A mindfulness student recently experienced her body as beautiful during a body scan in class.  You may already have a positive self-image and feel good about your body. You may consider your body to be “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Or you may have a negative body image, even hating your body. Whether you love your body or hate it, you can benefit from the body scan, a foundational practice from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).



Your compassionate human desire to take good care of others is critical to the well-being of your family, friends, co-workers and community – and taking good care of yourself is the foundation for your care of everyone else.  However, it is sadly true that we often take better care of others than we do of ourselves. It’s as if we need a new Golden Rule: Do unto yourself as you do unto others. We would never say or do to someone else some of the things we say and do to ourselves.



You and I have two primary modes of mental activity: the doing mode and the being mode. Although we are called human beings, we spend the majority of our time in the doing mode rather than the being mode.  Your “doing” mode is highly prized in our culture for schooling, work and career. It demonstrates your mastery and command of detail, data, thinking, intellect and your goal-oriented ability to get things done. We depend heavily on the doing mode to take care of all our daily affairs at home and work,….


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A recent American Psychiatric Association poll found anxiety in Americans has increased sharply over the past year, up five points since 2017.* Also in the past year, a Blue Cross Blue Shield report found major depression has risen by 33 percent since 2013. This rate is rising even faster among millennials (up 47 percent) and adolescents (up 47 percent for boys and 65 percent for girls).**

There are many ways to combat anxiety and depression, including prescribed drugs, physical activity, dietary changes, counseling, social support and contact with nature. There are several mind-body approaches also, including massage, emotional journaling, guided imagery, skilled relaxation, yoga, meditation and mindfulness. Mindfulness- based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is an effective therapeutic approach designed to help people who suffer from repeated bouts of depression, chronic unhappiness and anxiety.*** MBCT combines cognitive therapy with mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a well- researched educational set of meditative practices and mental attitudes that nurtures the cultivation of mindfulness.

Foundational practices in MBCT and MBSR include paying non-judgmental attention to your breathing – doing so with a clear intention – and bringing the qualities of curiosity, openness and acceptance to whatever you are experiencing. While this can certainly include pleasant experiences, the real therapeutic payoff is working with challenging, difficult and unpleasant experiences.

One of the basic practices in MBSR and MBCT is the Three- Minute Breathing Space.**** This practice is short and simple but can be extremely helpful in learning to respond skillfully rather than react in unskillful, habitual ways that often make things worse.

The following guidelines and the recording available at the link below do not take the place of professional counseling or medication. If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, ask your primary care provider for help and discuss this mindfulness practice with him or her.

Three-Minute Breathing Space

This practice is best learned by daily repetition, at least once a day, during moments of relative calm and peacefulness. As you gain familiarity with the practice, you can use it as needed in moments of distress.

1. Becoming aware

Bring yourself into the present moment by deliberately adopting an erect and dignified posture, whether you’re lying down, reclining, sitting or standing. If possible, close your eyes and bring simple awareness to your inner experience, scanning your body for physical sensations and observing your mind and emotions. Actually ask yourself “What is my experience right now … of physical sensations and sense perceptions in my body … of thoughts and images in my mind … of feelings and emotions?” Notice the habitual labeling of some experiences as pleasant and others as unpleasant. Welcome whatever is arising, allowing yourself to simply have your experience without judging it. Can you actually turn toward both pleasant and unpleasant experiences rather than trying to push away or escape from the unpleasant and clinging to the pleasant?

2. Gathering

Effortlessly and gently direct your attention to your breathing, feeling each in-breath and each out-breath. Allow the belly to be soft so the breath can deepen, fully expanding the lungs and sending relaxation impulses throughout the entire body and mind. Allow your breath to anchor you in the present and help you train your mind to pay attention, taming the chaotic “monkey mind” that is in such

constant motion. Allow the breath to help you simply slow down, shifting from the “doing” mode and endless tasks of your to-do list to the “being” mode of mindful awareness – your antidote to worrying and hurrying. As the breath goes out, really allow it to go out, out, out, dissolving into space. Notice the stillness of that pause at the end of the out-breath. Learn to rest in that pause for a moment at the end of each breath.

3. Expanding

Expand your awareness around your breathing so it includes a sense of the body as a whole, sensations and sense perceptions throughout the body, the tactile points of contact with the chair, the floor or the bed, noticing your posture, facial expression and simply allowing all your experience to “just be” as it is, without wanting or trying to change it.

The Three-Minute Breathing Space is a simple, portable tool to help you step out of the habitual reactivity of automatic-pilot mode and reconnect with the present moment, responding wisely and skillfully to your life’s ups and downs. Anxiety and depression may be easier to bear. They may even diminish. But even if they persist, you can develop a new relationship with them, one that can reverse the downward spiral of worry and fear and help you experience an upward spiral of relaxation, patience, equanimity, hope – and even joy.

Sources and Resources:

* American Psychiatric Association survey finds increasing anxiety https://www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/

** Blue Cross Blue Shield survey finds increasing depression https://www.bcbs.com/sites/

*** Mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) – Finding peace in a frantic world  http://franticworld.com/

**** Three minute breathing space (audio recording by Dr. Patterson) http://www.mindbodystudio.org/


Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations

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