🌬 Happy Habit #7: Three-Minute Breathing Space

• 4 min read

Take three minutes to give yourself space to breathe and focus your attention on your current experience.

Research Overview

Practicing mindfulness meditation alongside cognitive therapy is as effective as anti-depressants without the side effects [1]. It can also help people with various anxiety disorders including bipolar and OCD [2].

Even for those who aren't suffering from depression or anxiety, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) has a whole host of proven benefits. It can improve emotional regulation, spatial memory and verbal fluency [2].

Mindfulness also increases positive judgements and reduces negativity bias—subverting one of the core features of the mind that contributes to unhappiness [3]. Brief mindfulness practices sustained over four days have also been shown to increase executive function, working memory and sustained attention [4].

One of the core practices of MBCT is called Three-Minute Breathing Space that anyone can do in their everyday life.

Core Concept

Most of our suffering comes from dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. By taking three minutes to breathe and focus our attention on our current experience, we gift ourselves the peace found in the present moment. It also has a whole host of cognitive benefits that can help with work performance and productivity.

This structured exercise called Three-Minute Breathing Space was created by John Teasdale and Mark Williams as they developed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy—a clinically proven therapy to depression and chronic unhappiness. It is intended to give people a simple activity to perform in their everyday life that provides the same benefits as a formal mindfulness practice that would take 10-20 minutes.

The exercise is super easy to do. You can do it standing, sitting, or lying down—eyes open or eyes closed.

How to practice Three-Minute Breathing Space

There are three steps, each lasts about one minute:

  1. Attend to what is. Notice whatever thoughts, emotions or physical sensations arise. See whatever arises as it is without judgement.
  2. Focus on the breath. Become aware of your breathe. Notice the rising and falling of your stomach and chest. Feel the cool air coming in and warm air going out.
  3. Attend to the body. Shift your attention to the sensations of your entire body as if all of it is breathing at once. Notice the feelings in your face. Sense the surface of your skin. Become aware of whatever arises inside the body.

That's it! If you enjoyed that process try and savor the positive emotions and reinforce the brain chemistry by cracking a nice little smile for yourself. You deserve it!

Here's a Youtube video to guide you through it for those who prefer listening:

My personal story

I first started experimenting with meditation at university back in 2009. I had no idea what I was doing but I enjoyed the peace I found when I sat in a park underneath a tree and listened to birds and the water of the stream nearby.

In 2015 after moving to the UK and losing a close friend to cancer, I began using Headspace, which I thoroughly enjoyed at first but quickly lost patience with after about a month. I experimented with unguided meditation as a core part of my morning routine from about 2016 onwards, but I never really deepened my practice until I discovered Sam Harris in 2020.

From days after the pandemic was declared all throughout 2020 I used Sam's app Waking Up daily as a part of my self-care routine. His 28-day introductory course is one of my favorite meditation series.

Practicing meditation is a foundational part of my personal well-being. Whenever I'm going through a challenging time I know I can increase and deepen my meditation practice to help weather the storm.

If you haven't discovered the joys of meditation, I highly recommend starting with the simple Three-Minute Breathing Space and working your way up to longer unguided meditations lasting 30-minutes or more. It might take you over a decade like it did for me, but I can promise that training your mind through meditation is one of the highest returns on investment you can ever receive with your time and attention.

Give it a go!

As always if this seems like something you'd like to do, I'd be honored if you'd give it a try and let me know what you think.

Be curious as you explore the exercise and be kind to yourself. See if you can adopt a childlike wonder as you experience the meditation. Be kind to yourself as you are entering new territory that may feel unfamiliar.

If this activity doesn't work for you, try again another time with a friend who is an avid meditator. If it still doesn't work, move on to something else!

Find your happy habits

The science of happiness has so many different habits that you can build into your life. Have fun and try different habits to see which ones work for you! Here's a quick list of all the ones I've written about so far:

  1. 🖊 Happy Habit #1: Gratitude Journal
  2. 🤔 Happy Habit #2: Three Good Things
  3. ⌛️ Happy Habit #3: Savor The Last Moment
  4. 🎭 Happy Habit #4: Invest in experiences—not things...
  5. ✍🏻 Happy Habit #5: Write a Letter to Forgive
  6. ☕️ Happy Habit #6: Buy a Coffee for a Stranger

Please do let me know if any of these work for you! It'll help me craft content for next week...

Happy experimenting! 🔬

John

Citations

  1. Sipe WE, Eisendrath SJ. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: theory and practice. Can J Psychiatry. 2012 Feb;57(2):63-9. doi: 10.1177/070674371205700202. PMID: 22340145.
  2. Ives-Deliperi VL, Howells F, Stein DJ, Meintjes EM, Horn N. The effects of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in patients with bipolar disorder: a controlled functional MRI investigation. J Affect Disord. 2013 Sep 25;150(3):1152-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2013.05.074. Epub 2013 Jun 20. PMID: 23790741.
  3. Kiken LG, Shook NJ. Looking Up: Mindfulness Increases Positive Judgments and Reduces Negativity Bias. Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2011;2(4):425-431. doi:10.1177/1948550610396585
  4. Zeidan, Fadel, et. al Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition. 2010
← 🍂 Happy Habit #8: Forest Bathing (Shirin Yoku)
☕️ Happy Habit #6: Buy a Coffee for a Stranger →

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