Lanzarote: Learning to breathe
Sharron Livingston was happy by the pool, until a breath guru plunged her into a new way of thinking
Calming waters: a pool with a view at the Lanzarote breathing retreat
On any other day it would have been difficult not to notice the charm of the black volcanic landscape and the contrasting low-rise white-washed towns of Lanzarote. But as I drove along hilly roads from Playa Blanca in the south through Arecife, the capital, and on to the hillside village of Nazaret in the north, I hardly noticed the chain of multi-hued mountains that snake from end to end. Odd, given that they usually take my breath away.
Instead, my mind was on the power of breath itself. I was about to experience transformational breathing with breath guru Alan Dolan. He says that it would increase vitality and general well-being.
The idea of learning to breathe seemed a tad humourous. Everyone does it, and in any case, breathing for health is nothing new. After all, yoga lovers have long-known the role of deep breathing to achieve inner peace and relaxation. I was assured it would be worthwhile and that I may find it difficult. It’s breathing, I thought, how hard could it be?
Arriving at Dora Bella, a sprawling villa,was a pleasant experience. Electric doors opened to a drive that led into the private courtyard and gorgeous gardens that shimmered in the bright golden morning haze.
Walking towards me was a man, clad in white, with rock star hair and a gliding gait followed by a sprightly pooch called Louis. Gently spoken and looking like a trendy angel, the breath guru, invited me to take tea in his lounge, a space of soothing muted colours where we relaxed into an exchange of smiles and easy chatter. While I stroked Louis, I met the other guests; a young, affluent couple with whom I would dine for the next three nights.
It was breathing I thought, how difficult could it be?
The villa sits high on a hill and from my poolside sunbed I gazed upon a vista of palm trees, mountain peaks and the distant blue sea. It’s a quiet location, so quiet that the birdsong and the ruffling of the palm frongs as they swayed in the breeze were easy to hear. Sipping herbal tea while dipping in and out of a Deepak Chopra book I had borrowed from Alan’s library I knew this would be a great three days.
My work started the next morning. And it was tremendously physical — in effect a pummelling given by a former Ozzie surfing champ called Dennis. He described this as a massage of my internal organs and assured me it would release tensions bought on by stress and emotional discord from the muscles and intestines and allow more oxygen in during my breathing session.
Transformational breath has its roots in the work of psychologist Stanislav Grof. He discovered that breath work, when combined with psychotherapy, can take healing to a new level. Alan explained: “Breath is the lubricant that harmonises the aspects that make up a human being — it offers improved circulation, better brain functions, better energy levels and grounding.”
After a light vegetarian lunch I met up with Alan in the treatment room. He told me: “We generally use 30 per cent of our respiratory system and often only breathe into the upper chest. The aim is to use the whole system.”
He asked me to breathe in through an open mouth, to breathe deeply into the stomach as if filling a balloon and inhale slowly and exhale quickly — in the space of a heartbeat — then start the cycle again without any breaks. My mouth had to remain wide open throughout.
He used acupressure to help release physical and emotional pain and every now and then he’d whisper affirmations. He told me: “You are like a heart on legs. We must bring you into the rest of your body.”
It’s not natural to breathe in this way and it was a stretch to stay focused for 90 minutes. He egged me on: “We are looking for positive change, a rapid, permanent, change that achieves a feel-good factor and does not fade in time.”
The second session was easier. Yet the energy involved was surprisingly subduing and I yearned for nature.
I drove to the wine-growing region, La Geria, five minutes away, to lose myself in the unlikely vision of vines growing on soil made of volcanic ash. Knowing how to work this body of land and nourish the vines made the land productive. I wondered how well I knew my body.
By my third day I had grown fond of the quiet, the luxury of the villa and eating veggie cuisine. Dennis gave me an impromptu shoulder and neck massage by the pool and it hurt. I heard Alan saying: “Breathe into the discomfort”. I did, and when it was over I opened my eyes and that was the tipping point.
All at once, I had become dismantled and I simply fell in love. But with what? Alan? Dennis? The view? Or was it with life itself? I inhaled deeply as if to breathe in the moment hoping, as Alan promised, that it would never fade.
RETREAT Three nights including a transformational breath session per day, full board and transfers, start at £590 per person. Other activities include yoga, massages, volcano climbing, surfing and kite surfing, all priced at £70. www.breathguru.com