The authorship and composition of this song is credited to David Gilmour and Richard Wright for the music, and Roger Waters for the lyrics. The song is slow-paced and rich in texture, and features Gilmour playing the lush electric guitar with a Uni-Vibe and lap steel guitar with a volume pedal and several overdubs. On the original album, it is a separate track from "Speak to Me", the sound collage which opens the album. Since this track segues directly into "Breathe" through the use of a sustained backwards piano chord, the two are conjoined on most CD versions of the album. A one-minute reprise is featured at the end of the song "Time", without the slide guitar and using Farfisa Organ/Wurlitzer piano in place of Hammond Organ & Rhodes Piano.
Along with the other Pink Floyd tracks, "Time" and "The Great Gig in the Sky", "Breathe" is seen as Gilmour "carving out a more distinctive style" with the introduction of blues-based chords and solos. "Breathe" has also been seen to "embrace ecology".
The Pulse CD and DVD features a live version of the song with a run time of 2:33.
The song was played at the Live 8 concert and features on the DVD. For that performance, "Breathe" and "Breathe (Reprise)" were combined to form one song. Although Pink Floyd themselves had never done this before, the London Philharmonic Orchestra had previously covered the song in this manner on their 1995 album Us and Them: Symphonic Pink Floyd.
The solo Roger Waters DVD and CD, In the Flesh – Live, features a version of the song sung by Doyle Bramhall and Jon Carin.
Waters originally recorded a song called "Breathe" for Music from The Body, a soundtrack album which he recorded with Ron Geesin. Although the two are largely different in lyrics, chords and subject matter, this version can be seen as an early version of the song. Although the song is still available through a CD release of this soundtrack album, it often appears on Pink Floyd bootlegs, most notably on A Tree Full of Secrets.
Live versions with Richard Wright appear on the Gilmour solo Remember That Night DVD and Live in Gdańsk CD. The Live in Gdańsk version is titled "Breathe (In the Air)" rather than just "Breathe".