The Secrets of Breath and Breathing on with Annie McEwen and Matt Kielty on Radiolab

Check out the Episode Page and Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Humans have two different sides to their heart, the right, and the left – one side of the heart has the blood that needs oxygen, the other side of the heart has the blood that has oxygen
  • A fetus grows surrounded by water – its lungs are full of water – the oxygen for a fetus comes from the mother
  • The moment a baby is born, it’s extremely wet – and cold, for the first time – this signals the baby’s breathing center in the nervous system to get going
  • There are 86 billion neurons in your brain but only 8,000 concentrate on the different aspects of breathing
  • Breath Mints are intended for 3 purposes:
    • Breath freshening
    • To wake yourself up
    • When you want something to chew on to get rid of nervous tension
  • Circular breathing is where you hold a note and actually breathe while you’re still sustaining the sound – a technique often used by musicians and rappers
  • A person’s breath and phrasing are highly personal, like a signature
  • Most people can hold their breath for a minute or two, but beyond that carbon dioxide starts to build up in the body and the brain starts to panic

Intro

Annie McEwen (@mcewenannie) is a producer at WNYC’s Radiolab

Matt Kielty (@mattfitzkielty) is a writer, reporter, and producer at Radio Lab

How Humans Breathe 

  • Humans have two different sides to their heart, the right, and the left – one side of the heart has the blood that needs oxygen, the other side of the heart has the blood that has oxygen
  • Blue blood, which is low in oxygen, enters the right side of the heart, then gets pushed to the lungs which fill with air
  • Oxygen “hops” on the blood while the CO2 hops off  
  • Returning to the heart, the blood is bright red because it is filled with oxygen
  • Entering the left side of the heart this time, the red blood gets moved around the body-brain, legs arms, and organs 

How a Fetus Breathes

  • A fetus grows surrounded by water – its lungs are full of water
  • The oxygen for a fetus comes from the mother – the placenta grabs the oxygen and puts it into the fetus blood 
  • In the baby, the blood mixes together and you’ve got this combination of fresh oxygenated blood from the placenta and old blood from the rest of the baby’s body
  • Eventually, it gets back into the placenta, where the carbon dioxide drops off – then the mother carries that in her blood to her own right atrium and to her own lungs and then breathes that out

 How a Newborn Breaths

  • As labor begins, and a mom is squeezing the baby out, she’s pushing water out of the baby’s lungs and into the baby’s body
  • The moment a baby is born, it’s extremely wet – and cold, for the first time
  • That coldness on the skin sends little signals to the baby’s breathing center in the nervous system
  • As that’s happening, the umbilical cord that has been supplying this baby its oxygen is tightening up – no blood is coming through
  • Also, CO2 in the baby’s body begins to build
  • The brain triggers and the baby takes in a big breath and with that breath, the nervous system clicks into gear
  • All the muscles keeping blood out of the baby’s heart relax and blood starts rushing into the lungs, picking up all the fresh oxygen 

 What Controls the Rhythm of the Lungs

  • At the base of the human brain or the brain stem, there is a clump of neurons that initiates each breath by sending a signal down the spinal cord to the diaphragm and the tiny muscles between the ribs telling them to expand or contract
  • There are 86 billion neurons in your brain and it’s just 8,000 of that that do this vital work
  • But these neurons aren’t all alike – there are over 50 different types of these neurons controlling different aspects of breathing like sighing and the rate of exhalation

Breath Mints  

  • Breath Mints are intended for 3 purposes:
    • Breath freshening
    • To wake yourself up
    • When you want something to chew on to get rid of nervous tension
  • The market for mints and gum have declined because no one’s going anywhere during lockdowns
  •  Breath mint sales during the pandemic dropped off by 40% but are ticking up in recent months 

 The Power of Circular Breathing

  • Circular breathing is where you hold a note and actually breathe while you’re still sustaining the sound 
  • It’s where you’re breathing with your nose and your mouth at the same time- often used by musicians and rappers
  • How to circular breathe:
    •  Put some air in your mouth cheeks, then breathe through your nose while you have that air in your cheeks
    •  While your cheeks are inflated, use your fingers to press in your cheeks Squeezing the air out through  your taut lips
    • To refill the cheeks: while you’re pushing the air out with your cheek muscles, you have to inhale to get more air back in
  • The real skill is learning to force that air out of your mouth with your cheek muscles rather than with your fingers.

Breath and Speech

  •  Western music theory revolves around the musical phrase and the phrase is something that is modeled on the human voice and breath
  • A person’s breath and phrasing is highly personal and is like a signature
  • The way you breathe is intrinsically tied to your speech in a way that’s distinct 
  • “There’s a rhythm to the way that I speak, which is entirely my own. And there’s a rhythm to the way that you speak that is entirely your own – it’s almost like a fingerprint.”- Annie McEwen

Holding Your Breath 

  • Most people can hold their breath for a minute or two, but beyond that carbon dioxide starts to build up in the body and the brain starts to panic
  • Your brain will try and get you to inhale or exhale before it starts to shut down 
  • With oxygen deprivation, the body starts to demand to breathe by contracting the diaphragm – convulsions will start in your belly, that feel like hiccups

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Notes By EWerbitsky

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