Posted in Press
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.
Posted in Press
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.)
Posted in Client testimonials
“I’ll be honest I was cautious about if I could get anything from just ‘breathing’. Seeing as I’d been breathing pretty successfully for all of my life. I remember even saying to Alan I was worried he wouldn’t be able to help me, I’d be that one in a million that’s beyond help or just wouldn’t get it. I’ve never been happier to be so wrong in my life. The retreat was an amazing experience and I started to feel the huge benefits very quickly which was so exciting. I felt myself changing in small but deep ways day by day. What’s great was that it’s given me something I can do myself now everyday. And I have. The effects ripple out into so many other areas of your life. I hope you try it”
Posted in Press
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.’
Posted in Press
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”.