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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.”
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‘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.
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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.
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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.
Posted in Newsletters
I’m very excited to be hosting a retreat at the breathtaking 42 Acres space in Somerset this June. It’s the second year running that I’ve been able to bring a Breathing Space Retreat to the UK, making it even easier for you to access the amazing power of your breath. In 42 Acres I couldn’t ask for a better venue. It’s beautiful and peaceful but easily accessible from London via a direct train followed by a 15min cab ride. Read on for more info…
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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.