Breath and spirit have been closely related in human thought—for millennia. In a lot of human languages, we use the same word to mean both things. Yet it’s easy to take breathing for granted, in spite of the fact it is maybe the most common human experience. In this episode, we’re going to think about every inhale and every exhale, and speak to people who have to think about breathing in a lot of interesting ways: a biathlete, a beatboxer, a dancer. We’ll dive deep underwater to a dark and dangerous cave in the Bahamas, travel to China to think about collective breathing, and reflect on the role artificial breathing plays in the perception of what constitutes life and what constitutes death.


Host: Jackson Roach
Producers: Kate Nelson, Carissa Cirelli, Jenny March, Jake Warga, Jackson Roach, Melina Walling, Katie Lan, Jett Hayward, Claudia Heymach, Netta Wang, Jonah Willihnganz
Featuring: Brad Ross, Joanne Reid, Tom Johnson, Jace Casey, Janice Ross, Andrew Todhunter, Paul Fisher
Show Music: johnny_ripper

Image via Flickr

Release Date: 3 May 2017


Intro Story: Beat Breathing

Brad Ross started his beatboxing career as a senior in high school, “as kind of a joke.” Now you can spot Brad dropping a beat in the acapella group, Stanford Mixed Company, or just ask him for a demo like we did. Brad shares how he learned how to harness the rhythm behind the rhythm—the rhythm of the breath—and what he’s discovered from “using [his] lungs to make art.”

Producers: Kate Nelson, Carissa Cirelli, Jenny March, Jake Warga
Featuring: Brad Ross
Music: Brad’s sick beats

Image courtesy of Brad Ross


Story 1: Shot Breathe Shot Breathe Shot Breathe

Could you transition from the flurry of a race to the calm of absolute still in a few seconds? In biathlon, a sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship, this skill is a must. After much trial and tribulation and many failed shots, Joanne Reid, biathlete of the U.S national team, learned that it’s all about the breath. Be warned, this story is not for the faint of lungs.

Producers: Kate Nelson, Carissa Cirelli, Jenny March, Jake Warga
Featuring: Joanne Reid
Music and Sound: “Epiphany” by Podington Bear, “Women 15 km Individual Race 2017 Biathlon IBU World Championships in Hochfilzen HD” by HQ Sport

Image via Flickr


Story 2: Running out of Breath

This is a recorded performance about breath, exhaustion, and struggle, written by a choreographer named Tom Johnson in the 1970s. With reflections from Dr. Janice Ross, professor of dance. “The body is a leaky, messy medium for art making.”

Writer: Tom Johnson
Producers: Jackson Roach and Jenny March
Featuring: Jace Casey, Janice Ross

Image via Wikimedia


Story 3: Stargate

Andrew Todhunter, a writer for National Geographic, explores the underwater cave of Stargate in the Bahamas. It’s dark, dangerous, and “as alien as any possible science fiction world.” But while exploring the perilous surroundings around him, Todhunter reveals a surprising truth—one that comes from within.

Producers: Jackson Roach, Melina Walling
Featuring: Andrew Todhunter
Music and sound: “Oceans Between Us” by Maritime, “Falling” by Kamikaze Deadboy, “waiting (in the wet alley” by lost-radio, “Moon Morning” by Aymeric de Tapol, “A Million Worlds” by Andrew Odd, additional sound effects from and

Image via Flickr


Story 4: Breathing to Resist

After Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, China was catapulted into an era of great change. At the same time, masses of people began practicing qigong, a healing breathing practice. Qigong became so popular that public spaces would be filled with practitioners breathing together. Nancy Chen, a professor of medical anthropology at UC Santa Cruz, tells us more about the “qigong fever” in China during the 1980s and 1990s and the government’s reaction to the fever.

Writers: Katie Lan and Jenny March
Producers: Katie Lan, Jenny March, Jake Warga, and Jackson Roach
Featuring: Nancy Chen

Image via Wikimedia


Story 5: Still Breathing

When 13-year-old Jahi McMath suffered complications during a tonsillectomy that resulted in her being declared brain dead, Doctor Paul Fisher served as a court-appointed official tasked with administering an exam to confirm Jahi’s brain death. Despite confirmation that Jahi suffered from irreversible brain death, Jahi’s family decided to keep her on life support. Dr. Fisher reflects on the role that breathing plays in the perception what constitutes life and death.

Producers: Jett Hayward, Kate Nelson, and Jenny March
Featuring: Paul Fisher
Music: “Stay” by Igor Khabarov, “Three kites circling” by Axletree, “Dead Waters” by Rest You Sleeping Giant, “Harbor” by Kai Engel, “Stanford Doctor to Examine Jahi McMath” by KRON 4, “Hospital Ventilator Sound Effect | Sfx |HD” by n Beats Sound Effects

Image via Public Domain Pictures