Looking to create a community in the Algarve focused on physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, yoga teacher Elena Menci formed The Haven Project
Elena Menci was introduced to yoga seven years ago, when she was working in the diamond industry in Dubai, and she fell in love with “the movements”, as she explains. Currently living in Vilamoura, this Slovak woman took up the challenge to become a yoga teacher and travelled to Bali, India and Majorca for her training.
“It’s a lifestyle that makes me look at the world from a different perspective,” she says. It was with this in mind that she dedicated several years to teaching the discipline in Dubai.
But how does Elena end up in the Algarve? “I had a comfortable life, but I was unhappy. I felt alone, stuck and frustrated. I did not want to stay in Dubai, but with such a vast world, it was difficult to choose where to go. I wrote a list of everything I was looking for: I wanted to avoid cities, to be close to my family, to be in touch with nature, a mild climate and the possibility of teaching in English,” she recalls.
All this led to her choosing Portugal. After short stays in Cascais and Ericeira, where she did not feel “connected with the surroundings”, it was in Vilamoura, in the summer of 2020, that she found the “place with the ideal environment” to live and establish her project. Her first class brought together a group of five golfers in Quinta do Lago and others followed in private villas in the area.
When finally restrictions began to ease, the yoga teacher saw an opportunity to launch The Haven by Elena Menci, a project that had been in the pipeline for over four years, which combines classes, workshops and retreats for a community of people focused on physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
Elena’s classes take place in Vilamoura, on the terrace of the Thai Beach Club, overlooking Falésia beach, on Wednesdays and Fridays at 9.15am.
Parque das Laranjeiras Hotel welcomes her class on Mondays at 6.30pm. All classes last one hour, with the first 30 minutes focusing on fast movements and the last 30 are for stretching on the mat. At the end, there is always time for a few minutes of meditation.
Since Elena started the project, all classes have been full, with about 15 to 20 people. She is also available for private sessions.
However, the essence of The Haven goes far beyond just classes. “I like to add value and show, through experiences, what yoga can offer. My goal is to create a community where people are connected to each other. I never liked those classes where, at the end, each student would just leave, without communicating. The class itself does not promote interaction, but I want to get around that and I’m already doing it. At the end of each class, there is always time to socialise and even enjoy vegan juices and snacks”, as is the case at the Thai Beach Club.
Another area in which the teacher wants to make a difference is at the monthly workshops she organises for her students, where yoga practice, socialising and other activities come together. The last took place at the 7 Seven Spa in Vilamoura, where, after a morning of practising the basics of yoga, its different disciplines and positions, the group enjoyed the sauna, jacuzzi and hydro massage tub.
“I want to do this once a month, and I have several ideas. For example, we could have a class on the beach, have breakfast and then rent stand-up paddle boards. This is how you create a community, with people getting to know each other and creating bonds. These are the first steps, and my main goal is to provide experiences,” she says. And the best thing about these experiences is that, according to Elena, yoga has physical, mental and emotional benefits and anyone can easily take to it, regardless of their age, with added benefits for sportspeople.
“It boosts mobility, improves flexibility, enhances lung capacity, helps combat anxiety and depression and gives us the tools to meditate and have greater control of the mind,” she assures.
In addition to classes and workshops, Elena also organises weekend and seven-day retreats in various locations. The next retreats are scheduled for May 7-14 and July 5-12 at the Wild View Retreat, in the Corgas Bravas area, 40 minutes from Vilamoura.