Breathing is automatic: awake or asleep, running or resting, our bodies unconsciously make sure we get enough oxygen to function. But - unlike other bodily functions such as heart rate and digestion - it’s not hard to control our breathing consciously. If you’ve ever been to an exercise, meditation or yoga class, you’re probably familiar with instructions about how and when to breathe.
It was one of these instructions - “breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth” - that prompted CrowdScience listener Judi to wonder if this really was the best way to breathe during her exercise class. Is there good evidence to support the benefits of different breathing techniques - whether through the nose or mouth, fast or slow, noisy or quiet? And is consciously controlling your breath more about improving psychological focus, or optimising body mechanics?
Sports scientist Mitch Lomax takes us through the biology, chemistry and physics of breathing, and shows us how to train our respiratory muscles. We meet yoga guru Hansa Yogendra in India, where the study of pranayama - literally “breath control” in Sanskrit - is thousands of years old; and find out what scientists have discovered about the effects of these ancient techniques on the body and mind.
Presenter: Anand Jagatia.
Producer: Cathy Edwards
(Photo: A woman jogging outside, wearing sports clothes on a blue sky background. Credit: Getty Images)
Are there new ways to beat depression?
For decades, people suffering from chronic depression have relied on medicines that affect the levels of chemicals in the brain like serotonin, which regulate mood and emotion. But ten percent of people don’t benefit from any of the existing treatments for this devastating condition.
Sisters Annie and Kathryn have both been diagnosed with long-term depression that makes it hard for them to experience pleasure as others do. But they’re interested in whether there are new solutions on the horizon that could improve their wellbeing, in particular ones that don’t necessarily involve conventional medication.
Datshiane Navanayagam learns how a technique called mindfulness could strengthen neural connections in bits of the brain that communicate with each other. This, it’s said, may harness the ability of the brain to adapt and self-repair which can change people’s emotional responses to life’s ups and downs. She meets a psychologist who shows how this simple technique could improve our overall ability to process information and reverse negative thought patterns.
CrowdScience also hears about cutting edge research into the use of psychedelics as potential treatment for depression and heads to the UK’s only centre for ketamine therapy, where patients say a drug once popular with partygoers, is having a profound effect on their mental health.
Produced by Marijke Peters for BBC World Service.
(Photo: A woman sitting on the top of a mountain and meditating. Credit: Getty Images)
Can singing improve our health?
Singing can lift our spirits, but research suggests it could also benefit our health, improving breathing for people with lung conditions and helping us cope with dementia. Could it even have a preventative effect?
CrowdScience heads to Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK county of Gloucestershire - one of the first places to pioneer this kind of “social prescribing” - to find out. Presenter Anand Jagatia teams up with panellists Dr Daisy Fancourt, Senior Research Associate in Behavioural Science, Dr Simon Opher, family doctor and Clinical Lead for Social Prescribing, and Maggie Grady, Director of Music Therapy at charity Mindsong to learn more. They’re joined on-stage by their Breathe In Sing Out and Meaningful Music volunteer singing groups to find out what this much-loved musical pastime can do for us.
Producer: Jen Whyntie
(Photo: Students singing in a choir with their teacher. Credit: Getty Images)
How are we evolving?
Medical intervention has disrupted natural selection in humans as many more children survive into adulthood than did a few centuries ago. And as our DNA continues to evolve, in order to adapt to our environment, how might human beings of the future be different from us? Anand Jagatia explores how some humans, over just a few thousand years, have adapted genetically to live at high altitudes of the Tibetan Himalayas or in the cold climates of Inuit Greenland.
Several Crowdscience listeners got in touch to ask about the ways in which humans might evolve in future but understanding how we’re adapting to modern ways of living is much harder to measure. So what adaptions do evolutionary biologists expect for the human race? How will IVF, gene-editing, mass migration and our constantly changing culture affect how we evolve?
Presenter: Anand Jagatia. Produced by Dom Byrne and Melanie Brown for BBC World Service
(Photo: People in a crowded street. Credit: Getty Images)
Could our household microbes help or harm us?
As scientists keep finding ever more fascinating facts about the invisible housemates that share our homes, we dust off our episode on what might be lurking in quiet household corners or under our beds.
Marnie Chesterton reminds us how dust can contain all sorts of secrets about our habits and everyday lives, and Anand Jagatia bravely ventures into parts of our homes that are usually overlooked. He heads out on a microbial safari with expert tour guide Dr Jamie Lorimer from the University of Oxford to find out what kind of creatures are living in our kitchens, bathrooms and gardens - from bacteria normally found in undersea vents popping up in a kettle, to microbes quietly producing tiny nuggets of gold. For so long this hidden world has been one that we’ve routinely exterminated - but should we be exploring it too?
Presenters: Marnie Chesterton and Anand Jagatia. Produced by Jen Whyntie for BBC World Service.
(Photo: A woman using a damp sponge to clean dust collected on a window sill. Credit: Getty Images)