3 Minute Compassion Space

Opening to compassion

Posted Mar 11, 2016

This past weekend, my colleagues at the Center for Mindfulness and Compassion and at the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy organized a 2-day workshop on integrating Internal Family Systems (IFS) and Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC), two powerful methods to enhance inner growth and healing. MSC, an empirically supported 8-week course developed by Christopher Germer and Kristin Neff, teaches participants how to hold themselves in a warm, connected and mindful presence when they suffer, fail, feel inadequate, or when life is just plain difficult. http://www.centerformsc.org/

A major advance in our therapeutic understanding, IFS is an empirically supported model developed by Richard Schwartz. IFS begins with the assumption that the human personality consists of “parts” that can obscure the innate compassion and joy within all of us. The practice of IFS involves working kindly with these parts to give people access to their inner essence of “Self,” which is compassionate, courageous, calm, and creative. It is a very popular with therapists and patients because it is so effective. It enables clinicians to help alleviate hard-to-treat conditions such as trauma, addictions, shame and eating disorders. https://www.selfleadership.org/.

In preparing for the workshop, I wanted to create a mindfulness and compassion practice that would bridge the teaching of IFS and MSC, something that would help us access our innate compassion in a kind way, and something that would make room for all our parts.

As a mindfulness teacher and clinician, I have found myself inspired by the 3-Minute Breathing Space practice from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), a treatment program developed by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams, and John Teasdale. http://mbct.com/.  They consider this practice to be the single most important practice in MBCT.

The 3-Minute Compassion Break draws on the structure of the MBCT, but explicitly adds warmth and compassion. We start by becoming aware of thoughts, feelings, and emotions, anchoring with an appreciation of the breath, and then expanding the field of awareness with an adaptation of the MSC practice of Giving and Receiving Compassion.

Three Minute Compassion Space

(Inspired by Zindel Segal and Chris Germer)

Start by sitting comfortably, adopting a dignified posture. If it is comfortable, close your eyes.

Noticing with Compassionate Awareness

  • Ask yourself, what are you experiencing right now?
  • Take a moment to notice the thoughts that are going through your mind. Greet them with kindness.
  • What feelings are present? Turn toward any emotional discomfort, responding with compassionate attention.
  • What body sensations do you notice? Do a quick body scan to pick up sensations of tightness, holding, bracing, pain. Greet these as well.


  • If it is comfortable, bring your attention to the sensations of the breath. Welcome each breath with affection.
  • Your breath has been with you since birth. It is your constant companion, always with you, sustaining you.
  • Greet each inhalation and exhalation as you would a dear friend or a beloved child. Let yourself by breathed, held by the breath.

Opening to Compassion

  • Expand your awareness so it includes your body as a whole. Notice any tension, tightness, resistance. Greet whatever arises with kind attention.
  • If you become aware of any parts—harsh, critical, confused, disparaging, angry, sad, despairing—notice where they are broadcasting from the body. No need to fix them or chase them away. Simply notice without judgment.
  •  If possible, try to breathe in compassion for any pain, discomfort or suffering, and breathe out compassion for any pain, discomfort, or suffering of any kind.
  • Try this for a few breaths. Breathing compassion in, breathing compassion out.

Return to the Three Minute Compassion Space whenever you need it during the day.

Psychologist Susan Pollak, MTS, Ed.D., co-author of the book Sitting Together: Essential Skills for Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy, (Guilford Press) has been teaching and supervising at Harvard Medical School for over twenty years.