At our Zoom meeting the other day we had another chance to learn techniques to cope with stress - this time thanks to a presentation by Cora Kemball-Cook who spoke to our members about breathing.
"Most of us don’t know how to breathe properly!" was how Cora Kemball-Cook started her presentation to our Members. And she then set out to explain how we could improve our breathing technique - even though she had the challenge of communicating to us online through Zoom!
Cora is very experienced at teaching people about breathing skills. She has spent many years studying all aspects of breathing: first, as a Speech and Language Therapist, and then as a yoga teacher. (Cora runs The Canterbury Yoga Studio in Harbledown.)
Cora told us of the health benefits of good breathing. Apparently, research shows that heart attack patients that learnt some simple breathing techniques were less likely to suffer a subsequent heart attack than those who had not. It seems that correct breathing can also help to lower the pulse rate as well as lower blood pressure. Cora pointed out that research has also shown that anxiety lowers our immunity to diseases, so learning to stay calm and relaxed by using these proper breathing techniques could help to strengthen our immune system - something which which is very important during the current coronavirus pandemic.
Cora also gave our Members some interesting facts about breathing, and told us about the role of the diapraghm and rib cage in good breathing. Part of the challenge with the breath work, Cora told us, is to uncover the natural breath and learn to see how we block or interfere with the natural process unconsciously. In Yoga they do a lot of other practices which help students to become aware of the breath and the link between the breath and the body. "The breath is like the bridge between body and mind and gives us a tool to help us become calmer and more relaxed," said Cora, before adding "It's well worth practising getting in touch with your natural breath on a daily basis and the ensuing calmness you feel will help you deal with the stresses and strains of everyday living."
After the brief introduction, our Members joined Cora in a breath practice, all from the comfort of their own home!
Cora talked us through a few breaths in a soothing voice. First, we were to sit comfortably in a chair. Then we were to start noticing our breathing (without trying to alter it). Next, slowly, we were asked to let our attention rest on our outgoing breath - and let the awareness travel down the length of the exhalation. "Just enjoy the sensation of feeling the breath effortlessly leave the body. Notice what happens at the end of the exhalation," said Cora. She added, "Do you feel a slight pause before you have the impulse to breathe in again? Just enjoy the pause and let the inhalation arise out of the pause without you making it happen, there should be no feeling of effort or strain let the body become totally relaxed."
A few deep breaths with our eyes closed and all participants agreed that this method of breathing had made them feel very relaxed and calm.
Cora was given a vote of thanks and a warm round of applause by her audience.
Cora's breathing exercise was based on breath work outlined in “The Breathing Book” by Donna Farhi published by Henry Holt and company.
Cora informed us that people interested in online practices can sign up for free here: https://themindedinstitute.com/free-online-practices/
Picture: Cora Kemball-Cook (inset) and her setup for teaching by Zoom. Picture credit: Richard Kemball-Cook/Rotary Club of Canterbury.