The Three-Minute Breathing Space (3MBS)

Here comes one of my favorite mindfulness exercises. A rather useful and most durable one. It is incorporated in the 8-week-long MBCT program, and has also made its way into other mindfulness programs involved with education, leadership, mental health and other spheres of life.


Simple and short at it is, this exercise allows for a refreshing break even from a most hectic day – if practiced on a regular basis. It can be done in almost any posture: sitting, standing or lying – another reason why I refer to it so often.

In short, it helps be open to real-life experiences with non-judgmental awareness by widening, narrowing and then once again widening your attention to how everything is coming into being and passing away moment by moment.

All it requires is coming to a halt and bringing your attention into the present moment following three simple steps.



Take a break. Stop doing whatever you are doing and tune in to yourself. You can close your eyes or keep them open without gazing at anything. Become a widescreen or container for anything you can register within and around you. Sounds near and far, sensations, thoughts, emotions – whatever shows up at that given moment.  Notice your experiences in a wider and more open manner without making any internal comments. Refrain from making judgements. As I have read somewhere: see what the „weather pattern” is like inside and around you. Here the attention is kept wide.


In the second phase the attention becomes more concentrated and narrow centering around your breathing cycle. Focus on your nostrils, chest, abdomen or belly depending on where you feel your breathing most dominant. Tune in to each inhalation and exhalation and also notice the spaces in-between. Keep your attention focused for a whole minute gently escorting your mind back to your breathing, should it wander. And sure it will.


In the very last phase, expand your attention again to include sensations in the body as a whole, feel how your body gets into contact with whatever is holding it (the chair, the floor), and how your clothes touch your body.

A very important element of this practice is to try to maintain the quality of this present-moment-awareness as you reengage with the activities of the day.

Let us see what Zindel Segal, the co-founder of MBCT, who came up with this exercise says about it:

„Unpacking the 3MBS

So what exactly is going on in the 3MBS? At one level, if you’re in the middle of an automatic, or multi-tasking moment, there is a place that you can move your mind to that allows you to step out of these routines and the demands they place on our attention. Simply sitting down and allowing your attention to move in these different ways can be quite beneficial throughout the day.

But what exactly is going on with our attention? The 3MBS as we’ve designed it really is a lot about moving attention  in specific ways to help us free ourselves or to get unstuck from some of these automatic routines.

In the space of about 3 minutes we go from wide, to narrow, to wide again.

This happens in the configuration, if you will of an hourglass, which can be seen as having a wide opening, a very narrow neck, and a wide base.

These are metaphors to describe the movement of attention. And the movement of attention is one of the things that I believe is really helpful about the 3MBS. Because when we’re caught in multitasking, or automatic routines, often our attention is not really available to us, and it’s not really being guided or directed by our intentionality.

So, these are some of the speculations, my own ideas, about how to 3MBS is helpful. The important thing is that if you do find it helpful just continue to practice it and figure out, maybe from the inside, how it continues to bring value and grounding in your own life.” (quote from:


As a cognitive therapist Zindel Segal knew well that successful therapeutic change depended on applying skills between sessions and in real-world situations. Together with his colleagues he wanted to come up with an easy-to-apply exercise which is quick and short but proves to be a powerful tool in the midst of challenging situations or whenever automatic pilot mode takes over.

So no excuses, this exercise IS super easy indeed. Grab your imaginary telescope or hourglass and make this experiment part of your day!  Every day.