Why Does Deep Breathing Feel Great?


written by Inner Fire Yoga teacher, Ken Kloes

What’s the big deal with taking a deep, controlled breath during yoga practice? Other than the obvious benefit of bringing oxygen into the lungs during inhale and eliminating carbon dioxide on exhale, the benefit is much more profound. Understanding some anatomy is key here. Your main breathing muscle is the diaphragm, which separates your lungs from abdominal organs. When you inhale this muscle flexes down into the belly expanding the lungs, filling them up with air. On exhale the diaphragm relaxes upwards squeezing the lungs and forcing air out, the deeper the breath, the bigger the movement of the diaphragm.

The other key component is the wanderer or Vagus nerve. The Vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve. It contains both motor and sensory fibers. Because it passes from the brain through the neck and thorax to the abdomen, it has the widest distribution in the body. It is considered to be the main nerve of the parasympathetic nervous system. Basically the opposite of “fight or flight.” This is the mechanism for “rest and digest.” Better yet think of “calm and peaceful.”

The Vagus nerve passes through the same hole in the diaphragm as the esophagus. When the diaphragm moves up and down it is essentially massaging the nerve. This is why when you breathe deeply in a yoga pose, whether it be Warrior 3, Handstand or Seated Spinal Twist, you are directly stimulating your nervous system to calm down, lowering the stress level in your mind, body and spirit. Basically what makes a pose Yoga, and not simply a stretch or strengthening position, is breath control.

In essence, your inhale is bringing in oxygen, the most important element your body needs to function in order to sharpen focus and perception in the moment. Your exhale eliminates the body’s metabolic waste of carbon dioxide and is essentially an action of relaxation, think of a sigh. This happens because of the stimulation of the Vagus nerve.

Bottom line, to maximize the benefits of yoga, take a deep breath using the diaphragm to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and experience the beauty of a focused and stress-reducing practice supporting you on and off your mat.

Want to learn more about how the breath helps us live more peacefully? Check out Max Strom’s workshops and 3-day Breathe to Heal event starting this weekend!

Marit is back!


Marit Sathrum, the founder, owner and director of Inner Fire Yoga, has returned to Madison. If you weren’t aware, Marit spent the last couple of years in LA so that both her son and daughter could attend special performing arts schools.

From Marit: “I am very glad to be home! Mostly, it is great to be back in my cherished community practicing yoga at the three awesome Inner Fire Yoga studios. Also, I’m happy to be breathing clean air and seeing beauty everywhere. South central WI is so beautiful! I look forward to teaching yoga again, and to continuing to lead Inner Fire Yoga into another decade of offering our amazing brand of hot yoga to Madisonians. Our vision, mission, promise and values are needed by the world (read them here), and our tagline “Reach Higher - Burn Brighter” stands for always doing and being our best. As a result of following these guiding principles over the past 17 years, I know in my heart that Inner Fire Yoga is the most amazing yoga community there is, and I’m grateful to everyone who is a part of it. I look forward to seeing you on our yoga mats at Inner Fire Yoga!”

Yoga: A Different Kind of Workout

Nora O’Reilly
Inner Fire Yoga Teacher


When you mention the word yoga to friends, how do they respond? Do you hear the typical ‘that’s cool, but I’m not flexible enough’ responses, or comments on the masterful one-fingered handstand on the front cover of Yoga Journal? Or perhaps with visions of their mothers following along to a Kathy Smith tape in the living room circa 1980? But as an Inner Fire yogi, likely none of these resonate. So take a moment. Think about what yoga is. It’s ok, get silly. Please, have a giggle. It’s only yoga. From an ‘outside the window’ perspective, yoga can appear anywhere from mildly uncomfortable to full-bore ridiculous—crazy contortions that magically jet-power your assent to enlightenment.

But yoga can be as simple or complex as you make it.

Truth is, the poses or asanas, are tools in your metaphorical toolbelt to allow your ego access to your inner or authentic self.

I am blown away by the incredible stylings of rockstar yogis. But a regular yoga practice is far less intimidating, albeit less glamorous, than one might expect—with an infinite amount of introspective rewards that will shift every aspect of your life for the better.

The word yoga translates into yoke in Sanskrit. Taking Chinese water buffalo out of the equation, this refers to the practice of uniting. But uniting of what? First, the union of body and breath, mind and heart, id and ego.

Ego, you scoff? Aren’t we on some metaphysical mission to snuff out that miserable beast? Yes and no. Your heart, or your id, may be the most effective life leader. Unfortunately, your ego is the one paying your taxes.

The yoga asanas are a method to quiet the mind through physical effort, creating a mental bridge—allowing access to your intuition or better self. But the physical practice of yoga is only one of the eight ‘arms’ of yoga. The other limbs focus on reverence for the self and the world as well as detachment from all things external.

Detachment can carry a negative connotation, but the yogic philosophy does not preach a defeatist attitude in the least. Detachment in the yogic sense aligns with surrendering to some higher good, knowing that essence always has your greatest good in mind—has your back essentially.

The ease in this acknowledgement allows a shift from the outward experience inwards.

The method to the yogic madness takes into consideration the fact that if your body feels good, that sensation carries over mentally—making introspection more easily accessible on a moment to moment basis. The veins of physiological truth run deep in the yoga poses—with variations that have made their way into modern athletic training and physical therapy—to strength muscles, improve posture, and deepen the breath.

What’s with the Darth Vader breathing anyway? Concentrating on your inhales and exhales is a cheap and easy way to reconnect with yourself and become present. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the beachy margarita of your autonomics nervous system) and clicks your physiologic gears into a slower mode, allowing your body and mind to reconnect—which conveniently lowers stress levels as well. Your chill, lime-slurping self is always a better version of you.

It is this more aligned version of you which can more easily find contentment if not satisfaction in the now moment. That moment of acceptance gives your heart enough room to wobble into appreciation for what is going right in your life and perhaps insights on how things could evolve.

Yoga, like all things in life, becomes what you make of it.

Yoga allows you to create protective mental buffer and release stressors of the day so that the slate is clean for your loved ones—and aren’t they the ones that matter the most?

Why Yoga Makes You Refreshed and Calm

Jonathan Ivry
Inner Fire Yoga Teacher


I recently came across the concept of “attention residue,” in the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport.  “Attention residue” is a term that describes what happens when we switch our attention rapidly from one focus to another.  It turns out that even after we have turned our attention to something new, our minds are not as quick to catch up, and part of us is still absorbed by what we were previously focused on.  There is a “residue” that lingers and interferes with our ability to give our full attention to the thing (or task or person) at hand. This phenomenon of “attention residue” helps explain that slightly frazzled and distracted feeling that seems particularly acute today, with social media and the near-constant demands on our attention made by our phones and other devices.   

While modern technology provides new ways to command our attention, the problem of attention residue and over-stimulation is not really new.  The ancient yogis were well aware of the perils of the over-excited “monkey mind.” Meditation and yoga emerged as practices to quiet the mind and harness the power of our focused attention.  The yogic term “drishti” refers to the soft, focused gaze (or attention) you bring to a pose, or to any task, really.

One of the special benefits of practicing yoga at Inner Fire is that the heat helps clarify and focus your attention.  When you are dripping sweat and holding a pose, it’s almost impossible to focus on anything other than your physical experience and your breathing.  That peaceful, “rinsed-out” feeling you have after a class at Inner Fire is not just a physical release of tension; it’s the feeling of having washed away any leftover attention residue.  Your mind feels light and refreshed, ready to go back into your life with a clarity of focus, and ideally more mindful of how you want to focus your attention, of how to use the power of your drishti in the rest of your life.

Winter Hygiene

Dr. Ruddy, ND
Inner Fire Yoga Teacher

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a diagnostic term which first came to light (so to speak) in 1984, describes a mood affliction aggravated during the winter before subsiding in the spring. Common SAD symptoms include increased carbohydrate/starch craving, fatigue, and/or excessive sleep (or changes in sleep behavior). In my own clinical practice, although SAD can be (and is often) accompanied by other mental health issues, it can also affect any average healthy, resilient individuals with otherwise no chronic mood signs/symptoms. Women and youth are particularly susceptible to experiencing SAD.

Below is a baseline self-care strategy I commonly share with patients:

  1. Invest in a HappyLight (Verilux) therapy lamp, which mimics natural sunlight and comes in various sizes to fit one’s living/working space. A typical unit emits 10,000 lux, the equivalent of full indirect sunlight.

  2. Take once daily a (ideally food-based) multivitamin, which readily contains B12, folate, B6, as well as A, D, & E. While the A, Bs, and E protect nerve tissues, Vitamin D (in D3 form) has been clinically shown to alleviate SAD. It is interesting to note that D3 is critical in healthy insulin functioning, hence carbohydrate metabolism. Most people already know D3 can be naturally produced in the body via adequate sunlight exposure.

  3. The production of melatonin, our natural sleep hormone, is heavily reliant on the contrast between full daylight and the later onset of darkness. This helps explains how/why the minimal light during the darker winter season compromises the environmental (thus biological) “cue” for sleep initiation, and the lethargy that accompanies our disrupted sleep pattern. Yoga and meditation have been clinically verified to increase plasma melatonin levels in individuals. Having grown up in South East Asia, where sunlight is available practically year-round, I personally credit my own Hot Yoga practice to be one of the most helpful tools in maintaining baseline mood & cognitive health during the trying winter months in Wisconsin (since 2002… brrr!)

Note: Please seek the assistance of your primary care physician as well as any mental health provider for mood changes/symptoms that persist despite personal effort including self-care tips as outlined above.

Remembering One of Our Own

Karen Rigsby
Inner Fire Yoga Teacher

The following was written in remembrance of longtime Inner Fire Yogi Christine Brophy.

Every once in a great while, you meet someone that makes you take a second look at what you are doing IN and WITH your life. It may be that she asks you some hard questions; the answers to which aren’t ready on your lips.  Or perhaps, she shares something heavy with you not because she wants your counsel, but because it might make you a better human, knowing this ‘thing.’ As it turns out, she’s right. It does. And then, after these separate conversations, you unroll your mat next to her one day for a 90 minute Hot Yoga practice; something you had done many times before with her, but without the context of who this woman was. And it changes you.

Christine practiced yoga with such palpable courage and strength; I was drawn to watching her. One day I suggested she think about teacher training. In her practice, she was so adroit at the details, and diligent in her focus that I thought she might be interested in unpacking that gift and teaching others. She said she would think about it and then asked me 3 questions that I have been thinking about ever since. 1. What if you don’t have your act together; how do you teach an authentic class?  2. When you don’t feel like teaching, what do you think about to get your head right? And 3. Do you ever get bored? These were really honest questions that deserved honest, candid answers. Answers I didn’t have canned and ready to give. I realized I needed to think about these kinds of things instead of auto-piloting my teaching. To this day, the best, most profound yoga classes I have taken are the ones in which the teacher lets you walk along the edge of his or her heart and see both the chasms and the summits. Christine opened my eyes to this.

Shortly after this conversation, Christine shared with me some struggles from her life that carried great gravitas.I will always remember this because it stirs me still: “I’m telling you this,” she said, “not because I want advice. I have all that I need there. I’m telling you because someday, you will find my pain useful in making you a better wife, mother, daughter, sister.” It was so courageous of her to share herself with me and so intuitive of her to know it would improve me. I am grateful for her quiet wisdom.

We practiced next to each other in Dr. Ruddy’s class 2 years ago. My daughter had just turned 1, and I was so happy to be TAKING a yoga class, but I was exhausted and emotionally raw. Christine noticed, and when we walked in together, I intentionally laid my mat next to hers. Throughout the class I found myself riding on the wave of her energy. I would feel myself wilting, and I would feel her surge. I have no doubt she was sending energy my way. Christine’s palpable courage and strength carried me through that class. Because I knew a slice of her, and her mother’s heart, I felt especially lifted up on that day. She knew I needed it, and shared what she had. After class, she stopped me and gave me a sideways sweaty hug and said “Motherhood is the only thing that gets easier and harder at the same time.” In 3 separate but equally powerful moments at Inner Fire Yoga, Christine changed me.

Her honesty, strength, and bravery will always be a light to me in my teaching, my yoga practice, and in my life.

Thank you, Christine.

About Christine, her life, family, and memorial service

A Note From Dr. Ruddy

Dr. Ruddy, ND
Inner Fire Yoga Teacher

A dedicated Hot yoga practice not only enlightens one to what the body is capable of health-wise, it readily exposes any gaps, small or glaring, in our personal Mind-Body upkeep. As one astute human being once said, "you can't exercise your way out of a bad diet." Neither can a yogi find personal authenticity nor sustainability in his/her practice if the other crucial pieces of self-care are missing; be they hydration, nutrition, rest/sleep, emotional hygiene, and so forth. A meaningful yoga practice helps transform all areas of one's life by improving both personal and communal well-being. Yoga can only be the seed of change, it is not change itself.

Yoga's Most Important Pose

Kristin Haraldsdottir
Inner Fire Yoga Teacher


The Inner Fire Yoga community is full of exceptionally busy individuals who take time out of their demanding lives to slow down, breathe, and sweat on their mats. Our community is attracted to the practice of yoga for its many physical and mental benefits. One part of the practice that is often overlooked, or misunderstood, is savasana, the final resting pose. This occurs when the physically challenging portion of class is over and a well earned rest begins. This final portion of class often brings about fidgeting and eagerness to move on with the day. The physiological benefits of savasana cannot be overstated, particularly for the overworked, overstressed individual. Savasana has three direct benefits on your brain, nervous system, and cardiovascular system. 

Savasana at the end of class is an opportunity to relieve mental stress. Mental congestion and fatigue plagues many of us, and with so much information demanding our attention throughout the day, it is nearly impossible to process it all. One of the habits of exceptionally successful artists and athletes is taking mental breaks which increases productivity, revives attention, solidifies memories, and encourages creativity. Taking a few minutes at the end of a yoga class gives your mind a well-needed rest, and is an opportunity to replenish your mental energy. 

Savasana calms your central nervous system and helps melt away stress. Lying on your back relieves compression in your spine and is soothing to your nervous system. The posture requires no physical effort, is an opportunity to relieve tension in your muscles, and counters the need to hold onto unnecessary tension. 

Savasana allows you to slow down your breathing, which activates the calming side of your nervous system. During savasana, the physically challenging portion of your practice is over and your body is ready for a release. Your breathing becomes slower in savasana, which immediately activates the parasympathetic nervous system; the "rest and digest" or calming side. The benefits of savasana are lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, and less anxiety.

If just five minutes at the end of a yoga class can impart all of these benefits, it is the greatest gift you can give yourself to take it all in, and help heal yourself five minutes at a time.

Light effects on Circadian Rhythms

Ken Kloes
Inner Fire Yoga Teacher

Most people function on a 24 hour cycle alternating between awake and sleep periods also known as your Circadian rhythm.  Factors such as feeding schedules, physical activity and social interactions can affect this cycle.  However by far, the biggest influence on this rhythm is light.  This is why we naturally have a tendency to sleep at night and function awake during the day when the sun is present.

Your body reacts to stimulus.  When you move into a hot room your heart rate increases, pumping more blood to your outer body parts and skin so that excess heat is lost to the environment and sweating occurs.  You don’t need to think your body into doing this, it reacts all on it’s own to maintain a stable internal environment.

You can think of light stimuli in the same way.  In the morning as the sun rises, light automatically stimulates certain areas of your brain to secrete chemicals that excite your nervous system to become more active and you wake up.  As the sun goes down your brain detects this and begins to secrete chemicals that promote initiation of sleep.  The Circadian drive to sleep is most pronounced in the early morning hours.

If your sleeping environment is bright from a light or television on, window shades open or maybe even the color of your walls, this can have an effect on your sleep, especially in those predawn hours.   Make your room darker with paint or blackout shades creating an inviting ‘sleep cave’.  Eye pillows can even reduce the light reaching your brain through your eyes.  

Managing your light and dark settings where you sleep can have a significant affect on the duration and quality of your sleep.  Something to consider if sleep is a bit elusive during those wee hours of the morning!

Wake up & smell the tea

Dr. Ruddy, ND
Inner Fire Yoga Teacher

Though coffee is often touted as a choice beverage with myriads of health benefits (true in the right context), in my clinical practice I all too often witness the other side of the story, where coffee proves to be the major culprit in a slew of chronic health symptoms: headaches/migraines, indigestion/heartburn, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue, to name a few. For the modern yogis today living a presumably busy/demanding life outside their yoga mat, I find coffee a risky choice for a long-term, sustainable yoga practice. This is due to its unpredictably high amount of caffeine, which exaggerates our body's daytime "fight-or-flight" response (via catecholamines, our stress hormones). Over time this can irreversibly deplete the adrenal function needed for healthy aging. We can thus think of our adrenal glands as our "rechargeable batteries", which already recharge less optimally in the long run even without the effects of caffeine. For those of us seeking a quality beverage with low or no caffeine, here are some worthy contenders with their own unique health properties: 

1. Green Tea: rich in catechins (antioxidants), incl. ECGC that enhances metabolism (fat burning); also high in L-theanine, which helps regulate mood & focus, hence the "lift" without the "jitters" or "crash" attributed to coffee. Tip: Organic means less pesticides. 

2. Yerba Mate: contains mateine, a stimulant with less diuretic effect than caffeine; xanthines including theobromine, another feel-good stimulant more commonly associated with chocolate. Tip: Dr. Ruddy's favorite is Mate Chocolatte by Guayaki (with a splash of chocolate hazelnut milk)! 

3. Ginger: rich in volatile oils that help aid digestion, anti-inflammation, muscle & joint health, and reduce fatigue. Tip: for those aware of their ownAyurvedic constitution (thanks, David Lincecum!), add honey to relieve Kapha, rock sugar to relieve Pitta, and rock salt to relieve Vataconstitution."


Dr. Ruddy, ND
Inner Fire Yoga Teacher

The practice of yoga in a hot room is essentially a unique hybrid of a beginner's (foundational) asana practice and "depuration" (purification) technique (think "sweat lodge"). On one hand, hot yoga can elevate the breath-enhancing hatha yoga practice to a whole new realm of self-restoration. On the other hand, without the most basic self-care measures, it can also lead to risk of temporary, as well as long-term, "prana" depletion. As a long-time devotee of disciplined Hot Yoga practice (1,400-something classes in the span of 14 years), I'm able to share some basic considerations for any hot yogi worth his/her salt (and sweat!) to live by:

1. Hydration: it takes only 2% water loss to register thirst, and another 2% to risk fainting. It takes merely 7% total water loss to initiate organ damage. If you're planning to attend any hot classes, remember to pre-hydrate, hydrate, and rehydrate. Ideally, with a pinch of high quality (Celtic, Himalayan) salt in your beverage container.

2. Water-soluble micronutrients: along with water loss, when we sweat we deplete our nutritional reserves during a heightened state of focus during a hot yoga class. Whereas macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) are largely responsible for our daily stamina, micronutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) contribute to our daytime fuel efficiency and nighttime tissue repair/healing. Something as simple as Magnesium alone is responsible for 300+ chemical reactions, and is a key nutrient for maintaining our muscle tone; be it heart, skeletal system, or digestive tract. Another common mineral deficiency is Zinc, critical for stomach/intestinal health, baseline immune function, and our integumentary system (skin, hair, and nails, all which protect our body from undue water loss). As a group, B vitamins are critical for our optimal nerve health (stress adaptation) as well as our liver detox function, among countless other roles.

A Hot Yogi' supplemental "cheat sheet":

  • B vitamins: select a food-based B complex that also includes folate and biotin.

  • Magnesium: higher quality also means gentler and better absorbed, so choose from glycinate, taurate/taurinate, or malate form.

  • Zinc: opt for picolinate, methionine, cysteine or carnosine version.

  • Do not exceed label serving recommendation. Inform your doctor when taking supplements as well as of any existing medications."