about one minute to go through each of the following three steps:
1. Becoming Aware
Bring your awareness to your inner experience. Ask: What is my experience right now?
What thoughts are going through your mind? Acknowledge them as mental events.
What feelings are here? Acknowledge the presence of any sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings.
What body sensations are here? Scan yourself for any sensations of tightness.
Redirect your attention to focus on the physical sensations of the breath.
Move in close to the sense of the breath in the abdomen. Feel the sensations of the abdominal wall.
Follow the breath in and out, using the breath to plant yourself in the present. If the mind wanders away, gently bring it back to the breath.
Now, expand the field of your awareness around your breathing. Include a sense of your whole body, posture, and facial expression.
If you become aware of any sensations of tension or resistance, take your awareness there by breathing into them on the in-breath.
Then breath out from those sensations, softening with the out-breath.
Do your best to bring your expanded awareness to the next moments.
If this helped you, can you please share with a friend? As a coach and writer, I appreciate your feedback and comments.
Source: The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Learn more about these experts and their work at the home site of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.