Try this Breathwork Technique to Tame the Holiday Madness

breathwork technique

The holiday period, whilst a magical and connective time in lots of ways, can be a challenge for many. You can feel out of your comfort zone as you navigate new or old relational, family and group dynamics. You immerse in environments that are not part of your everyday familiarity. You you stretch and evolve and do your best to keep a clear, calm, connected centre in the whirlwind of celebrations, travel, different houses, different food, family, friends and festivities. It’s at times like these when a simple breathwork technique (like those listed below) can come in really handy to help your nervous system soothe and settle, giving you the opportunity to clear your mind, ground yourself and step into what’s being presented with your full capacity.

I’m going to lay out 3 simple strategies that you can use to help regulate yourself over the holidays. Whenever you need to stop and ‘take a breather’, try these.

  • Step 1 – Notice how you feel – often the hardest part!
  • Step 2 – 5 in 5 out
  • Step 3 – Whale breath

Step 1 – Notice how you feel

I encourage you to notice when you’re feeling even slightly dysregulated in your nervous system or your breathing.

You can effect momentous change in these moments of dysregulation by leaning into the simple power of your breath. It is such an amazing and foundational part of you that informs your body on a biochemical level about:

  1. Whether to be stressed – which often gives us humans a higher propensity to  behave from the reactive part of our brain, or
  2. Relaxed and in our parasympathetic zone – which helps us to function from the prefrontal cortex section in our brain, where we make conscious decisions from. I call it our ‘research and development’ part of our brains.

Noticing how you feel is a simple instruction, but it is often such a difficult thing to do in the moment.

Take a second now to reflect on the last time you were feeling anxious, frustrated, annoyed, angry, wired etc – what did you do in that moment? Did you tend to behave with reactivity? Did you notice your feelings and make conscious decisions to recalibrate your nervous system and adjust your response?

It’s human nature – our brains are built with a primal reactive section that often guides (or misguides) our responses to situations. You’ve heard it before – the  example of ‘you’re doing your emails and your brain is reacting with the stress level as if a bear is chasing you’.

Our mission in life, if we choose to accept it (slash enjoy being in charge of our brains rather than letting our brains be in charge of us) is to NOTICE these moments of dysregulation. That is step one. Then from there we can CHOOSE to pause, make different choices about our behaviour (eg breathe differently to regulate our nervous systems) and move on to an entirely different experience of nervous system regulation that gives rise to greater connections with people, wider perspective, compassion, clarity and even possibilities to turn what may have seemed like a dire situations into a glowing diamonds of unparalleled growth and self-evolution.

Magical things start to happen when we step out of our routine reactivity and barriers, and embrace a greater perspective from the operating manual of conscious prefrontal cortex thinking.

Step 2 – Breathwork Technique “5 in 5 out”

Once you’ve noticed yourself in a state of dysregulation, bring your attention to your breath. The following pattern is one of the easiest to use in crazy moments.  I’ve found it to have massive and immediate benefits of creating a sense of calm and centred capacity in the face of peril. It brings you into the eye of the storm.

The breathwork technique is as simple as this:

  1. Breathe in for 5 counts
  2. Breathe out for 5 counts
  3. Repeat until you notice a difference
  4. Try to maintain a regular soft, smooth, slow breath – don’t over breathe or exaggerate your breath to do this activity.

When I do this, I notice a difference in my nervous system within 3-5 rounds. I understand how impactful breathing like this is to the biochemical aspects of my body’s nervous system control that I often continue to do it for many minutes, hours, or throughout everyday at different points when I remember. I build a routine of doing it into my daily morning yoga practice and I match the pace of my yoga shapes to the pace of my ‘5 in 5 out’ breath. By doing this in the morning (when the nervous system is very malleable to be informed of its rhythm for the day) this sets me up to have a smooth sailing, anxiety free time OR if I encounter stressful scenarios during the day I have primed my nervous system to be in a relaxed state and I feel much more capable to recalibrate and handle what needs to be handled.

I encourage you to integrate this breathwork technique into your everyday rhythms. Add it into your routine, habit stack it onto something you already enjoy so you can start to train yourself towards greater self regulation – it feels so good!!!

I’ve had clients anchor this practice to things like a cup of tea in the morning, vacuuming the house (that’s a very calm vacuum experience!), or whilst walking slowly, barefoot, through the grass. Find what works for you and stick with it everyday for a week – even after such a short period of time you’ll start to feel incredibly results.

Take a breather over the holiday period and practice your ‘5 in 5 out’ breathwork technique. Do it privately or in the company of others – no one needs to know, or everyone can know and do it together! You choose.

Step 3 – Breathwork Technique “Whale Breath”

Whale Breath is an exciting and simple breathwork technique that you can use to clear your head and at the same time visualise ‘cleansing’ particular parts or the whole of your body.

The breathwork technique is simple:

  1. Imagine you have a whale blow hole in the top of your head.
  2. Breathe in and out of it
  3. Focus on breathe from your head down through to your toes and back out again

Breathing Through The Top of Your Head

Focusing your attention to the top of your head can have an incredibly calming and releasing effect on your whole body. Using this area as a central focus point to what is coming into, and out of, your body can have profound impacts on your nervous system.

The opportunity with whale breath extends into a meditative realm. You can formulate your own visualisations to suits your needs at the time. Each in breath can be used to bring awareness to an area, and each out breath can be used to relax/cleanse/respond to that awareness. To summarise:

  • In breath = awareness
  • Out breath = release

A couple of my favourite simple visualisations are:

  1. Concentrate on cleansing your body from your head down, and then back up through your head. Bring clear, clean, revitalising breath in through the top of your head, and breathe out any ‘debris’ you can identify in your body, whether one particular part of your body that feels ‘blocked’ or is experiencing pain, sections, or the whole of your body.
  2. Bring a colour into the equation – fill your body with golden light, blue light, white light – whatever feels right to you.
  3. Note how you feel before you start, and notice the changes after doing it for even just 5 continuous minutes.

Breathwork for Mental Clarity

Try using Whale Breath and then imagine collecting your circular / repetitive thoughts and squishing them as play dough out of the top of your head. I like to imagine the thoughts squeezing out through a garlic crusher and coming out like strands of spaghetti that defy gravity and break off to get lost in the universe above me. Consciously ‘pushing out’ ruminating thoughts can help to clear your mind and create a sense of calm.

The holiday season, though wonderful in many respects, can be challenging as we navigate various social settings. As a Buteyko breath coach, I recognise the value of harnessing breath to soothe the nervous system – because I use techniques to help regulate every single day too. The human condition is to experience a 50:50 life – 50% good and happy things, 50% challenging and uncomfortable things. The polarity of our experience is how we know what feeling good is. However, I believe that you can fully appreciate the beauty and joy in life without needing to dwell in the opposite discomfort for ages to be able to fully appreciate and understand the good.  Breath is with you at every step in your life journey, an underrated tool and companion that exerts very real biochemical effects on your body and nervous system that help to pull you out of discomfort associated with nervous system dysregulation.

What, how and when to do breathwork

So here we’ve discussed three strategies you can use to take a breather over this coming holiday period : first, acknowledging moments of dysregulation is pivotal for change, urging us to choose conscious responses. Second, the ‘5 in 5 out’ breath technique becomes a powerful ally, providing immediate calm in the midst of chaos. Third, integrating Whale Breath and tailoring it to compliment what you need in any given moment. These practices, integrated into daily routines, offer transformative results. As the coming festivities unfold, take a breather, embrace the calm, and feel in charge of creating your own experience in each moment.

Happy Holidays 🌟

Written by Buteyko Breath Coach, Naturopath, Fertile Ground & The Melbourne Apothecary Co-owner and Practice Director, Carly Woods. Make a booking with Carly to learn how to use your breath to feel better in any moment. You’ll be taught a range of breathwork techniques that are fully customisable to your health needs. Hit the booking button below and navigate to COACHING > Buteyko Breathwork Coaching Initial. Alternatively, book a free 10 minute consult with Carly to chat about how breathwork can help or if it’s appropriate for your individual health needs.

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Yin for the Sleep Win…#Yinning

Deep Sleep Yin Yoga with Jane Holland at The Melbourne Apothecary

How many nights have you SWORN you would get off Netflix earlier/ stopped scrolling social media in bed/ run a bath/ rubbed lavender in your pillow/ done a guided mediation/ got a better night’s sleep?! Or perhaps you tend to lay in bed, wide eyed, coaxing yourself to drop down, only to become more restless the longer you remain awake?! If you answered yes, you are not alone! An astonishing 39.8% Australians are not getting the recommended quality and/or quantity of sleep each night, leading to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, cognitive dysfunction, poor immune regulation and higher chances of depression and anxiety during and post-pregnancy (Adams 2017).  And this where yin yoga comes into play – yin for the sleep win. Let’s dive in.

Increasingly, we are living in a screen-driven, complex, and uncertain world. The prevalence of sleep problems and prescribed sleep medications actually increased between 2010 and 2016, suggesting that despite increasing awareness in the general media and medical literature about sleep, we are not making meaningful changes!

So, what can you do?

One of the first things you can do to support your sleep is to get honest and conduct a night-time audit. It is much harder to change a behaviour you are not aware of, so understanding your patterns and how they might be contributing to poor sleep comes first.

  1. RECORD… Track your movements between 6pm and bedtime each night for the next two weeks. Keep a record of the times you ate/ drank, what you watched on TV, amount of alcoholic drinks/ cigarettes, interactions with partners/ family/ housemates, time on your phone, reading, what you do when lying down to bed, exercise etc. Also note caffeine intake (how many coffees/ teas/ cola drinks you had during the day) Make this as detailed as possible.
  2. ASSESS… Each morning, record how your sleep was the previous evening – how many times you woke, if you got up during the night, how vital you feel when you wake on a scale of 1-10 (if you have a device that tracks this you could record the data as well).
  3. REVIEW… After two weeks, go back to your journal and notice if there are correlations between evening activities and sleep quality/ quantity.
The next step? Operation SLEEP HYGIENE
  1. EDIT… Start small. That is, find ONE thing you can remove from your evening ritual that might be connected to poor sleep, and introduce ONE thing that might improve your sleep.


  1. REMOVE– Wi-Fi in your home after 9pm, scrolling on apps whilst lying in bed, alcoholic drinks, caffeine after midday, bright lighting around the home in the evening, arguments with family/ housemates, going straight from Netflix to bed, eating/ working within an hour of going to sleep, electronics in the bedroom.
  2. INTRODUCE– dimmed lighting for an hour before sleeping, sipping warm water in the fresh air for 10 minutes before bed, yin yoga, 10 mins of meditation, reading, a warm shower or bath, daily exercise (20-30mins), going to bed at the same time every night, removing all electronic devices from your bedroom
  3. REVIEW… Notice what changes for you over the following two weeks. Does your sleep improve? What are you feeling since your audit? Can you introduce another small change after these two weeks?

Including meditation and gentle yoga before bed is one simple method of reducing stress and supporting in to ‘come home’ to your body and breath. Studies have shown that including meditation, breathwork and yoga reduces stress and associated negative health effects, as well as improving sleep quality and quantity.

Yin yoga, a practice which includes long held postures targeting deep connective tissue and calming the nervous system, has shown great promise in reducing stress and ensuring good sleep hygiene.

A 2012 US study found 55% of participants who included yoga in their weekly practices reported improved sleep, and 85% reduced stress (Stussman 2015). Yoga’s ability to increase relaxation and induce a balanced mental state has also been explored, with a regular yoga practice resulting in an increase in the total number of hours slept, significantly less time getting to sleep, and a feeling of being rested in the morning (Woodyard 2011).

While there is not one definitive answer to improving sleep quality and quantity, becoming aware of our daily habits and behaviours is an incredibly important starting point in establishing what is true. By getting honest, it is possible to firstly acknowledge and then establish what changes can be made. Implementing a regular yoga and meditation practice may provide both a nourishing and supportive way to come back into alignment with our natural cycles, improve sleep and experience deep rest.

So as the sun sets on your day, watch your own habits and behaviours as you prepare for sleep. Will you be winding down with nature and following your natural rhythms supported by yoga and mindfulness? Or will you scrolling mindlessly, yearning for deep restoration but unwilling to make changes… The choice is yours.

Written by Jane Holland

Jane Holland is a respected yin yoga teacher, international retreat facilitator and educator. She is the creator and facilitator of our current “Deep Sleep” series – yin yoga for restoration.




Woodyard C. Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. Int J Yoga. 2011;4(2):49-54. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.85485

(Stussman BJ, Black LI, Barnes PM, Clarke TC, Nahin RL. Wellness-related use of common complementary health approaches among adults: United States, 2012. National health statistics reports; no 85. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2015.)

Adams RJ, Appleton SL, Taylor AW et al. Sleep health of Australian adults in 2016: results of the 2016 Sleep Health Foundation national survey. Sleep Health 2017;3:35-42

Daukantaitė D, Tellhed U, Maddux RE, Svensson T, Melander O. Five-week yin yoga-based interventions decreased plasma adrenomedullin and increased psychological health in stressed adults: A randomized controlled trial. PLoS One. 2018 Jul 18;13(7):e0200518. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200518. PMID: 30020987; PMCID: PMC6051627.

Your Free COVID Care Package

COVID Recovery Package with Fertile Ground and The Melbourne Apothecary

We are here to help you – it’s what we love to do. This COVID care package is for you if you:

  • Want better health, rest and body-wide repair,
  • Want help with navigating the complexities of making your Fertility Plan,
  • Have PCOS and want to start making healthy recovery strides simply by adjusting your diet,
  • Need help creating better breathing and respiratory health habits to carry you through a COVID climate,
  • Are experiencing frayed mental edges that need soothing,
  • Want relief, attention and release of areas that experience cyclic or persistent pain,
  • Love to have beautiful restorative sleep,
  • Want insights into how to ramp up the health of your diet and your digestive tract
How can we help?

You may have noticed that we’ve enacted an outpouring of free things to you since the inception of COVID. We have made a concentrated effort to create free resources for you with love from many of our wonderful practitioners, to support your mind, body, and sense of connection through all the recent challenges and beyond.

These resources have felt like a lifesaver for many people who have felt disconnected, stressed, in pain, anxious and fearful with reverberating body-wide repercussions like restlessness, digestive issues, insomnia, panic attacks, breathing difficulties, muscular pain and more. It’s important that you pay attention to your health with even more precision during stressful times like these.

We are robust and resilient when given the right ingredients for thriving and surviving.


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Deep Sleep Yin Yoga

Jane Holland, yoga teacher, international retreat facilitator and educator has lovingly created this Deep Sleep online series in collaboration with Fertile Ground at The Melbourne Apothecary.

These yin classes are designed to guide you into your body to fully inhabit sensation, find release and arrive in spaciousness, allowing you to melt tension and move into a deep state of rest. Jane is generously offering to everyone to come and experience their first class free.

Register for your first free class and get ready for the rest 😴 of your life.


Free Buteyko Starter Pack for Healthier Mask Breathing & Nervous System Relief

Mask wearing and mask breathing is really hard. Why? Much of it is to do with carbon dioxide which, when understood and used to your advantage, can actually be used to improve your health rather than hinder it. In fact it can be part of the solution to many health issues beyond respiratory protection. Use this Starter Pack to begin to address your foundational respiratory health.

The Starter Pack includes 3 x 15 minute Buteyko embedded meditations and comprehensive instructions about duration, frequency, what to expect as results. Made with love by our breath specialist naturopath Carly Woods

Carly has also made a hilarious and informative online quiz entitled ‘Are you a Dirty Mouth Breather?’ So go ahead and find out – are you a Dirty Mouth Breather?


Acupressure for Stress Relief

Stressed? Understatement of the year perhaps.

Download this wonderful Acupressure for Stress Relief Guide from Acupuncturist, Chinese Medicine practitioner and Naturopath, Holly Peyton-Smith (thanks so much Holly).

Grab it fresh out of the digital inbox and take therapeutic action to slay your stress.


Winter wellness Super Soups RecipEbook

This fabulous Super Soups Ebook has been built for you with love by Naturopath Tina Jenkins. Do you want to ramp up your Winter wellness in an oh-so-delicious way??  If so, make sure you grab your copy here.


Phew! That’s A LOT of resources for healthy living that you can use right now or access later as you need. Feel welcome to share it with your friends too – these resources are for everyone.

Have a great time consuming all of these wonderful resources packed full of actionable health-enhancing goodness. Thank you to all of our loving practitioners and team for putting these together for our community so quickly and with such care.

Brought to you by Carly Woods Director, Naturopath and Breath Specialist, Fertile Ground Health Group and The Melbourne Apothecary.

Your Guide to Healthier Mask Breathing

Healthier Mask Breathing with Carly Woods

Do you feel comfortable mask breathing?

Do you feel fear about wearing a facial mask? 

Do you find it claustrophobic? 

Do you find it anxiety producing?

Are you wearing it properly or are you treating it like a piece of face jewellery (only wearing over the mouth with your nose out, or putting it on the top of your head or chin because it feels irritating?)

So many things to consider. Read on to find answers and helpful solutions to all of these things.

Why is mask breathing so hard?

Mask wearing and mask breathing is really hard. Why? Much of it is to do with carbon dioxide which, when understood and used to your advantage, can actually be used to improve your health rather than hinder it. In fact it can be part of the solution to many health issues beyond respiratory protection. But first let’s address the respiratory aspect.

At first mask breathing can make us feel anxious. That’s because 

  • When we first start breathing more carbon dioxide (incremental amounts from our out-breath) we experience a sensation of air hunger. If your body is not trained to accommodate (and benefit from) this experience (like altitude climbers and free divers) it can be really confronting.
  • When we find it hard to breathe behind a mask we often open our mouths, which ends up contributing to a state of sympathetic dominance in our system (fight or flight) = anxiety producing.

Adapting to this new way of mask breathing can be daunting, especially for those of us who have suffered anxiety or stress around breathing, claustrophobia or air constriction in the past. Whacking a mask straight onto our faces might be really intense, let alone dealing with the sensation of mild air hunger.

Finding a solution – Buteyko Therapy

Buteyko Therapy was originally developed in the 1950s to treat asthma, however (thankfully) the Buteyko breathing exercises and principles can be applied across a variety of conditions (many of which are top of mind globally now) AND they can be easily applied to support healthy and comfortable mask breathing. 

These exercises provide a powerful tool that you can use to relieve stress and anxiety within minutes, to prompt nasal decongestion, support healthy respiration and respiratory recovery, healthy digestion, pave the way to restorative sleep and support general body-wide repair.

It seems crazy that these incredible little lungs that we grew all by ourselves, when used correctly, support such profound health. And yet not so crazy, when you think about it…

  • We can go weeks without eating.
  • We can go days without drinking.
  • We can go minutes without breathing.

So that’s pretty sobering.

It is my mission to teach you how to use Buteyko to your advantage, with urgency. Simply. Daily. Easily. Powerfully. Alongside your mask. Let’s begin.

What conditions can Buteyko Therapy help to address?

There are too many to list, so I’ll list the ones that are most relevant at this moment in time.

  • Respiratory decongestion (hayfever, colds, flu, rhinitis, sinusitis)
  • Asthma 
  • Anxiety & stress
  • Panic & overwhelm
  • Sleep issues (insomnia, sleep apnoea, snoring)
  • Digestive issues
How does Buteyko Therapy work?

A basic explanation of the way Buteyko Therapy works is to say that it retrains your respiratory centre in your brain to accept more appropriate levels of carbon dioxide in your system. This is done through a series of gentle introductions to the sensation of air hunger to gradually nudge your brain’s tolerance towards a more optimal state. 

“Purposely expose myself to air hunger? Why on earth would I do that?” I hear you saying. Fair enough. Let’s find out why.

A gradual sensation of air hunger (in controlled Buteyko Therapy setting) prompts incremental advances in carbon dioxide tolerance. This is an important balance to get right, because carbon dioxide:

  • Plays an important role in helping your blood to release oxygen into your tissues (for the keen science analysts out there check out the Bohr Effect)
  • Prompts activation of your parasympathetic nervous system (your rest, digest, repair state)
  • Contributes to decreasing your brain excitability (hello calmer brain)
  • Helps to relax your smooth muscles (which equals greater general relaxation, better sleep, better digestion and release of tension throughout your body)

Now that’s not all. Buteyko Therapy also works to increase the natural nitric oxide production in your nasal cavity, which you then breathe down into your beautiful lungs (via nose breathing). Why is nitric oxide helpful?

Nitric oxide gas

  • is antiviral and antibacterial (yay)
  • is a natural bronchodilator (opens the lungs)
  • acts in the respiratory passages and lungs in an anti-inflammatory way (so you can see the link to decongestion)
  • helps to move you into your parasympathetic state (again – your rest, repair and digest state)
Support comfortable mask breathing with Buteyko

There are many Buteyko principles and exercises that you can use to supercharge your health. For simplicity, start with the following:

  • Always nose breathe ONLY, even with your mask on – do NOT mouth breathe unless you have to talk or have physical nasal obstruction (snot, unless so dense that you cannot possibly take a breath through a tiny part of your nostrils, is not counted as a physical obstruction).
  • If you must mouth breathe (when talking) ensure it is smooth, gentle and not audible. If audible, shut your mouth and nose breathe for a time until your nervous system calms down and then resume talking, calmly.
  • Wear your mask for short periods at first (15-20 minutes) and slowly work up to wearing it for longer periods so as not to shock your system.
  • Do daily Buteyko meditations to start to retrain your body towards healthier respiration (grab the free Buteyko Starter Pack that I’ve built for you).
  • Learn how to wear your mask properly (as decreed by the WHO).

By the way, when you begin nose breathing consistently you’ll notice that your nose starts to decongest. Some people can experience post-nasal drip or the need to blow the nose more. This should not last more than a few days and doing an increased number of buteyko exercises daily will generally help you move through it more quickly.

Interesting and wonderful facts to perk up your day
  • Nitric oxide is antiviral and antibacterial and it is enhanced in the body via nose breathing – yay! Nose breathing is so easy and simple, we can all do it!
  • Use your nose to breathe in order to reduce the viral load AND to reduce the potential transmission of water particles into the atmosphere (if infected) – there is a 42% greater water* loss from breathing out through the MOUTH than the NOSE – and when something is transmitted via water particles this would feel like common sense to convert to total nose breathing, don’t you think? So get on board and (with love) shut your mouth – for all our sakes.
  • Always nose breathe, as much as possible, even during exercise. Gauge your exercise intensity by your ability to nose breathe. You can enhance your ability to nose breathe while exercising by simply smiling (with your mouth closed). Smiling widens your nostrils. Plus you get wonderful responses from people passing you. Remember not to wear your mask while exercising (WHO recommendation) – simply stay 1.5 meters away from anyone and close your mouth.

So let’s all nose breathe and let our smiles be the thing that is contagious. Connection and protection all in one foul nasal swoop. High facial fives. It’s almost like we’re designed to be happy and healthy…😉

The nose knows.

Written by Carly Woods

Buteyko Practitioner & Naturopath

Download Carly’s free Buteyko Starter Pack – 3 Buteyko embedded deeply restorative meditations complete with comprehensive instructions for duration, frequency of use, and benefits to your body. You will learn which part of your face to breathe with and why, you will be guided through using these recordings daily to incrementally build up your brain’s carbon dioxide tolerance, to nourish your lungs and to leverage the protective power of your nose.

Are you a natural nose breather or a dirty mouth breather? Find out via this fun and informative quiz.

A special thanks and acknowledgement for all the fantastic work my trainer and global Buteyko expert, Patrick McKeown, is doing for everyone all around the world at the moment. Look up his ted talk. He is a brilliant trainer, wonderful person and incredible to listen to and learn from.


How to Breathe While Wearing Face Mask, by Patrick McKeown