Posted in Client testimonials
“I have been working with Alan Dolan for several years now and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him on numerous occasions in London for 1-1 sessions, at his retreats in Lanzarote on three occasions and now in lockdown doing once or twice weekly 1-1 Skype sessions. I also practice breathing every day on my own when I am not working with Alan. Alan is a caring and intuitive teacher and co-creator, who has helped me tremendously on my journey. I have found that the longer I engage in the practice of conscious breathing, the more benefits I receive, and I find the variety of the forms of practicing conscious breathing with Alan (and alone) each bestow significant benefits. Although he is not physically touching you when you do a Skype session, he is vibrationally present and senses what is going on with you. During our Skype session, I have found him able to guide me through issues and help me get a better focus than if I was doing the breathing practice by myself. It’s also great to talk through what’s going on and what comes up before and after the breath work and that is akin to seeing him in person. Any way you can work with Alan is highly recommended (the retreats are especially awesome…)!”
Posted in Client testimonials
“My first experience with a 1-1 session with Alan was incredible. So incredible that I immediately booked my girlfriend in for the next day. I had done about six 1-1 sessions and a beginners workshop and had been really enjoying doing the breathwork at home too. But it was going to the full day advanced workshop that I had the most obvious changed to my life. I had insomnia in the form of not being able to stay asleep through the night. I track my sleep and recovery with a Whoop band so I can see in-depth data about how much REM, Deep and awake time I have each night. Before this workshop, I would spend an average of 2 hours per night awake and my sleep efficiency was around 75%. This is the amount of time you spend asleep divided by the time you spend in bed. Since this workshop my average time awake per night has been 15 minutes and my sleep efficiency has been around 95%. I have the data to prove it if you need!”
Posted in Press
The market is flooded with books and classes claiming ‘breathwork’ can help with mental health, sleep and even Covid-19. But are experts convinced?
Alan Dolan couldn’t afford market research when he started out as a breathing instructor in 2005. Instead, he took soundings from London taxi drivers. “I’d tell them I taught people to breathe for a living – they’d be in hysterics and say: ‘What a great scam!’” says Dolan. Recently their reaction has changed: “Now they tell me about their sleep apnoea or their wife’s panic attacks, ask me how that relates to breathing and often download my app.”
Dolan, whose company is called Breathguru, teaches people to breathe deeply from their diaphragm, inhaling for longer than exhaling, without pausing between the two. He says this can, among other things, release stress, alleviate depression, tackle sleep issues, ease respiratory conditions, boost energy and the immune system and eject emotional baggage. Until Covid-19, his retreats in Lanzarote were, he says, fully booked. Such is the level of demand that Dolan has taught 24 trainees to lead sessions like his.
Other “breathwork” practitioners report similar surges in interest, YouTube and Instagram Stories are teeming with breathing courses, and publishers clearly agree it’s a wave worth surfing. Books called Breathe Well, The Power of Breathwork, The Breathing Book and Breathing for Warriors have already been publishedthis year. Still to come in 2020 are Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, by James Nestor, Exhale, by Richie Bostock, AKA The Breath Guy, and The Wim Hof Method (see box) by Wim Hof.
All of which is a little puzzling to some. Sure, a bit of deep breathing at the end of a yoga class feels good, and many use simple breathing exercises to help them relax. But most people manage their 23,000 or so breaths per day without pause for thought, never mind instruction. So are advocates right that breathwork has a long list of physical and mental health benefits? Or is it just a load of hot air?
There is good-quality evidence to support the use of breathing exercises for asthma. A randomised controlled trial published in 2018 found that quality of life ratings were higher in UK asthma patients who underwent training in deep, slow, nasal and diaphragm breathing. Guidelines used by doctors in the UK state that breathing exercises can help reduce asthma symptoms.
“The evidence is strongest for interventions that involve properly trained physiotherapists,” says Mike Thomas, professor of primary care at the University of Southampton, who led the asthma study. Thomas’s emphasis on registered therapists relates to the use by some of alternative therapies such as the Buteyko method, a controversial technique which includes taping the mouths of people during sleep to train them to breathe through their noses. Adherents say it can treat sleeping disorders, depression, ADHD, chronic fatigue syndrome, asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Patrick McKeown, a Galway-based Buteyko practitioner who advocates mouth-taping during sleep, travels widely to speak at conferences. Prior to Covid-19 he was booked up 18 months in advance. “Five years ago, it was sleep,” he says. “Right now, breathing is hot.” McKeown believes a range of conditions including asthma are caused or exacerbated by a modern human mouth-breathing tendency brought on largely by dietary changes. This, he says, causes excessive oxygen intake, low carbon dioxide levels in the blood, and sub-optimal delivery of oxygen around the body.
While Prof Thomas acknowledges that more nose-breathing might help some asthma patients, he says the Buteyko method’s emphasis on increased oxygen intake and low carbon dioxide levels in the blood is simplistic. “People with asthma don’t overbreathe, and we’ve measured CO2 levels in asthmatics before and after retraining and found no relationship whatsoever between severity of asthma and CO2 levels,” he says. “The claim that asthma is caused by hyperventilation and low carbon dioxide are scientifically untenable.”
Many of those who turn to breathing exercises do so to deal with stress or anxiety. The NHS website suggests these can be alleviated through short sessions of deep, belly breathing. Scientists have long been interested in studying the effects of practices like yoga and meditation on stress and anxiety; however, there is less research on breathing exercises.
One study found that anxiety levels dropped in a group of Indian medical students who underwent a six-week course of pranayama breathing exercises, while no change was seen in a control group. The pranayama group also saw increases in their heart rate variability (HRV). When we breathe in, our heart beats momentarily faster to speed the flow of oxygen around the body. When we breathe out, our heart slows down. HRV is the difference between these two rates, and higher HRV is seen as a marker of the body’s resilience and flexibility in response to outside stimuli.
A study published in 2017 found that a group of 20 Beijing-based IT workers had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva after undergoing eight weeks of deep, diaphragm breathing sessions – a change not seen in a control group. Italian researchers who reviewed 15 previous studies found slowing breathing promoted short-term increases in HRV, increased comfort and relaxation, and reduced anxiety.
Scientists don’t know precisely how slow, deep-breathing promotes relaxation. However, many believe its ability to increase HRV is key. HRV is controlled by the autonomous nervous system, which regulates subconscious bodily processes including breathing rate and blood pressure. It is subdivided into the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers “fight or flight” responses such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which triggers “rest and digest” responses.
Parasympathetic responses are controlled by the vagus nerve, a nervous system superhighway that sends signals back and forth between the brain and different parts of the body. The higher a person’s HRV, the greater the strength of their vagal response to stimuli and the quicker their bodies can activate parasympathetic responses to stress.
When psychologist Roderik Gerritsen, of Leiden University in the Netherlands, reviewed physical and mental health benefits associated with contemplative activities, he concluded that their common focus on breathing reduced stress by increasing parasympathetic nervous system activity. “By slowing the breathing down, your heart rate goes down, you stimulate your vagus nerve, and you’re telling your body it doesn’t have to respond to any immediate threats,” says Gerritsen.
Breathing exercises have been proposed to treat symptoms of many other conditions. Researchers at Augusta University in Georgia, US, suggested that insomnia is largely the result of an evolutionary mismatch between the lifestyles of our caveman ancestors and the “toxic, long-term activation of the sympathetic nervous system” of modern life. They suggest slow, deep breathing can stimulate parasympathetic responses that facilitate both initiating sleep and returning to sleep after night-time waking.
Breathing routines are also used to manage pain. A study involving 48 healthy volunteers published in January found that deep breathing reduced pain caused by heat, especially at rates of about six breaths per minute. Other research linked breathing exercises to reduced heart rates and blood pressure in cardiovascular disease patients.
It has also been suggested that simple breathing exercises can help people with Covid-19. In April, for example, a London doctor recorded a video advising patients to take two sets of five deep breaths held for five seconds followed by a big cough, before lying on their fronts breathing deeply for 10 minutes. The clip was widely shared online. Some patients reported that this helped, however the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Respiratory Care said such exercises were unlikely to help those with the dry coughs seen in the majority of Covid-19 sufferers.
There are many animal and short-term laboratory human studies that show breathing slowly and deeply triggers changes in the body linked to healthy outcomes. That, however, is a long way from saying there is solid evidence that breathing exercises can help people change the way they breathe or improve their health in the long term.
Italian physician Luciano Bernardi has shown that breath-control training helped chronic heart failure patients to significantly reduce their breathing rate as well increasing the amount of time they could exercise. “A month after the study the benefits were still present, and we found that most had continued the practice,” says Bernardi. “Like any other training, if you continue to do it you maintain the benefits, and if you stop, after a while, you lose them.”
US researchers found that people with high blood pressure who did daily slow breathing sessions for four weeks exhibited short-term but not long-term reductions in blood pressure. “The problem is that in most human studies any effects of slow, deep breathing seem to be isolated to the lab conditions in which they are measured,” says Don Noble, a physiologist at Emory University, in Atlanta. “Despite some promising results, there haven’t been many well-controlled human studies investigating long-term changes, so the jury is still out.”
Current gaps in the scientific evidence base is readily filled by those with books and classes to sell. Extraordinary claims that breathing techniques can treat serious diseases and improve performance in various ways are based on preliminary findings, small studies and research that shows only associations. The claims on Wim Hof’s website, for example, that his method “is linked to reducing symptoms of” diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease are unsupported by high-quality research. Dolan’s website quotes a US doctor as stating: “Possibly one of the best therapies ever discovered for HIV, other infectious diseases, and most degenerative, or chronic illnesses (including cancer) is oxygen therapy.”
Many people undoubtedly benefit from breathing exercises. However, overblown claims about these powers are frustrating for scientists who believe they do have potential for more widespread use, but that this should be supported by good-quality research and trials. “It is likely there will be uses for breathing techniques in a variety of medical settings,” says Thomas. “However, it’s not a magic bullet. “There are a lot of people peddling snake oil. What one has to do is look at these claims with a sceptical eye, and do proper scientific studies to show whether or not it works. If you are just generally worried about your health, it won’t do you any harm. Just don’t expect it to turn your life around.”
Breathwork is far from new. Yogis, mystics and others have linked disturbed breathing to illnesses and advocated breath control both for health and as part of the path to enlightenment for thousands of years. Breathing-based therapies proliferated in the 60s and 70s. Here are just a few of dozens of different ways to get your oxygen.
Breathing techniques are key to yoga. Breath retentions, alternate nostril breathing, explosive exhales, stretching out the tongue and other techniques are used to calm or invigorate the body, support yoga poses and are considered integral to reaching enlightenment.
Designed to reduce stress, calm anxiety and help people sleep, it involves inhaling through the nose for four seconds, holding your breath for seven seconds, breathing out through the nose for eight seconds. Yes, there are apps for that.
A psychotherapy method developed in the 1960s that uses rapid deep breathing, music and physical support to supposedly induce altered states of consciousness as a way to release emotional blockages and heal buried traumas. Considered unsafe for those with cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and mental health issues.
A controversial alternative therapy that uses exercises and mouth taping to train people to breathe lightly and nasally. There are GPs who say it can help people, but claims by advocates that many health conditions are the result of chronic over-breathing are not supported by sound scientific evidence.
Wim Hof method
Cycles of controlled hyper-ventilation, extended exhalations and breath-holding, combined with exposure to cold and meditation, designed to trigger positive immune system changes. As seen on the Gwyneth Paltrow Goop Lab series on Netflix.
Posted in Client testimonials
“Alan does some amazing Breathwork and has an amazing App”
Posted in Blog
Wednesdays 29 April – 20 May @ 8pm UK time
Following the success of their last joint webinar, Alan would like to invite you to join him and transpersonal hypnotherapist Jack Elias for FOUR further weekly Moving Beyond the Challenge of Covid-19 webinars.
In this series you’ll learn powerful techniques for transforming moments of fear and anxiety into skillful action to benefit yourself and others.
Every week, Alan and Jack will teach you four essential practices of breath and mind. All of these practices have been thoroughly tested in the “lab” of serving others as well as in their personal practices.
Learn how these skills can empower you to move beyond any challenge, including Covid-19, with courage and confidence.
To register click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to view your payment options – we trust you to choose the most appropriate for your circumstances.
Transforming Fear into Freedom: Breath and Mind Flowing Together
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29, 2020
12pm PDT – 8pm UK time
Opening to Life: Emotional Healing and the Breath
WEDNESDAY, MAY 6, 2020
12pm PDT – 8pm UK time
Beyond Self Acceptance: The Practice of Self Compassion
WEDNESDAY, MAY 13, 2020
12pm PDT – 8pm UK time
Shadow Work: The Secret Entrance to Wisdom
WEDNESDAY, MAY 20, 2020
12pm PDT – 8pm UK time
Our first complimentary Moving Beyond The Challenge of COVID-19 webinar was hugely oversubscribed, and we know that many of you tried to join us but couldn’t. The good news is that you can watch Alan’s part of the webinar again: click here to view it.
Posted in Blog
With the current social and travel restrictions in place, it may be difficult to get to a workshop or retreat. However, Alan is still able to offer 1-1 retreats via Skype. Please contact us to book a slot.
Meanwhile, if you are self-isolating or practising social distancing, watch this video from the lovely Russell Brand. Alan has been working with Russell over the last year or so, and he has some interesting and topical things to say regarding self-isolation and mental health and, as you will see, recommends Breathwork as a great way to resource yourself during this time.
Posted in Press
SW1 is fast becoming London’s go-to for all things beauty, health and wellness. But are you a Harrods or an Urban Retreat kinda girl? asks Eva Ramirez
The Royal Borough’s approach is more holistic than overhaul; think subtle tweakments and non-invasive therapies over surgical procedures. Instant results with minimal downtime are key and if they happen to bolster our gut health or realign our chakras too, then all the better. Harrods has expanded its beauty and wellness space by 53 per cent with a new Beauty Hall and revamped Wellness Clinic. Around the corner, Urban Retreat has converted a five-storey building christened ‘The White House’ into a health and beauty emporium. We’ve searched both hotspots to cherry-pick the stand-out treatments, products and therapists that’ll have you hopping straight onto the Piccadilly line.
You’re bound to find something to suit your skin in world’s largest beauty emporium. ‘Magic’ mirrors use AI technology to virtually apply products without going anywhere near bacteria-laden testers. The Wellness Clinic is a holistic medical hybrid, with international doctors, reiki masters and the best aestheticians in the business.
BEST PRODUCTS: Japan’s Clé de Peau Beauté chose Harrods as its exclusive UK launch partner. We love the Radiant Fluid Foundation (£105).
BEST FACIAL: The Super Seed Nutrient facial by plant-based Votary works wonders on sensitive skin. It involves a very light lactic acid peel followed by a rose quartz facial massage.
BEST BODY TREATMENT: 111Cryo’s full-body chamber boosts metabolism, encourages muscle recovery post-exercise and tightens skin, all in just three minutes at -90°C.
BEST WELLNESS RITUAL: The Elixir Clinic offers a cocktail menu of 15 different intravenous vitamin infusions to target specific complaints.
BEST THERAPIST: Dr John Tsagaris’ acupuncture treatment regenerates the skin with microneedles and micro- injections of hyaluronic acid.
ULTIMATE HIGHLIGHT: From 2020 the lower- ground floor turns into an auditorium for talks and masterclasses.
You’d be forgiven for mistaking Urban Retreat on Hans Crescent for a private members’ club. The lower ground floor is home to the Khera-Griggs Cleanse Clinic, where nutrition consultation, bespoke cleanses, diagnostic testing, body contouring, colonic hydrotherapy, infrared saunas, one-on- one yoga, pilates and meditation sessions are all available. Frédéric Fekkai has chosen to open his first global salon here and there’s also a women’s wellness centre led by Harley Street’s finest Dr John Studd.
BEST PRODUCTS: Haute Custom Beauty’s Tailored Beauty Ritual (£660) will switch up your entire regime with a 30- day supply of HCB Elixir Collection, Collagen Tonic and Moisturiser Supreme, all specific to your skin type.
BEST BEAUTY TREAT: SumanBrows is the best in the business. Book in for a bespoke microblading session with SumanBrows and have your utterly transformed and lifted with natural-looking brows.
BEST BODY TREATMENT: Yumiko Inoue’s Manual Lymphatic Body Treatment uses massage, reflexology and cupping techniques to smooth, flatten and debloat in all the right areas.
BEST WELLNESS RITUAL: Conscious connected breathing with Breathguru Alan Dolan will revolutionise the way you think about breath. It will recharge your system, promote healing, shift trapped negative energy and detoxify the body.
BEST THERAPIST: As far as colonics go, this is as glamorous as they get. Naturopathic nutritionist Amanda Griggs uses hydrotherapy as well as Manex Ibar’s Fréquence chakra oils to leave you feeling light, cleansed and clear-headed.
ULTIMATE HIGHLIGHT: Internationally renowned Shaman Durek (Gwyneth Paltrow’s go-to) calls Urban Retreat his base when in the UK. Book a healing session with this spiritual mentor for a mind-body- soul experience like no other.
Posted in Press
Standing barefoot outside in the depths of winter may sound uninviting but as Claire Munnings discovers, it can have a profound effect on your wellbeing.
As the nights keep drawing in and the temperature continues to drop, our days are often spent hibernating indoors, cosying up next to a fire and shutting out the chilly winter weather. But, this year, I’m going to suggest you don’t just stay inside.
When you think about it, it’s terrifying how much time we spend indoors. Recent research undertaken by beauty brand Liz Earle found the typical woman enjoys just 25 minutes of fresh air a day, while other studies suggest we spend an average of 22 hours a day within four walls. But, with nature deficit disorder – a feeling of being alienated from the great outdoors – on the up, it’s never been more important to step out your front door.
The benefits of being outside are multiple and time after time, scientific research has proven the positive impact it can have on our physical and emotional health. Whether it’s helping your memory, anxiety levels, sleep patterns or immune system, nature is an important tonic for our busy lives.
And so, to grounding. This practice, also known as earthing, has gained much attention in recent years and has become a buzzword of late. Essentially, it involves standing barefoot on the ground – or touching the natural environment with your hands, or other parts of your body – and proponents believe this allows you to benefit from the earth’s electrical charge and balance the changes in our own body.
It may sound a bit woo-woo for some, but research published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health claims that earthing can help reduce stress, aid sleep, reduce inflammation and more.
With this in mind, I recently took on the challenge of trying it myself for a week. I realise this could have been better timed – standing outside barefoot during the cold autumn months isn’t quite as appealing as doing so in the height of summer, after all – but nevertheless, the advantages of being outdoors remain regardless of the temperature.
To set me on the right path, I spoke to wellbeing expert Alan Dolan, a breathing coach and the founder of Breathguru (breathguru.com), who uses grounding as part of his practice and has worked with well-known names, including actress Naomi Harris and The Barefoot Doctor.
“We, as human beings, are designed to be in a natural environment and we have over the years – especially since the age of reason and science and technology – gradually removed ourselves from this,” he told me. “Now we live very much in synthetic environments and we’re no longer benefiting from a connection with the planet.”
He often sees clients suffering from stress and describes being outside as a time-tested antidote to feelings of anxiety. “Establishing this connection with the earth is a very simple act but it can help reduce a sense of overwhelming and improve sleep too,” he said. “Stress encourages you to live in your head, but grounding reconnects you with the earth and makes you feel connected to your body. I use breathwork to enhance the perception of grounding,” he added. “When we can connect our breath to our body and our body to the earth, we can see many benefits.”
Alan’s tips were clear – the best way to enjoy grounding is to simply get outside and walk around on a natural environment with bare feet – whether that’s grass, sand or stones. You can also sit or lie back on the ground and use your hands to touch nature around you – either through holding leaves or grass or by digging in the earth and gardening without gloves. Drink lots of water before you step outside, too. According to Alan, being hydrated affects your ability to conduct current.
The first time I ventured outside – full of anticipation (and a big glass of water) – it was a crisp autumn day. The sun kept disappearing behind the clouds, but when it shone without hindrance it warmed the skin with a distant memory of summer. I slipped off my shoes and walked across my garden, feeling fairly self-conscious. Was I supposed to be thinking certain thoughts, or doing something specific with my feet? But I remembered Alan’s advice – “Get out of your head, and redistribute your energy throughout your body” – and I moved my focus onto what I could feel.
The green, luscious grass had a dewy, damp feel which was accentuated by the spongy moss that had somehow taken root beneath the turf, and this springiness was at contrast with the scattering of crisp, dead leaves that lay atop it. I stepped across their crackly surfaces and felt them break beneath the soles of my feet.
Then I stopped next to an old plum tree. I rested my hand lightly against the scratchy hard bark of the trunk and ran my fingers up and down its cracks, feeling the roughness of its texture. I wriggled my toes in the deliciously tickly grass and just stood still, leaning in to the moment. The wind rustled through the branches, and a lone bird sung a heartfelt tune somewhere behind me. I could feel the breeze on my face and the ground beneath my feet, and there was something in these sensations that seemed to soothe my soul.
I pressed my feet into the earth, and closed my eyes. As I breathed in and out deeply, I imagined roots spreading out from under my feet connecting my inner self with the ground below. The feeling of being grounded was so intense, it took me by surprise.
Putting my shoes on after those few minutes felt like an inconvenience. My toes were forced into the shape of my boots and they felt contained and encumbered, where they’d previously felt free and unrestrained. In the days following, I tried grounding every morning, taking pleasure in the nature around me and feeling the earth in a way I hadn’t seemed to do before. I did it less mindfully too. I hung out some washing on a blustery, bright day without first slipping on my shoes, I held spiky conker shells on the palm of my hand and dug my hands deep into the soil with my daughter as we explored the outside, and I shook out doormats while standing barefoot on our natural stone patio.
Yes, it was a little chilly at times, but I came to embrace the coolness of the ground and the freshness of the air as an energising remedy to the stuffiness of the indoors. I can’t say for sure if my week of grounding improved my sleep, or was the reason for my balanced emotions that week, but I do know that stepping outside in the fresh air was good for me. There’s something magical about connecting to the earth with your bare feet and hands, and it’s a reminder that the simple joy – and healing prowess – of the great outdoors should not be overlooked, even in autumn and winter.