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The Three-Minute Breathing Space Practice

If you spent time reading comic books as a child, you might remember those issues that presented the protagonist’s origin story—who was Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman before getting super powers? Well, I’d like to tell you how the Three-Minute Breathing Space came into being.When John Teasdale, Mark Williams and I were developing MBCT, we positioned the practice of mindfulness meditation centrally and buttressed it with exercises from cognitive therapy. While these elements blended well, I remember us arriving at a point where we felt something was missing.

Our experience as cognitive therapists taught us that therapeutic change depended on applying therapy skills between sessions and in real-world situations. Just as was the case for MBSR at that time, nearly every mindfulness practice we embedded in MBCT was formal and lengthy, with little guidance for calling on and employing these new ways to approach experience throughout the day.

We were certainly aware of moment-to-moment practices in MBSR, such as “going to the breath,” “feeling sensations in the body,” or “mindfulness of an everyday activity.” We also wanted to provide a structure for noting, grounding, and allowing—in the midst of challenging situations or whenever automatic pilot took over. We designed the 3-Minute Breathing Space as a practice for approaching experience from two attentional lenses, both narrow and wide.

The Three-Minute Breathing Space Practice

There are three steps to the practice:

  1. Attend to what is. The first step invites attending broadly to one’s experience, noting it, but without the need to change what is being observed.
  2. Focus on the breath. The second step narrows the field of attention to a single, pointed focus on the breath in the body.
  3. Attend to the body. The third step widens attention again to include the body as a whole and any sensations that are present.

We wanted to create a sort of choreography of awareness that emphasized shifting attention, checking in, and moving on. Accordingly, each step of the Three-Minute Breathing Space is roughly one minute in length. Perhaps because of this flexibility and real-world focus, the Three-Minute Breathing Space is one of the most durable practices utilized by participants well after MBCT has ended.

To explore exactly what is going on with our attention when we practice the 3MBS, please read “Unpacking the 3-Minute Breathing Space.”



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