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Breathing meditation: What is it and how to do it

In partnership with Michael Dever

In just 3 breaths, you can activate your nervous system

Woman with dark hair meditating on her apartment balcony as the sun is setting
Woman with dark hair meditating on her apartment balcony as the sun is setting

Have you ever been told to “take three deep breaths” to help you calm down when you’re feeling stressed? Well, it turns out it’s actually pretty good advice.

When we're stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is activated and switches on our fight, flight or freeze response.

Yet in just three mindful breaths, we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and move into our “rest and digest” mode instead, says Michael Dever, a meditation leader with nib foundation partner, Live Life Get Active.

“This is almost like the holiday mode where we are calm and can repair,” he says. “Instead of revving the engine, we’re just idling.”

While three breaths can provide some immediate stress relief, going a step further and practising breathing meditation regularly can help keep us in “holiday mode” and lead to significant health benefits.

What is breathing meditation?

Breathing meditation is an "entry level" meditation that anyone can do and centres on paying attention to your breath.

“What breath meditation does is refocus the mind,” Michael says.

This is important given that we have thousands of thoughts a day, including those that are directed by anxiety and fear. But the aim of breathing meditation isn’t to stop these thoughts, Michael explains. The aim is to “turn the volume down” on them by focusing on your breath instead.

“Meditation is when you become aware of your thoughts, but can say, ‘I don’t need you right now’ and let them pass,” he says.

What types of breathing meditation are there?

There are many types of breathing meditation – including deep abdominal breathing, holding your inhale and exhale for a specific amount of time, or breathing through one nostril while you cover the other. Some are incorporated into yoga practices.

Beginners might find using an app, listening to a recording of a meditation or going to a class are good ways to feel supported when starting breathing meditation. 

Man with brown hair and beard practising yoga and meditation on a gym mat in his loungeroom

How do I start breathing meditation?

In essence, breathing meditation is as simple as just “watching” the breath, Michael says. But it does take practice.

Michael recommends starting with just a few minutes a day and to try and do it at the same time every day. And consistency, rather than duration, is key, he adds.

Here are some tips to get started:

  1. 1

    Find a comfortable place where you can sit upright and be aware, but still be relaxed

  2. 2

    Close your eyes if you like

  3. 3

    Turn your focus inwards and pay attention to the sensation of your breath

  4. 4

    Inhale through your nose and notice if you can feel a tingle or cool sensation

  5. 5

    Feel that in-breath move to the back of your throat and to your upper chest

  6. 6

    Feel how it swells in your body down to your belly, before moving back up through your body and released through the nose

Don’t give up if your focus moves from your breath to other thoughts. “It’s part of the process,” Michael says.

Benefits of breathing meditation

There are significant immediate and long-term benefits from breathing meditation, says Michael:

  • A slower heart rate, which helps to reduce your blood pressure

  • More oxygen in your body will help boost your energy and improve the alkalinity in your blood

  • Stronger immunity and better sleep due to being more relaxed

  • Improved focus and concentration

These physical and mental benefits – combined with the simple way it can be practised – make breathing meditation well worth trying, says Michael.

“That’s why it’s so powerful – your breath is always with you,” Michael says. “You can have a single mindful breath at any moment of the day.”

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner. 

Michael Dever in a white collared shirt

In partnership with

Michael Dever

 is a professionally qualified yoga instructor, mindfulness and meditation coach at Live Life Get Active in Sydney. He’s passionate about helping people improve their wellbeing, and is known for bringing an exploration and a sense of humour to his teaching. Being Vancouver born, his favourite song is Summer of ’69 by fellow Canadian Bryan Adams.