Restorative Breathing is the Key To Vitality

Some experts say 9 in 10 of us are missing out on the mental and physical benefits of breathing well. Here’s how to take a deep breath, the mindful way.

The story in my family is that a coat hanger saved my life.

I was about 18 months old and was suffering with a horrible case of pneumonia that made it difficult for me to breathe. One night I was struggling so badly, my father called our family doctor and pleaded with her to make a house call. When she arrived, or so the tale goes, she took one look at me, grabbed a wire hanger from the closet, and performed an emergency tracheotomy on the spot.

Everything turned out fine, and within a few weeks I was up and crawling again, but what lingered for years was a feeling of vulnerability—and an ambivalent relationship to breathing—that has shadowed me throughout my life. I was hospitalized again with pneumonia in my teens, and even as an adult I sometimes struggled to exhale or mysteriously stopped breathing altogether. I started meditating years later and listened to teachers rhapsodize about following the breath, which was my idea of hell. I danced around it, focusing on noting thoughts or experiencing bodily sensations—anything except following the breath. But you can only hide from your breath for so long. Eventually, I would have to address…

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About the author

Hugh Delehanty

Hugh Delehanty is a former editor for Sports Illustrated, People, Utne Reader, and AARP The Magazine and the co-author with NBA coach Phil Jackson of the #1 New York Times bestseller Eleven Rings.