The 3 Step Breathing Space Practice

Being a mindfulness teacher I often get asked “what’s a quick and easy bit of mindfulness you can share with me?”  And to be honest I don’t like the question because it assumes mindfulness is about quick fixes, which it definitely isn’t!

What I am happy to share at times like this is one of my favourite practices, the 3 step breathing space.  I call it a pocket-practice because you can carry it with you and use it absolutely anywhere.  The results can be transformative and once you’re practiced enough to run through the steps without thinking about it you can literally do it in the time it takes to breathe in and out.

So what’s so good about the 3 step breathing space?

All mindfulness practices help us to focus attention on what’s going on in the present moment and usually this is done formally, with time taken to prepare a space where you won’t be disturbed.  The 3 step breathing space is what we call an informal practice, which makes it more flexible and perfect in real time situations.

For example, imagine you’re having a difficult or challenging conversation and you’re getting triggered.  Anger and fear rise automatically and before you know it you’ve said something you regret.

This kind of reactivity is dangerous because it happens so quickly and can feel quite norma i.e.  just part of who we are.  The next time a similar situation arises it’s easy to repeat the pattern.  What we need is something to break the cycle and this is where the 3 step breathing space comes in.

The practice in action

Now imagine the same conversation except this time you’re aware of the sensations of being triggered, maybe tightness in the tummy, a frown on the forehead, buzzing in the brain etc.  As you acknowledge these early warning signals, rather than subconsciously riding along with them,  you increase your mental capacity enough to remind you where you might be heading.  You’ve stepped off the ‘stress express’ and with a simple out-breath you’re able to speak calmly and consciously. This is the 3 step breathing space in action but, as with all mindfulness practices, it takes practice to use it skilfully.

Try it for yourself

This may sound too good to be true but I guarantee that with some practice you’ll soon get the gist of it.  Do the practice a few times a day and when you feel familiar enough with the 3 steps you can experiment and make it your own.  Good luck.