There’s nothing more stressful than failing to relax. I’m in a Zen-like refuge in the hills of Lanzarote, supposedly being lulled into a meditative trance by Alan Dolan, one of the world’s leading mind-body practitioners. I’ve just had the best craniosacral massage of my life. I should be right in the moment, right here, you know? But instead I’m fixating on all the amusing ways my partner Sean is going to take the p—s out of the whole experience when we get back to our room. He’s already rolled his eyes at the sight of goji berries in the kitchen. He’s lying next to me, and I swear even his breath sounds cynical.
As Alan encourages us to let go, I grasp even more tightly on to my regret. What was I thinking, bringing Sean along? Worrying whether he’s enjoying himself will ruin my break. We’ll never be one of those couples on Instagram who stand side by side in tree-pose silhouettes against the setting sun. God, I need a wine. I start to wonder if the reason my previous trips have been so wonderful is because I was alone, without this worrisome, cynical lump of a male next to me.
Until now, my wellness-holiday habit has always been a solitary pursuit. I never even took a friend along for the ride. Ever since my very first yoga retreat at the age of 25, I’ve been hooked on holidays that leave me feeling better than when I first arrived. I’ve cheerfully booked myself on yoga workshops, kite-surfing courses and hiking boot camps.
Most attendees turn up for these alone, are thrown into a group environment, handed a schedule and taken on a collective journey. And when you have only yourself to please, travel becomes much easier. I didn’t want the pressure of someone else sharing my space, moaning that the yoga was too hard, or the food too healthy, or whatever.
When it comes to our precious time off, women often have different goals to men. For me and many others, the real adventure takes place within. We want to embark upon an emotional journey as well as a physical one, and to emerge with our relationship intact – but any type of incompatible desires when it comes to your holiday can be near-impossible to negotiate.
My friend Ling, for instance, is currently lobbying for an all-inclusive beach resort with a kids’ club so she can spend Easter on a sunlounger with a book, while her husband would rather take the family camping in the Lake District. My friend Tom refuses to get on aeroplanes any more (‘too much hassle’), while his girlfriend is desperate to go somewhere more exotic than northern France.
As for us? Well, there’s something I need to tell you about Sean: he doesn’t really like travelling. Which is a bit of an issue for a travel obsessive like me. I still remember him dropping this bombshell when we’d been dating for a few months, as we left the pub having waved goodbye to friends who were heading off on a year-long round-the-world trip. ‘Wouldn’t you love to do that one day?’ I’d asked Sean, dreamily. And there was a silence.
I looked at him. ‘Wouldn’t you?’ I demanded. ‘Um, to be honest I’ve never really had the urge,’ he said. To me, this is akin to saying you don’t really like food, you’d happily just pop a calorie-and-vitamin pill rather than bother with an actual meal. How could he not want to travel? Did he even have a pulse?
For our first trip together, and ever since, I’ve used all my knowledge of travel, both personally and professionally accrued in my job as someone who writes about it, to select destinations I knew to be rewarding, but also not cause huge culture shock.
Entry-level intrepid travel, basically. Thailand was our first trip, on a two-week stopover before an eight-week camper-van jaunt around New Zealand, then on to Australia. Sean sort of enjoyed himself in Thailand, although he made the rookie error of believing he could take on mosquitoes and emerge unbitten, victorious. As most of us know, you can’t beat mosquitoes. You can only hope to minimise the horrors of your bloody defeat.
Much as I try to avoid gender stereotypes, I’m firmly of the belief that women make the best travellers. In my experience, men are less comfortable with chaos and suffer more severely from culture shock. Today, women are more likely than men to go it alone: we constitute 58 per cent of single travellers, with that figure rising for more active and intrepid trips. Increasingly, we’re Instagram-obsessed aspirational overachievers with high demands of our limited leisure time.
On that first proper trip, Sean discovered new depths to his grumpiness. To him, my enjoyment of the whole thing was baffling. ‘You seem to find novelty a virtue in itself,’ he said, ‘but something can be new or unfamiliar, and still be s—t.’
And so, unsurprisingly, I’d taken to travelling by myself, though I would always miss Sean and look forward to returning to him recharged and ready to resume normal life. Recently, however, our work arrangements changed, and at the moment we only get to see each other at weekends. Suddenly, going on a separate holiday didn’t sound refreshing – it sounded tiresome.
And as any seasoned fan of health-focused travel knows, there has been a shift in the demographic. With wellness tourism the fastest-booming travel sector – an industry worth £404 billion annually – men are now rolling out their yoga mats next to us.
‘When I founded The Healthy Holiday Company in 2003, I’d say that only 15 per cent of our clients were men,’ says Kathryn Brierley. ‘But we’ve seen a steady increase over the past decade, and on some retreats it’s as high as a 50:50 male-female mix. Today there’s no negative stigma. Practices that were derided by men as new-age nonsense when we first started out are now seen as an aspirational form of travel.’
Back at the retreat, I find myself lying crossly on the mat, wishing I was here alone. I thought I’d picked the safest of bets: because on top of Alan’s reputation for being no-nonsense, breathwork can be life-changing. One of the strongest well-being trends of the past year, its devotees (including Kate Hudson and Naomie Harris) swear that it eradicates stress, improves digestion, boosts energy levels and helps with trauma and emotional upheaval.
What’s more, between twice-daily ‘conscious breathing’ sessions at his sellout Breathing Space workshop, there are volcanoes to hike, delicious veggie meals, and world-class massages and bodywork sessions from Martin Cairoli plus individual counselling sessions from Donna Lancaster. It’s the Rolls-Royce of wellness breaks and, I’d thought, the perfect one to pop Sean’s cherry.
Hands up: my intentions weren’t entirely altruistic. Sure, I felt that Sean would benefit, but I also reasoned that perhaps I’d been missing a trick for years by attending life-enhancing breaks and courses alone, and returning to my cynical and confused partner unable to explain it to him.
Slotting back into the life I had beforehand, my squeaky-clean new yoga or meditation plans never stuck around for long. If we both adopted a new habit for a week, surely it could take root? And if a meditation weekend can transform my own soul, who knows what it will do for our marriage?
But now I’m convinced it’s all been in vain. Alan rouses us, and everyone apart from me gently moves, opening their eyes, starry-eyed and blown-of-mind. Including Sean. ‘I really don’t understand what just happened, but that was amazing,’ he says, softly, and takes my hand. Oh. I realise, to my horror, that I might be the problem here. That’s the thing about retreats. They seem gentle, benevolent and hippyish on the surface, but they always bite you on the ass.
Our week unfolds, and Sean couldn’t be more comfortable, padding around in his white bathrobe, emerging from individual breathwork sessions with Alan tousle-haired and Zen-like. We all know that our relationships change in a group dynamic. Here, we’re surrounded by chatty, curious, emotionally intelligent women. Finally, it’s not just me nagging Sean to express himself, it’s all of us. I have a posse.
Meanwhile, I use my individual therapy sessions with Donna to unpick why I dread my own parties because I’m paranoid about people not having an amazing time, and, indeed, why I’d rather travel solo than risk taking a friend or partner along.
I highly recommend bringing your rows to a retreat; there is no better place to sort them out. I learn that my control-freak and perfectionist tendencies sometimes leave me isolated, because I’d rather miss out on a social occasion entirely than do it badly.
And Alan’s work starts to take effect. We feel relaxed, opened up, malleable and loving. Crucially, we feel like we will return to reality with a habit we can both share. And an experience we don’t have to try, and fail, to explain to each other. We might never get to the stage where we Instagram green smoothies and do yoga together in the setting sun, but we’ve used a holiday to learn to communicate that little bit better. And that’s a trip worth taking.
Tell me a bit about yourself
Stressed out city slicker who is feeling far from slick. I need to relocate my inner calm (it’s gone Awol) and sort out my sleep. A traditionalist open to new ideas, provided they’re not too kooky.
A stately but non-stuffy spa with a new-age twist to help me find inner calm and survival strategies for city life. Must have a generously proportioned pool and all mod cons.
A breathing workshop at the Landmark London’s newly revamped spa. The Marylebone hotel’s red-brick exterior and fabulous glass-ceilinged atrium, complete with towering palm trees, are like something out of a Wes Anderson movie, but the spa is decidedly modern, as is its partnership with the Breathguru, Alan Dolan. “Conscious breathing” (also known as transformational
breathing) is tipped to be one of 2018’s hottest wellness trends, promising to banish anxiety, cure insomnia and alleviate stress and depression. Dolan’s approach is brilliant if you’re normally too fidgety for traditional meditation methods. His “connected breath” technique – mouth wide open, long inhale and a shorter exhale, with no pause in between – not only fills the body with energising oxygen, but also requires considerable physical focus (which stops the mind meandering back to unsent emails).
Unlike many modern-day ‘gurus’, who create dependency on their services, Dolan promises he can teach you this life-changing technique in just one session (though when you meet him, you can see why people keep going back). You’ll walk out feeling not only relaxed but inexplicably lighter, as though your lungs are somehow larger. You breathe about 20,000 times a day, so why not make the most of them?
The Simple Power of Breathing package includes an 8O-minute private session with Dolan and a full day pass to the Landmark London Spa & Health Club, with
access to gym, chlorine-free pool and Jacuzzi. It also includes a one-hour massage. (I highly recommend the Mediterranean by Candlelight, in which knots in muscles are kneaded into oblivion with warm wax.)
When we travel on business our bodies become disoriented, says breath coach, Alan Dolan
Breathing exercises are just the tonic for business travelers who take long haul flights and struggle with busy schedules when they’re away from home.
Because the bodies regular schedule changes as they cross different time zones, a traveler’s circadian rhythm becomes confused and out of sync. Jet lag can also lead to long term sleep problems.
Similarly, when business travelers don’t feel grounded or comfortable at their new destinations, this can impact their mental and physical health.
With the above in mind, learning safe and easy breathing exercises for stress relief en route is definitely worth it.
Doing breathing exercises or breathing deeply and consciously in a controlled way has long been said to offer people a form of stress relief. It promotes physical and emotional wellbeing whereby we can connect better with ourselves, feel relaxed and less tense.
Whenever someone feels stress they may experience an increased heart rate, high blood pressure and breathe faster. Whenever they stay still, concentrate on their breath and breathe deeply, this sends a message to the brain to calm down and relax.
In turn this message is transferred to the body which will begin to slow down the breathing and reduce the heart rate.
Business travelers aside and a survey released in January 2017 by the American Psychological Association showed stress was on the increase nationally.
In fact, the “Stress in America” survey revealed that stress levels increased on a 10 point scale from 4.8 to a 5.1 over the past year.
Breathing exercises such as belly breathing and roll breathing have been around for centuries for stress relief. Today breathing consciously or ‘Breathwork’ has become one of the most powerful ways to bring oxygen and energy into our bodies so we can heal and relax on demand and as needed.
And thanks to breath experts such as Alan Dolan, this method of relieving stress and balancing the mind and body is now available to all.
‘Conscious Breathwork and breathing exercises provide a mechanism for rebalancing our overworked and stressed out systems. ’ Says Breathing Space founder and breath coach, Alan Dolan.
‘Conscious Breathwork is based on the premise that our bodies have a natural ability to bring us back into equilibrium using our breath as the means to re-calibrate.
‘For those wishing to experience tangible positive results a daily practice is recommended.
‘For stress relief, some people like to do a twice daily practice or breathing exercises.’
Overall, Breathwork or ‘Conscious Breathing’ is said to:
De-stress: Breathwork and breathing exercises helps to release old mental and/or emotional energy which got filed away in the system. Stress is in effect a state of bodily contraction during which the body finds it difficult to process mental emotional energy so it simply files away the ‘baggage’ until such time as its possible. When we practice Conscious Breathing we go into a very relaxed space so much so that the emotional filing cabinet can be accessed and spring-cleaned.
Energize: Breath is life and quite literally fuels our bodies. Think of it as a vehicle which transports oxygen and energy into and around our bodily at the most profound level possible.
Enhance Sleep: For those of us who have busy minds (IE everyone) Conscious Breathwork provides a quick and easy way of putting our bodies into sleep mode as described above.
Today Alan brings his Conscious Breathing techniques and breathing exercises to clients in private 1-1 sessions in London, Dublin and Brazil, as well as in groups or ‘retreats’ at his luxury and peaceful Breathing Space villa in Lanzarote.
The breathing exercises and techniques he teaches are safe and easy to do, whilst anyone can reap the stress relieving benefits just like he has.
‘Conscious Breathing brought the magic and mystery that I experienced as a child back into my adult life.’ Reveals the former PR manager.
‘Life had become very black and white for me and I was on a career trajectory which was mostly about perceived status and money.
‘I’d lived with depression since my early teens and had got by using tobacco and alcohol but once I discovered Breathwork my 20-30 cigarettes a day habit ceased.
‘My alcohol consumption reduced massively and I cleared the depression in 12 weeks.
‘That was fourteen years ago and since then I’ve continued to refine and no longer do caffeine and I’m mainly vegetarian.’
Over the last decade Alan’s successes in offering stress relief and transforming his clients lives through Breathwork have been many.
Examples have included women who are overworked and who haven’t prioritized their own wellbeing over getting ahead in their careers.
‘One client hadn’t taken a proper (as in going away) vacation for years.’ Explains Alan.
‘To get by and ‘switch off’ at the end of the day she was self-medicating with alcohol and junk food.
‘Her energy levels were not good and she didn’t know how to break out of the cycle.
‘Cut to three months later after doing a few 1-1 session of Conscious Breathwork and adopting a daily practice she was feeling great, had significantly reduced self-medication levels and rather wonderfully had decided to take a 6 month sabbatical traveling in Asia to make up for ‘all the holidays I didn’t take.’
‘I’m not suggesting we should all drop our careers and head off backpacking, however it was GREAT to see how this person had re-prioritized her own needs and wellbeing over all other elements in her life.’
Alan has also recently released a breathing app which suits professionals who want to incorporate breathing exercises into their business travel for stress relief on the go.
This breathing app includes easy-to-follow instructional videos and short, manageable guided breathing sessions and breathing exercises which meet the needs of the stressed executive who travels often.
‘I want to get Conscious Breathwork out there to as many people as possible hence investing a lot of time and effort in creating the BreathGuru App.
‘I truly believe that this most powerful of tools has the potential to change the world and feel my role is to make sure people are a) aware of it and b) able to have a direct experience for themselves .
‘Business travelers who use this breathing app can find time time to watch the concise instructional video clips which contextualize and explain the ´how to’ of the technique.
‘With this breathing app they can then go to the 10-minute guided audio session and enjoy a test-drive making sure to spend a few minutes after the practice simply observing how the body is feeling and whether there are any discernible changes as a result.
‘The technique itself is both an energizer for our systems and also a de-stressor so for most people they find it useful to do the short 10 minute practice on waking and than again at the end of one´s day prior to sleep.
‘The AM practice on the breathing app will boost levels of oxygen and energy within the system and the PM will tend to take the excess energy most of us carry in our heads and redistribute it to lower down in the electrical system – I.E it will ground us.
‘The breathing app also has a 30 minute guided audio which is perfect for weekends or whilst traveling.’
Such a claim may seem like hot air, but it’s not to be sniffed at: optimising how you breathe offers health benefits – and, experts argue, could even help you to manage your business more effectively
We do it about 12 times every minute without even thinking about it, but it keeps us alive. In fact, if we were to stop doing it for just the amount of time it takes to boil an egg, most of us would suffer some form of brain damage. Breathing supplies our cells with the oxygen they need, helps to regulate our temperature, restores our energy and dictates how well we sleep. What’s more, according to experts, taking a little time to focus on this most important of bodily functions could make you a better leader.
Preoccupied by the relentless demands of running a business, it’s only natural that directors are more mindful of their output than their outbreath. While focusing on making your firm’s assets go as far as possible, you could be failing to put the most valuable resource at your disposal to its best use. Optimal breathing, it has been proved, can help you to concentrate and increase your productivity. Indeed, it can make leaders more creative, better able to cope with the demands of their work – and happier.
Richard Russell is a consultant respiratory physician at Lymington New Forest Hospital. He believes that most of us don’t breathe “naturally” any more.
“As babies, we naturally take deep breaths from our abdomens. As we get older, periods of stress cause our central nervous systems to operate in the sympathetic mode. This means that our natural ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in, which causes us to take shorter, sharper breaths,” explains Russell, who is also an honorary senior lecturer at the University of Oxford. “Over time, we become used to over-breathing and start to hyperventilate permanently, which leads to a poor exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.”
Taking in too little oxygen this way can lead to symptoms including dizziness, headaches, confusion and poor co-ordination. This can eventually cause a condition known as hypoxaemia, where there isn’t enough oxygen in the blood to nourish our tissues and organs properly, resulting in extreme fatigue, insomnia, depression and even panic attacks. Over-breathing can also mean that we exhale too much carbon dioxide, which can put the pH levels of our cells out of balance.
It’s estimated that 80 per cent of people in the western world over-breathe. Directors are particularly prone to it because of their relatively high exposure to work-related stress. Typical signs of permanent hyperventilation include the tendency to breathe through the mouth instead of the nose; the need to inhale deeply before talking; and, most notably, an overdependence on the muscles of the upper chest. The way to correct it, experts claim, is to learn to breathe more slowly and deeply using the diaphragm, thereby rebalancing the autonomic nervous system.
“Many people in highly demanding roles understand the importance of taking time out to exercise and eat well to maintain good physical health, but very few pay attention to how they breathe, which is just as important,” says Alan Dolan, a “breath guru” who teaches a technique known as conscious breathing. “This involves really focusing on infusing the body with oxygen. It’s a safe and effective way of recharging our own, often depleted, systems to work to their healing capacity.”
As a former PR manager in the aerospace industry, Dolan had been suffering from executive stress himself when he discovered conscious breathing while on a sabbatical in 2004. Its mooted benefits include a reduction in stress, an increased ability to learn and a clearer mind. What’s more, you should start looking healthier, as there will be more oxygenated blood getting to your skin.
“Most people use only 25 per cent of their breathing capacity, but virtually every condition can be improved simply by drawing a fuller breath,” says Dolan, who now runs regular “breathing space retreats” and workshops in the UK and at his home on Lanzarote.
Lifestyle factors also affect how well we breathe, of course. A lack of exercise and excessive talking can be detrimental, as can poor air quality (smokers are obviously putting themselves at a huge disadvantage here). A study by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz has found that more than three million people die prematurely each year as a result of air pollution – a bigger death toll than that of malaria and HIV/Aids combined. If you can exercise regularly, get plenty of fresh air and avoid smoking your muscles should become more efficient at using the oxygen you take in.
So how can you fit conscious breathing into your busy routine? See below for the technique that Dolan advocates, which takes only 10 minutes a day. As you get used to breathing this way, your body will receive the amount of oxygen it needs and you should feel the benefits, to both your health and your performance as a business leader.
Alan Dolan’s daily 10-minute conscious breathing exercise
Lie supine in a warm, quiet place, with your head and upper body propped up at a 45-degree angle, firmly supported by pillows or cushions. Place your hands on your abdomen so that you can feel the breaths you’ll be taking. With your mouth wide open and jaw relaxed, inhale through your mouth deep into your abdomen for a count of two, then immediately exhale for one, like a quick sigh. Don’t pause; breathe in a continuous flow. The goal, Dolan says, is a “connected breath”.
The Landmark London has partnered with alternative practitioner Alan Dolan – founder of Breathing Space – to launch a new service as part of the reopening of the hotel’s spa and health club.
Dolan has created a special package for guests looking to “transform their lives” through improving their breathing techniques.
“Conscious breathing is a powerful and safe way to infuse the body with oxygen and energy and recharge one’s systems to the maximum healing capacity,” Dolan said. “Breathwork can lead you to enjoy optimum health, mental and emotional clarity and experience an ever-deepening relationship with yourself.”
The introduction of the new service is part of the relaunch of The Landmark London’s spa, which has undergone an extensive redevelopment programme.
Treatment rooms, spa reception and changing areas have all been redesigned and reconfigured as part of a strategy to improve the spa’s customer journey.
Specialist consultancy SMC Design was brought in to plan the re-design, which includes the use of materials – such as dark copper and porcelain stone tiles – deemed to have a “synergy with the architecture” of the spa’s historic surroundings.
The Landmark London – a 300-bedroom hotel – is housed in the Hotel Great Central building in Westminster. Dating to 1899, the building was designed by Sir Robert William Edis and was one of the original grand hotels of the late Victorian era.
Tell someone that you’re spending your summer holiday learning how to breathe and you’ll inevitably be greeted by raised eyebrows. But breathwork is one of the strongest wellbeing trends, with devotees – who include Kate Hudson and Naomie Harris – swearing that it eradicates stress, improves digestion, boosts energy levels and helps you process trauma and emotional upheaval.
‘The majority of people only use 25% of their breathing capacity, but virtually every condition can be improved simply by drawing a fuller breath,’ explains Alan Dolan, Europe’s leading breathwork teacher. He runs his sellout Breathing Space workshops at his tranquil retreat in the hills of sunbaked Lanzarote, just a short drive from Famara, the most strikingly beautiful surf beach on the island. Alan has a cult following among celebrities, sportspeople and burnt-out city workers for his practical and refreshingly no-nonsense approach to a tried-and-tested technique.
Between the twice-daily conscious breathing sessions, there are volcanos to hike, delicious vegetarian meals to devour and world-class massages and bodywork sessions on offer from Martin Cairoli. Even if you’ve never been able to sit still long enough to try meditation, and apps like Headspace lurk unused on your iPhone, Alan’s easy-to-master breathing techniques promise to quieten that voice in your mind, relieve tension and leave you grounded and focused. Expect to return to reality with a brand new healthy habit in your armoury.”
‘Retiro’ es una de las palabras de moda en el universo del bienestar contemporáneo. No todos son iguales y cada vez se especializan más. Hemos seleccionado seis que, Retiros retirados además de estar en contacto con la naturaleza, tienen personalidad propia…
BreathGuru: Respirando isla
A Alan Dolan le llaman el “gurú de la respiración”. Él, el Breath Guru, está detrás de unos retiros, los Breathing Space Retreats, que tienen al acto de inhalar y exhalar como centro de la agenda. Estas actividades se basan en la tesis de que una respiración consciente y entrenada puede cambiar la vida. Para llevarlo a cabo, Nolan ha elegido Nazaret, un pueblo de la carismática Lanzarote. Allí, en su propia casa, una villa cómoda y estilosa, tienen lugar sus programas que dirige a personas solas, parejas o grupos. En ellos se realizan sesiones personalizadas y colectivas. Los retiros no tienen duración fija, pero se recomienda un mínimo de 4 o 6 días. Todo está encaminado a eliminar tensiones y a incorporar la respiración consciente en el día a día. Nolan realiza también estas sesiones en Londres de forma continua. Lo interesante de la propuesta es que el arma usada está al alcance de todos: los pulmones. Eso sí, un poco de ayuda extra (si es de un gurú, mejor) y el aire de Lanzarote ayudan.
A lo largo de todo el año.
Desde 1.100€/4 noches.
Incluye sesiones individuales y grupales y comidas vegetarianas. CURIOSIDAD DAPPER: También realiza talleres por Skype.
Discover the power of oxygen at a transformational breathing retreat
Lanzarote airport. Sugar-hyped children. Suntans. A smattering of leopard print. One lone female on a plastic seat, weeping. Reader, she was me, after an intensive breathing retreat.
Rewind a week. I’d decided to try out transformational breathing, a practice with a growing number of acolytes who believe that good health and spiritual peace can be claimed with appropriate breathing. I’d looked at the Breathguru.com website and hesitated. (The most striking image was a photo of a man looking zen in white trousers under the strapline “You are the guru, your breath is the key”.) However, alongside this was the persuasive statistic that most of us use only 25 per cent of our lung capacity, missing out on a dazzling array of health benefits. The idea of some winter sun in the Canary Islands clinched the deal.
Alan Dolan, the 38-year-old facilitator behind Breath Guru, meets me at the airport. In the flesh he looks much less New Agey, just rather friendly, and is dressed in a pair of battered shorts. Before we start the breathing he takes me on a tour of the island. Some 125km off the north coast of Africa, Lanzarote is the most easterly of the Canary Islands – and the landscape is a strange one, thrust up 15 million years ago as a product of the Canary hot spot, an outpouring of molten rock spat up after the break-up of the African and American continental plates.
In the south, lava from eruptions some 300 years ago have left the land streaked black, rising up to sooty mounts. Further north it is less stark, with lichens and the odd plant colouring the dark earth. While it is alien, it is not forbidding, but airy and expansive. The coastline is stunning: we pause on cliffs dropping into a deep blue sea; the shoreline unfurls, wild and untouched below. There are shades of Morocco in the swaying palms, and the beaches are evocative of the more spartan Greek islands.
Most of those who arrive on package holidays are corralled in three resorts on the southern coast. Elsewhere, the real attraction is activity: Club La Santa is a giant sports complex which attracts athletes and amateurs from all over the world. We pass cyclists and runners, and hang-gliders and paragliders are bright against the dark hills. The 9km-long black-sand beach at Famara has a seductive surf break when the wind is offshore, and when it blows onshore is perfect for kite-surfing. A plethora of triathlons is held here each year, including the world’s second largest Ironman gathering.
At last, we reach the small town where Alan has his house. It is called Nazaret. “I do get the odd Jesus Christ joke,” he smiles. His villa is spacious, with excellent views. It’s the kind of place to which you’d be proud to retire, if the life of an expatriate appealed.
So what is transformational breath? “The reason I love it so much is that it is different things for different people. Essentially, it uses oxygen to boost the energy in your body, and through that to clear the bad stuff. A lot of what I see breathing do I would have thought miraculous.” His enthusiasm spills on. “Sometimes our body is in the red zone; I like to cut that off at the pass, clear the canvas so you can paint what you wish to paint. One client referred to a retreat as a recalibration of her entire being.”
On the corporeal plane, increased oxygen intake apparently boosts sporting performance and the immune system, and can play a part in fighting disorders such as hypertension and insomnia.
The secret to a transformational breath is a wide-open mouth, air drawn deep into the belly, then gently released. Unlike many yogic breath patterns the exhale is shorter than the inhale. Also there is no pause between in and out: the goal is a “connected breath”.
To begin with, it’s tough to keep the flow. As I get used to the technique it becomes difficult to occupy my concentration, but easy enough to float off on the rhythm. As I breathe, Alan applies gentle acupressure to points on my body relating to the Chinese meridian lines. To my surprise, his touch triggers powerful reactions; he lightly knocks his fingertips beneath my clavicle and my whole body strings out with not-quite-painful but extreme sensation. At one moment, I have sudden, brief pains in the joints of my fingers. Another, there is an odd fizzing across my forehead; then an itch in my skin as though I’ve suddenly become allergic to my clothes.
The hour vanishes, leaving me extraordinarily light and relaxed. My eyes feel wider, whiter, my lungs somehow larger, somehow cleaner on the inside. That night I sleep instantly, deeply – rare for me – and have crazy, vivid dreams.
Transformational breathing has its roots in the 1960s work of Stanislav Grof and Timothy Leary, who used holotropic breathwork (and, it has to be said, LSD) in a quest to expand consciousness. It embraces the idea of prana, of breath as life force, the source of all energy.
Alan is happy to discuss the experience in terms of the way oxygen has been proved to be attracted to the body’s cells through electromagnetic charge – and hence speak of Einstein and biomechanics. Or in terms of Aldous Huxley’s “the aliveness of everything”. His bookshelves juxtapose spiritual guides by Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle with writing by the poet Rumi and psychologist Steven Pinker, as well as texts on nutrition and biology.
After each succeeding session, instead of feeling energised, I feel shell-shocked. I had hoped to test the waves at Famara. Or perhaps to look at some of the buildings designed by Lanzarote’s favourite son, the artist and architect César Manrique. (He’s the activist behind Lanzarote’s fierce planning legislation which guards against high-rise development. Houses here on the island are traditional one-storey white cubes edged with green paintwork; advertising hoardings are banned.) Instead, I lie poleaxed on a lounger, enjoying Alan’s special green juices, made with kale and ginger, listening to the wind in the palm leaves and absorbing the sun.
“The most common issues I’ve seen over the last year have been anxiety and stress,” Alan tells me over a dinner of elegantly spiced vegetarian curry: the meals are made by Rebecca, a former client who, after one retreat, sold her house in the UK to set up a restaurant on the island.
There seem to be few ailments that he has not helped. Off the top of his head he mentions a Falklands veteran who, after 20 years of post-traumatic stress, regained composure in four sessions; a lawyer and functioning alcoholic who ditched the booze and took her first holiday in 30 years; a shy woman with low self-esteem who finally started to dance salsa. Others include the bereaved, smokers wanting to quit, and professional sportsmen eager to boost their performance.
Alan, who came to transformational breathing eight years ago after careers in teaching and management, suggests that 10 minutes a day is sufficient to improve health radically.
I find it hard rationally to accept the spiritual side, preferring to err on the established values of oxygen and of any disciplined regime. Yet, as I return to the airport, I find myself loath to board the plane. Lanzarote has been a revelation. When Alan warned me I might find peculiar emotions rising, I certainly didn’t expect this sudden outburst of tears.
Oddly, when they subside, I feel marvellously calm. Serene. Perhaps I had finally arrived at that blank canvas.
Fitness and wellbeing breaks for Mother’s Day bonding
Mother’s Day is approaching very fast, but the scramble for a perfect gift need not be stressful.
While chocolates and flowers are pretty much foolproof, why not try something different, and more experiential this year?
Here, we’ve pulled together some wellness retreats and fitness bootcamps that provide the ideal bonding opportunity for you and your mother – while strengthening body and mind, too.
Canary Islands: Breathing Space Retreat
For mums and daughters in need of a break from the everyday stress of urban life, this breathing retreat might be the perfect answer. “Breathing guru” Alan Dolan teaches the art of meditative breathing at a private villa in Oasis de Nazarat. The only planned activities are two daily breath sessions, and the rest of the retreat is totally up to the guests. Options include personal training, massages and even volcano climbing, but each visitor’s experience is totally unique.
How is 2017 feeling so far? Are you looking ahead to a year full of possibilities, or struggling through the triple whammy of hangover, post-Christmas exhaustion and winter blues? If you’re not welcoming the new year with a spring in your step, perhaps one of your resolutions should be to make time for R&R by booking a health or fitness holiday.
Stepping away from your everyday life to relax and feel restored is no longer seen as an indulgence. Rather, it has become a necessary safety valve in our fast-paced world. Handing yourself over to be tended to by a range of experts can be an absolute pleasure. So go, either travelling solo or with a friend or family member. On all the wellbeing breaks listed here, you can be as sociable or as solitary as you like.
February: Breathing Space Retreat, Lanzarote, Canary Islands.
February sees these Spanish islands at their greenest, with reliable winter sunshine and early wildflowers – so it’s a perfect time to escape the grim British winter and book a retreat with the “breath guru” Alan Dolan. He’ll teach you the art of “conscious breathing”, which helps you access the full potential of your lungs to reduce the effects of anxiety and stress; it’s one of the most powerful therapies I’ve experienced.
Courses are based at a private villa in Oasis de Nazaret, a peaceful area 10 minutes from the beach at Famara. Each day includes one individual and one group breathing session (with a maximum of four others), poolside relaxation, star-gazing from the hot tub, holistic treatments and vegetarian meals. Island tours can also be arranged.
We all know the wellness industry is booming, that’s nothing new. It’s a really exciting time to be part of such a fast paced industry and the trends for 2017 are looking pretty damn hot!
Of late we’ve seen a real shift in wellness ‘feeling good is the new looking good’. We’re all waking up to the fact that this is an inside out job. What do we mean? Well, If you want to look good you gotta do a little digging and clearing out on the inside to make the outside glow. For real.
It’s now totally the norm to head to Shoreditch House for a meditation session followed by brunch, or to finish your Sunday with a delicious sound healing session. With the world speeding up, content set to double in 2017, life isn’t showing any signs of slowing down and certainly not in cities! Self care is no longer really a luxury in this modern time. We all need a little summin’ summin’ to help us slow down, get present and relax.
To those of you who are workshop newbies, think self development slash self love with a sprinkling of spirituality on top. And before you freak, It’s really not as ‘woo woo’ as you imagine and even if it is a little, rest assured you’re bucking the trend and joining the wellbeing pioneers who are not only leading the way with this work, they have fun in the process too – imagine that!
Finally as a side note, New York and LA are usually at least a couple of years ahead in wellbeing trends, having already embraced the inside/out journey and turning it into ‘the thing’ to do with your mates – we couldn’t agree more. Welcome to the next frontier in wellbeing – A mind body and soul workout! Are you ready to dive in?
We’ve put together our top 5 favourite workshops for you all to try, there’s a little something in there for everyone. Disclaimer alert – all these workshops are entry level so if you’re thinking ‘I’ve never meditated before’ don’t let that stop you. Chances are most people won’t have. Enjoy!
The Breath Guru – Alan Dolan
This is warrior work – You can literally shift how you feel one breath at a time. Conscious breathing is a powerful and safe way to infuse the body with oxygen and energy, recharging our own (often depleted) systems to work to their healing capacity.
Humans have been aware of the healing power of their breath for millennia. Through the centuries we’ve developed a vast array of breathing practices, all designed to bring about physical and emotional wellbeing and connect with our deeper selves. in today’s society, we often neglect our bodies’ built-in capabilities. The fact is, most of us live in ‘standby mode’ most of the time. The most powerful mechanism is literally right beneath our noses waiting to be explored, yet we rarely give it more than a passing thought until now!
There’s no way to prepare for what will happen over the following four days. It’s 10am, and we’ve just arrived – 10 women from different places, with different stories and careers and varying outlooks and opinions – and are sipping chia and berry smoothies in the beautiful flagstone-floored kitchen of 42 Acres in Somerset.
There is welcoming small talk and bear hugs from the Finding Self Retreat leader, Tony Riddle, a ‘natural lifestyle coach’, brimming with energy. Anticipation is keen. All we do know is that we are here to find some things, and let go of others.
I’ve been hanging on to guilty shadows for years: returning to work weeks after having my first child (financial necessity, perhaps, but small salve for the emotional knots it created); post-natal depression that swallowed me up into a sleepless, lost void. Years have passed, but the guilt remains, and surfaces too often.
Sometimes, I find myself parenting on autopilot – repeating things that didn’t make sense to me as a child, and make no more sense to my own children. Reining in my kids, over and over again, when I actually long for them to run free.
Doors open to an incredible room – flanked on one side by views of the greenest garden and a grand oak tree – and filled with cushions, blankets, mats. Alan Dolan, a world-renowned ‘transformational breath expert’, guides us through the principles of breath work – something I’ve never tried before – and soon we are lying down, eyes closed, puffing and panting in regular rhythm. This is not your classic ‘deep breath in, slow breath out’ practice: Dolan encourages a longer inhale and a short puff out – as though trying to extinguish a candle, gently.
It feels unnatural and I struggle. But we keep going. He repositions people, checking that our mouths are wide open enough, and very lightly feeling our bodies for places where we might be holding most resistance. A woman beside me cries out – a primal wail that takes me back to the birthing room – then sobs uncontrollably, and Dolan helps her breathe through it.
Then another, on the other side of the room, howling, then panting and steadying, as her breath returns to normal. I feel unsettled and uncomfortable.
When Dolan comes to my side, I am tight and nervous. He softly, intuitively feels along my clavicles, ribcage, abdomen – and I am surprised when he touches a spot that makes me gasp. I feel embarrassed and try to hold it in, but it’s no use; and, instead, he guides me in breathing through it. It is uncomfortable but, as I learn during my stay, discomfort and resistance are telling us something, and we need to get better at listening.
I spend 30 minutes struggling with the process – feeling light-headed, as though the breath pattern is too shallow, which makes me feel anxious. And then, unexpectedly, everything loosens up: my neck relaxes, my jaw stops feeling taut and tense, and I just breathe. And lose time. Twenty minutes later, I become conscious of feeling light and happy – and rested. Remarkable.
We wander across to the communal dining room for our first plant-based lunch, made by resident chef Mark Mabon. The fare is vibrant and full of vital goodness: butternut hummus, sprouted crackers, sweet potato wedges, beetroot soup, buckwheat tabbouleh and seaweed rolls. It’s clean and nutrient-rich grub, without being ascetic.
Towards the end of our stay, we get scrambled eggs at breakfast because our bodies crave warmth and protein as the healing work gets more intense, and many of us go into hibernation mode.
The ties that bind
Next, we meet Nicola Dunn, a ‘family constellations practitioner’. I am, again, unfamiliar with her practice. The belief is that, as children, we remain deeply bonded to our families, and it is difficult to break free of ancestral patterns as we grow – out of filial, inherent loyalty, but also for fear of being disowned by the ‘tribe’.
Family constellation work seeks to highlight these patterns that restrict and harm us, and to allow us to be released from them; to feel empowered to walk our own path, without being owned by, or owing anything to, shadows of the past.
To say my cynicism was heightened would be an understatement – and to explain the mechanics of how one’s story unfolds seems reductive. It is what it is – neither rational nor easy to understand, but powerful. This work is the most bruising part of our time at 42 Acres. The deep-rooted trauma, pain, sadness and regret that fills the room with each story is profoundly moving.
Stories so different from my own strike a chord of human connection, and we weep for our sisters, mothers, fathers, grandmothers. How patterns of pain are repeated generation after generation – alcoholism, mental instability, adultery, abandonment – became clear for all to see. But we are not our mothers or fathers, we carry no legacy.
We end our first day shaky and drained – but protective of those who have opened up about their pasts in a room full of strangers. A quiet dinner, as people process the day… then we are ushered back into the same room, transformed with candlelight and blankets, to lie down for a sound bath and energy healing, with Carly Grace and her crystal singing bowls.
I feel completely enveloped by Grace’s mesmeric voice and those beautiful frequencies.
The new day begins at 7am with Riddle, the Finding Self Retreat mastermind, taking us through a series of simple movements – which, nevertheless, challenge our bodies to the limit. On hard wooden floors, kneeling, stretching, spreading toes, taking the body’s weight on our knuckles (ouch!) – movements our primitive ancestors would have performed as part of a normal day.
Then, outside to the wet grass, barefoot, which draws groans and complaints, until Riddle, who is skilled at putting first-world problems into perspective, helps us see the wonder of it all: green grass, blue skies, morning dew, and a chance to roll, jump, run, hop and play.
At one point, we are pressed forehead to forehead, looking into the eyes of the person opposite! It feels uncomfortable, confrontational, unnatural… and then, totally peaceful.
During the next transformational breath-work session with Dolan, my asthma and hayfever reach fever pitch. I panic. I don’t have an inhaler with me as I’ve not needed one for 20 years. He assures me that this is my body resisting; that the minute you touch a spot that’s holding on to something painful or negative, your body has a reaction that makes you want to flee. Breathe through it, is his mantra.
I keep going and the heightened histamine responses quieten down. More breath work comes over the next three days, and we get a chance to move past the past, via Dunn’s constellationwork.
I work through my story – a new mother, shellshocked, lost, exhausted, doubting and distant. I see my little girls for all that they are – wonder, magic, wildness – and realise that they embody all that I’ve ever hoped for; they just need space and trust to thrive.
Transformed by freedom
The profound depth and energy of the Finding Self process – both emotional and psychological – shows on all our faces. We are deeply tired. We have little conversation left to make. We walk past one another with kind eyes, but need the emptiness of our private rooms to process all that has happened.
In the end, we learn more about each other than we know about our workmates, friends, even family… and, most powerfully, we learn about how far removed we have become from our natural, primitive ancestors.
To see Riddle move – roll, crawl, climb, jump – is to see a body that has left behind sloping chairs and squishy sofas in favour of the ground; a body that thrives on natural food – strong, lean, dynamic; and a mind that is passionately clear about how we should be living our lives, and encouraging our children to live theirs.
I’ve invested in barefoot shoes for myself and our children (vivobarefoot.com), and am no longer precious about them padding around parks, gardens, forests barefoot. I have been reintroduced to the purpose of play for play’s sake; as a means to natural movement, to free up that sedentary spine. But the latter would not have been possible without the lifting and clearing of the old debris – the stuff that weighs us all down, and fools us into thinking that we can’t, or shouldn’t, or mustn’t.
Somehow, over the course of the next few weeks, I transform. It is slow going, but the dedication you give to the retreat stays with you. There is no other way now that these freer instincts feel so natural. The day after the retreat, flung straight back into work, I wake with the darkest circles under my eyes that I’ve ever had.
Once the working day is done, I sleep and sleep and sleep, and meditate, and place crystals around my home, and read books, and feel as though my eyes are wide open for the first time since childhood. I see my children in a different light. I want to learn and grow and heal. I want to be a better mother and ensure my children live free of my own mistakes and misgivings.
I stop blowdrying my hair. I donate half of my clothes. I clear out my cupboards. We collect wood from the forest and make bonfires and sing in the garden. We map the stars. We marvel at the moon. We retreat back to a place where the good things live… and vow never to lose sight of them again.