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A breath­work course in Por­tu­gal’s west­ern Al­garve.

SPA OF THE MONTH Mac­don­ald Monchique Re­sort & Spa, Por­tu­gal

As a busy work­ing mum with a cou­ple of young chil­dren, I leap at the chance to try a re­lax­ing Breath­work re­treat in a five-star ho­tel while my hus­band and kids ex­plore the sur­round­ing wood­lands of the West­ern Al­garve. For the unini­ti­ated, Breath­work refers to breath­ing ex­er­cises that im­prove men­tal, phys­i­cal and emo­tional health by al­ter­ing your state of con­scious­ness, re­leas­ing trauma, clear­ing block­ages, restor­ing spir­i­tual bal­ance and pro­vid­ing deep re­lax­ation, as well as detox­ing your body and mind.

HO­TEL Sur­rounded by fra­grant pine and eu­ca­lyp­tus, the Mac­don­ald Monchique Re­sort and Spa sits high up in the Serra de Monchique moun­tains. Min­i­mal­ist and mod­ern, the re­sort is made up of three blocks set into a hill­side, 30 min­utes from the beaches of the Costa Vi­centina. The ho­tel’s 185 suites fea­ture floor-to­ceil­ing win­dows and bal­conies or wrap­around ter­races.

THE SPA Small but per­fectly formed, the spa is tucked into the bot­tom of the ho­tel and boasts an ex­ten­sive Espa treat­ment menu show­cas­ing the ther­a­pists’ ta­lents. My back and neck mas­sage is one of the best I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced. This area of Por­tu­gal is

'I'm not scared, I just feel a deep sense of sad­ness and also a pro­found re­lease - I fi­nally feel at peace.'

known for its heal­ing ther­mal wa­ters, and the ho­tel’s spa is a so­phis­ti­cated space fea­tur­ing be­spoke steam, sauna and sen­so­rial show­ers. There’s also a re­lax­ation room and Zen gar­den.

THE FOOD I drag my­self away from the re­lax­ation room for lunch at the ho­tel’s restau­rant, Mon-Chic. Din­ing on the ter­race above the out­door pool is a fan­tas­tic way to ap­pre­ci­ate the beauty and seren­ity of our sur­round­ings – miles of green slopes and only a hand­ful of other guests. The food is a tri­umph; the rose­mary-smoked chicken is divine; the gaz­pa­cho soup ex­cep­tional.

Din­ner is more for­mal than lunch, with a set three-course menu show­cas­ing lo­cal spe­cial­i­ties. The staff can of­fer al­ter­na­tives and I sam­ple op­tions from the Well­be­ing menu – my favourite is a knock-out ve­gan choco­late mousse.

THE BREATH­WORK On the day of the Breath­work re­treat, I take my place on a yoga mat in near-dark­ness among a dozen strangers in a meet­ing room and wait ex­pec­tantly. The screen above us shows feed­back from pre­vi­ous par­tic­i­pants, prais­ing it as the most

pow­er­ful heal­ing method they’ve tried and cred­it­ing it as life chang­ing. My ex­pec­ta­tions are high, but I’m ner­vous – what if I can’t get the breath­ing right? – and scep­ti­cal; how can breath­ing be trans­for­ma­tive?

Martin McNi­choll, the charis­matic cre­ator of Ac­ti­vate Breath­work – a guided mul­ti­sen­sory breath­ing ex­pe­ri­ence – as­sures us we’ll mas­ter the breath­ing and feel the ben­e­fits. I lie on the mat, eyes cov­ered, and fol­low Martin’s in­struc­tions, breath­ing in time with the mu­sic – as it crescen­dos, so too does my breath­ing, be­com­ing faster and shal­lower. The com­bi­na­tion of short breaths, in­cense, drum­ming and guided med­i­ta­tion soon makes me light headed.

Af­ter an in­tense hour, the mu­sic stops and Martin en­cour­ages us to re­flect on how we’re feel­ing. There’s no deny­ing I feel calmer and more re­laxed. Then we’re en­cour­aged to think about who or what we needed at a time of high stress. Sud­denly, I’m ly­ing prone on an op­er­at­ing ta­ble, surgeons at my feet and my hus­band by my side, un­der­go­ing an emer­gency C-sec­tion. Tears of fear and re­lief, mixed with other, more com­pli­cated emo­tions, river down my cheeks. I’m not scared – I just feel a deep sense of sad­ness and a pro­found re­lease. Thanks to breath­work, I fi­nally feel at peace with the fright­en­ing way in which my sons were born.

GET AC­TIVE Dur­ing the next few days, I try some of the free fit­ness classes on of­fer, in­clud­ing a chal­leng­ing boot­camp in the sun-soaked grounds of the ho­tel. Yoga and Pi­lates are also on of­fer. That af­ter­noon, we visit the in­door pool, but there are also out­door pools, a state-of-the-art gym, hik­ing or bik­ing in the coun­try­side or you can try ac­tiv­i­ties from kayak­ing to bird­watch­ing.

COST Suites cost from £87 per night on a B&B ba­sis, based on two shar­ing. A Breath­work Day, in­clud­ing a Sen­so­rial Spa ex­pe­ri­ence, Ac­ti­vate Breath­work ses­sion and an Ac­ti­vated healthy lunch costs from £205 per per­son; mac­don­ald­monchique.com.

The food is ex­cep­tional

The stun­ning out­door pool pro­vides wel­come re­lief from the mid­day heat

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