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In this activity…

Students practice different breathing exercises and identify which technique feels most natural, beneficial, and applicable for different situations.

And the point is…

Most students are not aware of their moment-to-moment breathing. In fact, breathing is just one of those things that we tend to take for granted. For this reason, mindful breathing and deep breathing exercises are often overlooked. However, focusing on your breath is an effective, efficient, and readily accessible way to physiologically and psychologically calm down. Like so many other skills that we have introduced, breathing exercises need to be practiced before students will feel comfortable using them (or even remember to use them) in the moment. This activity gives students that preliminary practice.

Materials: Printed breathing station instructions


For this activity, create seven different stations around the classroom, one for each breathing exercise. Print the instructions for each breathing exercise and place one exercise’s instructions at each station.

Breathing station descriptions available in the download section.

Assign students to different stations by counting them off, from 1 to 7. Tell students that each station has a description of a different breathing technique that they can use to calm down. Students will have 3-5 minutes at every station. During this time, students are responsible for reading the instructions and practicing the breathing technique. Let students know that you will be walking around to answer any questions and to make sure that the breathing exercises are being appropriately completed.

Using a timer, or simply keeping an eye on the clock, ask students to rotate to a new station every 3-5 minutes until every student has practiced every strategy. While students are working through the stations, you might find it helpful to play soft mindfulness or relaxation music in the background. If it gets too loud or if students get too excited and chatty, then gently remind students that it’s okay to have fun and to talk with their group, but that these exercises need to be wholeheartedly practiced for this activity to be effective.

Once students have practiced every strategy, ask them to return to their desks and take the next 10 minutes to engage in a class discussion based on the following questions:

  • What was your favourite kind of breathing technique? Why?
  • When might you use one of these techniques? Which technique will you use?
  • Do you think that different breathing techniques will be helpful in different situations? Can you think of any examples?
  • Did anyone notice anything about their breath that they have never noticed before?
  • What was it like to pay attention to your breath?
  • How did your body feel as your lungs filled with air? How did your body feel as you exhaled? What ideas or thoughts can you associate with the inhale and exhale (ex. Inhale love and kindness, exhale stress and tension)?

To conclude, give each student the “Breathing Exercises” handout which explains each breathing technique that they practiced in class. Ask students to take two minutes to write down any notes or tips about particular exercises. For example, students can put a star beside the three exercises they found most beneficial, or make note of when they will use a particular exercise.  

Breathing exercises handout available in the download section.


What if I am getting distracted by another person’s breathing?

It’s okay if you find your attention drifting to a friend or to sounds in the classroom. What’s important is that you’re aware of when this happens, and that you bring your attention back to your breath. It’s natural for your thoughts to wander and to get distracted by the things happening around you. Part of practicing mindfulness involves learning to manage these distractions by simply acknowledging the sound, feeling, or thought without holding on to it or trying to push it away. With practice, you will find it easier to focus on your own breath. It’s also important to remember that, right now, it’s especially loud because the entire class is practicing exercises together and everyone is practicing a different technique that involves making different sounds. On the other hand, when you’re using these skills on your own, you can find a quiet space to take a couple of minutes to breathe and calm down alone.

NOTE: If a student is making extreme disruptions by exaggerating sound effects and not taking the exercise seriously, give a gentle reminder to the class to show respect for each other by properly practicing the techniques in a quiet manner. If the student continues to disrupt the class, then pull them aside and talk to them individually.

What am I supposed to notice about my breath?

On a day-to-day basis, you probably don’t think about your breath. You don’t have to tell yourself to inhale and exhale because your body does these things instinctually. Mindful breathing is about bringing awareness to your breath. You might notice the rise and fall of your chest, your chest and belly expanding as you breathe in and falling as you breathe out, or the air rushing in through your nose and tickling your lips as you blow out through your mouth. If you are having a hard time becoming aware of these sensations, place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly as you breathe. This will help you feel the rise and fall of your breath.

Why do I need to learn how to breathe when I do it all the time?

You’re right, we do breathe all the time. But these breathing exercises help you become more conscious/aware of your breath so that you can use it as a tool to relax and calm down. Your breath tells you a lot about your body and mind. For example, if you're very upset and worked up, you might find yourself taking faster, shallower breaths. Alternatively, when you are relaxed or sleeping, you breathe very deeply and rhythmically. Apart from using your breath to become more aware of your body, you can also use your breath to influence the body. For example, if you’re feeling very upset or worked up, and you consciously choose to breathe deeply, your body recognizes that there is no “threat to survival” and activates the parasympathetic nervous system. As a result, your heart rate will decrease, your blood pressure will drop, and the level of stress hormones (ex. adrenaline and cortisol) in your blood will also decrease. In other words, these breathing exercises not only cultivate mental stillness, they also help your body relax.