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Mindful : October 2019
he 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 diffi- cult 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 vulnerabil- ity—and an ambivalent relationship to breathing—that has shadowed me throughout my life. I was hospital- ized again with pneumonia in my teens, and even as an adult I some- times struggled to exhale or mysteri- ously 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, focus- ing on noting thoughts or experi- encing bodily sensations—anything except following the breath. But you can only hide from your breath for so long. Eventually, I would have to address the problem head-on. If breathing is the gateway to a happy and peaceful life, as many meditation teachers claim, how could I continue to ignore it? ABOUT THE AUTHOR Hugh Delehanty is a former editor for People, Sports Illustrated, Utne Reader, and AARP The Magazine. He wrote about applying design thinking to life planning in the February 2018 issue of Mindful. T Reset Your Body In her book Breathe, Belisa Vranich says this five-minute rou- tine will allow you to reset your body after a particularly stressful day by drenching every cell in it with oxygen—it will be a wel- come relief to a body that’s been flooded with carbon dioxide and low oxygen, adrenaline, and caffeine. The exercise will also allow you to quiet your mind so you can hear yourself think and will help you feel centered, balanced, and more connected to your feelings and the feelings of others. A daily breathing practice to bring balance to your life. PART ONE Duration: two minutes 1 Lying on your back, put one hand on your belly and one on the top of your chest. 2 Breathe through your mouth in order to take in as much oxygen as possible. 3 The first inhale should make your belly rise. (The hand on your chest should not move.) Then, without exhaling, take another inhale and fill the top of your lungs. (This time the hand will move.) These two inhales should be distinct, even if the second one is small. PRACTICE 4 Exhale enthusiastically, for the same amount of time as the two inhales took, combined. Make sure to continue breath- ing through your mouth for the entire first part. The first time you try this, you may feel like you’ve hit a wall after 20 breaths or so. If that happens, encourage yourself calmly and firmly to continue breath- ing. However, don’t push yourself too hard. 64 mindful October 2019