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The Breathing Guide to New York City

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The best advice to help you relax or clear your mind is often very simple: breathe. But if you’re a New Yorker, this stress-busting tip may be more frustrating than helpful. Chances are, a deep inhalation on or below city streets will leave you with a noseful of someone else’s BO, stale subway air, food cart fumes, or worst of all—that sudden gag-inducing sewage stench that gets you to swear off breathing altogether.

Until someone develops a device to mass-febreze the island, check out these top places for a breathing break. You may even reach a destination that many New Yorkers don’t know exists: peace.

1. Roofs. The main culprits for the city’s stench are low to the ground. So, if you want to avoid the smells of dog urine, trash dumps, car exhaust, and other lowly olfactory products, follow the direction these things usually won’t go: up. Some roofs ban visitors, so be wary before you ascend. Even the deepest of inhales won’t bring you inner peace if a security guard is arresting you in the middle of it.

2. Select Parks. A rule of thumb: green is clean. But don’t go to Central Park’s Great Lawn on a warm Saturday afternoon expecting the perfect inhale when surrounded by a sea of loud, sunbathing New Yorkers. Wander into secluded parts of Central Park, or try other city gems like Teardrop Park or a botanical garden for better air. Watch out for Madison Square Garden: take a whiff too close to Shake Shack and you may find yourself with no choice but to stand in line for a bite.

3. Less-frequented museums. Curators want their prized pieces to rest in the ideal indoor environment, so the condition of the air has to be prime. You, lucky onlooker, get to mooch all that good air that’s meant for the collection! Try lesser-known locations like The Tibet House, The Scandinavia House, or The Rubin Museum of Art. Of course, the more popular museums maintain great indoor environments as well, but they’re generally too packed for truly peaceful inhalation.

4. Beaches. Because who doesn’t love the smell of sunscreen with a hint of fish and overtones of kelp? But actually, by hanging out on a beach—or better yet, getting into or onto the ocean—you could be doing wonders for your lungs. Inhaling salty air can provide great health benefits, and some weird products exist to help you do it. But why go through all the hassle when you could just go to Brighton Beach or Coney Island instead?

5. Your own secret nook. There’s a little square garden near a cathedral in the residential area where I live. Sometimes I go with a book, sometimes with a close friend, sometimes with nothing at all. It’s almost always empty, and on the rare occasions I’ve seen another person there, we exchange nods to establish our unsaid understanding: this is our quiet, coveted find. Last year a bird pooped on me there, and as a testament to my love for this place, the incident hasn’t turned me off at all from returning. I won’t tell you where it is, but I’ll tell you that you can have one, too. That’s the fun of it. The best spots to enjoy a few deep breaths will probably be the ones you find for yourself.

Breathe deep, New York.

Perhaps you won’t want to in the subway, or in your apartment after your roommate has ordered garlic noodle takeout. But focusing on your breathing can be a true delight in the right environment. All you have to do is get to one.


By Sarina Bhandari

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  1. [...] let people convince you that every square inch of the city stinks. That’s absolutely wrong. I can walk blocks and not smell anything. If I do, I don’t think the odors are that bad, [...]

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