Muscles of Breathing

Breathing is with us every moment of our lives, and is often something we take for granted.  Our breath is both a detoxification and a nourishing process.  When it falls into dysfunctional patterns, it can be an unnoticed cause of disease, such as fatigue, anxiety, mental health issues, and insomnia to name a few.  Today I want to teach you a simple test that yoga teachers use to evaluate your breath.

Begin by placing one hand over your solar plexus and another over the center of your heart.  Sit up straight, close your eyes, and breathe without attempting to change anything.  Just observe for a moment.  If the bottom hand moves when you breath, your diaphragm muslce is making that happen. If the top hand is moving, the muscles of your ribs and upper body are responsible for that motion, not your diaphragm.  By paying attention for a couple minutes, you can easily tell which muscles are working as you breathe.

When we consider that our primary relaxation and stress nervous systems are hard wired to these two different muscle groups, our test begins to take on meaning.  Our test tells us if we are stimulating the sympathetic stress response or the parasympathetic rest response when we breathe.  When you breathe with your chest muscles, you are telling your body, “hey, I’m using these extra breathing muscles that are used only when I need maximum air flow.”  Your body knows that this means you are in a situation where you need extra oxygen – aka fight or flight situations.  When you use your diaphragm to breathe, you are stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system, which is activated during rest and digest situations.

As you sit there, with your hands over your heart and belly, eyes closed.  Where are the bears that are ready to eat you?  If the hand over your chest is moving in any significant way while you breathe, then you are telling your nervous system there are lions and tigers around!  Without knowing it, you are stimulating your stress response with every single breath.  Thus, our unconscious breath patterns can be a major source of dysfunction, constantly telling our body to prepare for impending doom.  It takes a lot of energy to hold that readiness.  When we are busy preparing for stress, we are also diverting resources from other important physiological activities.

Our test tells us if we need to retrain our breath pattern. By training ourselves to breathe diaphragmatically instead of with our chest muscles, we change the signals we are sending to our nervous system.   We can relax more deeply and allow our body to spend more time replenishing our energy reserves instead of amping up for stressful fights that simply are not present.

To recap, if the hand on your chest moves in any significant way while you are sitting calmly in a restful environment, then you have a dysfunctional breathing pattern that is worth fixing.

Time For Chai

A Yogi’s Drink

Chai is the chosen drink of yogi’s because of several reasons:

1: Caffeine helps to keep the mind awake when you are practicing deep breathing, meditation, and relaxation; these practices bring your body to a state on the verge of sleep.  The extra stimulating boost that chai gives you can mean the difference between falling asleep or not in the middle of your practice.

2:  Milk fat nourishes the nerves and buffers the highly available energy from the sugar and caffeine so that it doesn’t ravage your nervous system. Yoga practices that direct prana also create lots of heat and movement throughout the nervous system.  Milk fat is a great way to keep our body insulated.

3:  Ginger and black pepper provide digestibility and help you to digest the milk, while the other spices create a sattvic quality of mind.

4:  Sugar helps pull all of these things deeper into the body.  Your body considers sugar a friend and readily welcomes it in.  Thus when your friend sugar arrives, the doors open and all of the spices – along with their benefits, are taken deeply into the body.  Many people find that coffee doesn’t keep them awake at night, but when they drink coffee with sugars and syrups, it affects them more strongly.  This is a reflection of the fact that our body opens the doors wide to sugar.


Here is a PDF of our chai recipe as written below.  We hope you enjoy.

 Chai Tea

 Combine in a large sauce pan – Make sure this pan is big enough to hold the contents from both pans when you combine them.

  1. 1 cup water – turn to high heat, bringing to boil
  2. Add 1 heaping tablespoon of loose black tea or 1-2 tea bags (rooibos tea works for a non-caffeinated option)
  3. Sugar to taste (usually 1-3 tablespoons)
  4. ¼-1/2 inch of a ginger root –peeled & grated or chopped
  5. 3 shakes of ground black pepper
  • Combine in a small sauce pan
    1. 2 cups milk – turn to high heat, bringing to simmer but not to a boil!
    2. 3 strands of saffron
  • Combine pan contents after the water pan has boiled for 30 seconds. The main purpose here is to assure the diffusion of the tea.  Sometimes I take the pan off the heat for 30 seconds or so until my water turns nice and dark.
    1. Bring the combined pan to a boil. The mixture will froth up and if not pulled off the heat fast enough, it will boil over.  So pull the pan from the heat, stir and let the froth go down.  Repeat this 3 times so that you have fully mixed the ingredients and have denatured the milk proteins properly for easy digestion.
  • Add aromatic spices – Add ground cardamom to the mixture, stir, and cover to cool.
    1. The milk will form a scum on the surface from oxidation if you do not cover the pot.
  • Strain and serve. Enjoy!
    1. Your chai will increase in flavor if you refrain from straining out the whole pan until serving each cup individually. Some people like to strain the whole pot and serve in a separate decanter.  This works best when serving family style.

Why 2 pots?

Using two pots speeds up the process of chai preparation; this is very important for true chai addicts!  Typically it takes me 12 minutes to make chai in a single pot – yes I have timed it! This recipe is given for preparation in two pots, but the milk pot can easily be added to the water pot after the water pot boils for 30 seconds.  Speed is often an important factor in our busy day and

A liquid recipe

Water: Milk ratio changes based on digestive capacity.  The general rules are that the ratio starts at 1:2 and moves towards 2:1.  Young or vigorous or Pitta should start with more milk while older, congested or convalescing people should start with more water.

The spicing of chai changes according to the season and your dosha.  People find a variety of extra spices wonderful in their chai.  Experiment and see what works for you.

Bacteria as Guide

The whole drink, when prepared with boiled milk is very bio-available, it means that it is all easily used by the body and doesn’t take too much energy to digest it.  If you have any doubts about this, drink chai in the morning before you brush your teeth.  You will find that after 30 minutes or so you have a heavily coated tongue.  The extra bacteria have grown on that highly available chai energy.

I have tasted cooked milk products that have sat out for four or five hours.  Chai tastes markedly more spoiled than most products after a mere three hours sitting out.  Use bacteria as your guides to know what foods are more bio-available.  The faster it rots – has small organisms eating it – the more bio- available the food will be.