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Background: I climbed Mt. Fuji the other day and a Japanese coworker asked me if the altitude made the hike difficult.

I wanted to say "The altitude didn't make it too difficult but there were times when it was hard for me to catch my breath." I'm specifically interested in the phrase "catch one's breath".

Researching online, I have found the phrase「息を呑む」. The English translation given is "catch one's breath" but this seems to be specifically the "breathtaking" meaning.

Is there a phrase that accurately describes the act of "returning to a state of normal respiration after physical exertion causes one's breath to be heavy and labored"?

  • 息を継ぐ could be what you are looking for. – nhahtdh Aug 18 '16 at 7:07
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    Or maybe 息を整える. – broccoli forest Aug 18 '16 at 10:08
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    あるいは逆に 息が切れる (get short of breath) を使うとか. – Yosh Aug 19 '16 at 2:54
  • ^ なるほど。。「息が切れた / 息切れした / 息があがった / 呼吸があがった」とか使うと、すっきりする感じもしますね。「息が上がって、なかなか元に戻らなかった」とか?(←長すぎる?) – Chocolate Aug 20 '16 at 2:13
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Taking the liberty of rounding up the expressions suggested in the comments...

  • 息{いき}を整える{ととのえる}: To restore heavy, labored or otherwise irregular breathing to a stable, orderly pattern.

  • 息{いき}を継ぐ{つぐ}: To take in a breath between periods of breathlessness, like when singing or swimming. Also refers to taking a break from activity to have a rest and relax.

  • 一息吐く{ひといきつく}: To breathe out (once). Often used figuratively to mean "to have a breather". In the latter sense it is synonymous with 息{いき}を継ぐ{つぐ}(the second meaning) and 一息入れる{ひといきいれる}.

So I think 息を整える is the best fit for your description. As for the translation, you can say something like 息を整えるのが大変な時(or 所)もあった or ところどころで息が整いづらかった, or try something more casual and say ヒーヒー言いながら登る所もあった。

And as you suspect, 息{いき}を呑む{のむ} means "to take in a sudden breath", as when struck by awe, surprise, breath-taking beauty, etc. So this one has the least relevance in this case.

  • I also think that 「息を整える」is the most appropriate phrase. I have noticed that you chose 「整いづらい」over「整いにくい」. Is this because a person doesn't have active control over their respiratory system and as such 「動詞+にくい」is not used? – Leo Aug 19 '16 at 2:52
  • I not sure if that was a conscious choice... but if it was it was certainly not based on such a complex thought! To me 息が 整いにくい sounds just as fine:) – goldbrick Aug 19 '16 at 3:06
  • @Leo ~づらい and ~にくい (also ~がたい, which is clearly more formal than them) are basically synonymous that don't have agreed distinction. – broccoli forest Aug 19 '16 at 14:06
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ALC could be a good place to look for a translation. For this question, http://eow.alc.co.jp/search?q=catch+one%27s+breath is the result.

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    Looks like a good resource but unfortunately it just defines the phrase "catch one's breath" as〔運動などの後で〕息が正常に戻る rather than providing an appropriate example of what a native Japanese speaker would say in this situation. – Leo Aug 19 '16 at 1:49
  • @Leo, "一息つく[入れる]" is exactly the phrase I as a native speaker will use as in eow.alc.co.jp/search?q=catch+one%27s+breath. – mon Aug 19 '16 at 2:04
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    I'm not talking about the action of resting, I'm talking about action of the body returning to a normal state of respiration. Can I say something like 「一息つきにくいだった」? – Leo Aug 19 '16 at 2:07
  • The question is "a phrase that accurately describes the act of "returning to a state of normal respiration". The act is called 一息つく. If it is the body returning to some state, then "戻る/modoru" such as "呼吸が元に戻る" would be suitable. It it is more reflexive language such as Spanish, the subject can be body which acts on itself to get to "recovered" state by itself, however in English, "act" would be by the person, I believe. – mon Aug 19 '16 at 13:37
  • "一息つきにくいだった" may need more information to understand. "... にくい” indicates that something is difficult to do, such as たべ/にくい =difficult to eat (eat/たべ). だった is about past or state in the past. If it is "一息つき/に/いく" then "に/いく" is about proactive action. However to catch a breath is not entirely controlled proactively by a person as it is up to the body, にいく may not be a fit here. – mon Aug 19 '16 at 13:47

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