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Learning to Breathe: One Woman's Journey of Spirit and Survival

3.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  610 Ratings  ·  138 Reviews
An extraordinary spiritual memoir about the will to survive . . . one breath at a time

While traveling in Laos on a winding mountain road, the bus that award-winning journalist Alison Wright was riding in collided with a logging truck. As she waited fourteen hours for proper medical care-in excruciating pain, certain she was moments from death-Alison drew upon years of med
Kindle Edition, 308 pages
Published (first published August 14th 2008)
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Dec 23, 2012 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
What an amazing life this woman has had. What was most striking to me is that her near-death experience didn't really lead to a big change in her life; instead, it helped her see with even more clarity how she'd been living the life she truly wanted. How many people can say that?

I also love how her life of travel is so meaningful. She touches, and is touched, by many people along the way.

The reason I didn't give this 5 stars is related to the fact that she's done so much: there were significant
Oct 11, 2011 Dona rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite the cheesy title and subtitle, this is the story of a remarkable woman, her incredible energy, experiences and grit. Alison Wright is a photojournalist who specializes in documenting the plight of underprivileged children throughout the world. In 2000, Wright survived being a victim in a debilitating bus accident in which all of her major organs were shoved up under her left shoulder. Because the bus collision happened on a rural mountanside in Laos, she didn't receive real medical atten ...more
This is an amazing story of a one woman's journey to wellness after a devastating accident. It is truly remarkable how she was able to stay alive through the ordeal and to stick to her desire to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro by her 40th birthday (which she acheived).
However, I gave it three stars because I felt that she failed to really convey the emotions of the enormity of what happened to her. Nor was she able to articulate her struggles in a way that allowed the reader to share the journey. She came
Dec 17, 2009 Jen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. It was fun to live vicariously through her many life adventures as well as seeing her strength and motivation during her recovery.

Last night as I finished it and was falling asleep, I did wonder how much easier it is to stay in the present moment when traveling around the world on endless adventures, because you have to. That is the beauty of traveling, everything is new and fresh. Staying present in the day in an day out of typical life with kids and soccer practice and dinn
Jan 20, 2011 Louise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs
Alison Wright was in a severe bus accident in Laos when a logging truck hit the bus head on. Alison was sprawled on the pavement, covered in blood with life threatening injuries. The pain was excruciating and combined with her difficulty breathing, she was hanging onto life by a thread. She had practiced meditation for years and applied her tools of the trade and concentrated as intently as she could on every single breath she took, she was determined she wasn’t going to allow herself to die.

Jan 11, 2010 Nancy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the book content to be very interesting, but felt the author didn't quite present the Buddhist message. She claims that her Buddhist practice was responsible for her amazing recovery and I'm sure it was instrumental in her being able to survive and conquer her injuries. However, her attitude seems unchanged. Buddhism is all about not clinging to our self concepts, and not clinging to certain outcomes of life...but instead, flowing with life. Her dogged determination to regain what had be ...more
Dani Lane
This was a pretty amazing story of a woman adventurer who was critically injured in a bus accident in Tibet. She only survives because of the actions of the strangers who came to her aid and transported her--with great difficulty--to a hospital. Despite the severity of her injuries, and the years of subsequent rehabilitation and ailments, she draws upon her inner strength, an unfailing optimism and her spirituality to conquer and thrive.

It was a relief, almost, to follow the story of a woman wh
My wish for this book was that it could have been separated into two parts. I found both the story of Alison Wright's accident and journey to recovery and her accounts of all the amazing things that she has done in her life inspiring, it was just a little bit too much for one book. It felt a little bit like she thought this might be her only chance to write about her life, so she wanted to get as many stories in as she could. Switching from her recovery to memories of her earlier life to her hop ...more
Jan 20, 2009 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kelly by: Santica Shin
Learning to Breathe is a memoir by photojournalist Alison Wright. In her book she describes barely surviving a horrific bus crash in Laos and her subsequent recovery.

What is truly amazing about Wright's story is that she really should not have survived given the extent of her internal injuries and the fact that it was nearly 24 hours before she was even able to get to a hospital in Thailand with just adequate enough care to operate on her.

What remains so vivid for me about her story is how her
Maura Walsh
Written by my dear friend Alison who went through a horrible bus accident that has changed her life. This is her account of her journey to recovery along with flashbacks of her life of adventures as a world traveling professional photographer. If only one of the events in her life had happened to me, I'd be working that story the rest of my life, but for Alison, her adventures are just a day in the life. Thankfully, God has kept her safe! From war zones to base camp at Everest to the Amazon to t ...more
Georgia Roybal
I enjoyed the incidents in her life as a world wanderer. I was amazed with what she survived. I felt at times that she was an adrenaline junkie, albeit with all good intentions on her part. I liked her basic message of connection and living in the moment. I was a little disappointed in the lack of detail about aspects of her spiritual growth. I do definitely think it is worth reading just for the survival and her basic message of connectedness.

There was a wonderful quote at the end which applies
Aug 07, 2011 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I guess I picked up this book because my daughter got in an accident,and I wanted to read about someone who had it much worse, but was still okay at the end. This woman's life is completely incredible. The misfortune keeps following her, and every time she comes out of it stronger and better than before. I am glad I read it. Things are possible, I guess, with the right attitude. It was very interesting to read about Tibet. I hope to pick up more books on the same topic.. The book reminded me a l ...more
Lisa A. Carlson
Jun 24, 2015 Lisa A. Carlson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Lisa A. by: found on library bookshelf
Shelves: memoir
Dorothea Lange/Lowell Thomas Award winner photojournalist Alison Wright has written a can't put down account of her January 2000 bus accident in Laos which nearly left her for dead. Despite some of the reviews this is a well written, striking account of her struggles to recover as her injuries were substantial. I had to read pages 45-46 more than once to fully realize how broken she was. Wright shares insights into her upbringing and her adventurous spirit which began very young as did her love ...more
What an excellent book! It's not just the awesome story of survival, but the spiritual journery the authoer, Alison Wright has been on her entire life that was so satisfying about this book. Wright is definitely an excellent writer as well as photographer. Her life is exciting, dangerous, and lonely; but somehow also filled with joy, comfort, and lots of strong relationships. I could almost start reading this again right away, I liked it that much. Highly recommend this read.
Alison Wright's remarkable story of recovery after experiencing what should have been a fatal accident is gripping at times, and she gleans some great lessons from her tragedy. ("Having viewed my mortality from a front-row seat has given me even more incentive to follow my heart and live my life to its fullest. Now each day seems like a gift, one giant postscript. When you get right down to it, the fear of death is nothing compared to the fear of having not lived a life to its greatest extent, w ...more
Feb 18, 2015 Sara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Allison's story is amazing. I first heard of her when she came to speak at my University last year. I was very impressed by her, and immediately bought her book on Amazon.
I really enjoyed reading her story. It was very insightful and inspiring. I gave her book three stars only because I think her story deserved to be written by a better author. I know it was an autobiography of sorts, but I think it could have been done better. If it was well-researched and written by a good author, I think the
Sep 09, 2014 Jan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a book I couldn't put down. Her will to medically recover and move forward to meet her goals after her terrible accident on a bus in Laos. I loved her photojournalism tales, and medical recovery issues and her well to get on with life. I found her Buddhist faith to be mildly interesting but other than the mediation elements of it, she didn't convince me, a Christian to even consider it as a life faith. There was no romance, just good family and friend support and excellent medical help ...more
Nov 04, 2015 Laurie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Maybe 2.5 stars. Contrary to the subtitle, this book is heavy on survival and rather light on spirit. I agree with the reviewer who said this might have been better left as a magazine article, which it had been at one time. It seemed superficial to me with a bit of name-dropping thrown in. Alison Wright's life just seems to be a series of vignettes and has the feel of a travel log. The author struggled to reclaim her former self physically and largely succeeded. However, the impact of a near-fat ...more
This was a fast read and a good entertaining summer book -- kind of a funny thing to say for a story so intense and potentially tragic! But Ms. Wright is a survivor and so we can hear the tale from the safety of the knowledge that she made it. As is common for these kinds of stories, the writing is serviceable only to move the sequence of events along. It is between the lines I found her telling most interesting...that she chooses a life so roving and edgy, and that her meditation sustains her, ...more
Feb 16, 2010 Katy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alison Wright, author of this memoir, has been a photojournalist for 20 years. She has traveled all over the world,particularly in Asia. In 2000 she was a victim in a horrific bus accident in the hills of Laos, and was not expected to survive. With excellent recall, she tells of the incident, with all the medical and cultural details, and credits individuals who helped her. She is also a practicing Buddhist, and believes that her training in meditation and yoga allowed her to survive and endure ...more
Sarah Whitney
"Working in such dirt-poor countries was a reminder that life is such a fragile thread, and that the simple fact of where you are born can determine how you will die."
page 86

"I was inspired by a quote by Yousuf Karsh, one of the most famous and accomplished portrait photographers of all time. 'To make enduring photographs, it is far more important to know about the inner workings of the human mind and soul, for the heart and the mind are the true soul of the camera.' I needed to physically touch
Kate Williams
Apr 22, 2014 Kate Williams rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not sure why the common adjective "uplifting" never fails to deter me from wanting to read a book. I'm careful not to include that adjective here for fear that it might unfairly toss this worthy book into the scrap heap of "inspirational" pablum. This book is not one of those. Another addition to my list of top 10 memoirs because it does what I think memoirs should do: by telling a life's story, it compels You, as reader, to do more with your life's story.
Feb 20, 2014 Mainlinebooker rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Went to see her in person for a movie of her work, but wished I had read her book first.To see this perky woman flying into the theatre(almost missed her train) and moving with such ease is astonishing in retrospect. The book recounting her bus crash in Laos and subsequent injuries is a testimony to willpower and faith. I only need think of her to summon the courage to meet life's viccissitudes. Extraordinarily inspiring..
Juliana Haught
Sep 13, 2011 Juliana Haught rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is a photojournalist's account of a horrific accident and her recovery with flashes back to other events, while at the same time highlighting the plight of various communities dealing with poverty and the effects of war and oppression. Reading this, phrases like "profoundly unlucky", and "magnet for trouble" kept popping up in my mind. This woman has experienced an incredible number of illnesses and injuries in her travels. Also, having family members with ADD/ADHD, I couldn't help thi ...more
Dec 06, 2013 Veronique rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I got this book as a gift after going through a difficult emotional period in my life. I added it to the book shelf and didn't read it until nearly 2 years later, thinking I didn't need an inspirational book....what a shame! I should have read it then as it's FILLED with inspirational nuggets and is so well written! This is a story of perserverance and tenacity, survival and belief in oneself. Alison Wright's relationship with Tibet is heartwarming and makes me want to get on a plane and explore ...more
Mar 12, 2012 Charise rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Maybe 2.5 stars. I enjoyed the details of her accident and the amazing heroes and selfless individuals who helped this stranger during the tragic events. I also enjoyed most of her stories. However, I wasn't mesmerized by this book. I felt the Buddhist teachings are so different from my own Christian beliefs that I had trouble relating. I'm not sure if that makes me ignorant or not! All along I was wishing I could share my beliefs about the purpose of life as I know it with her. I felt like I wa ...more
Margaret Schlachter
Loved this book. Wright shares her story of severe injury and her recovery. This book inspired me to want to climb Kilimanjaro myself someday. Inspiring read. For those who liked books like Wild or Eat Pray Love this is a great one to add to the collection.
Apr 04, 2015 ND rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was hoping for more. She is inspiring, but not the best writer. I finished it more out of obligation than interest. The Buddhist stuff is cool, and she has led a fascinating life, but it didn't really pull me in the way I would have wanted it to.
Jan 03, 2011 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alison is a great storyteller in the way she weaves her history/life stories in with the accident and her recovery. Another story of true spirit, determination, and self-awareness which makes for an easy read.
I love the way she ties the book together in her afterword: "I realize now it's not about chasing the story. It's about being part of the story. When you get right down to it, the fear of death is nothing compared to the fear of having not lived a life to its greatest extent with authentic
Jun 30, 2012 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Weaving stories of her world travels with the harrowing tale of a bus accident in Laos and her lengthy recovery, Alison Wright captures the interconnectedness of humanity despite the disparate cultures in which we live. She is obviously a risk-taker and a truth-seeker - her passion for telling people's stories through her photography is evident. It was fun to peek inside her crazy life lived mostly abroad. Her determined recovery was also inspiring...I would recommend this book to everyone. As
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Alison Wright, a New York based documentary photographer, has spent a career capturing the universal human spirit through her photographs and writing. For many of her projects Alison travels to the remotest regions of the globe photographing endangered cultures and people while documenting issues concerning the human condition.
More about Alison Wright...

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