We go holistic for Body & Soul
The holistic approach is at the heart of all that Body & Soul is. It celebrates the coming together of the hedonistic and the wholesome, the combination of mindfulness and reckless abandon. It’s how it won its way into our hearts and gained its permanent felt-tipped-marker place on our calendars every year. The Holistic Haven area at Body & Soul has always been a morning and afternoon fixture for us. Whether it be for a healthy breakfast and juice, or for a workshop in yoga, massage, or even cooking, it injects a little nurture and wellness into a potentially full-on weekend…
Máire Ní G is one of Ireland’s only trained Taoists, and will be bringing her practice of Tai Chi and Tao to the Holistic Haven for the first time this year. She hopes the workshops will offer that break and a quiet grounding moment in the midst of the festival frenzy. Here, Maire filled us in on all the things we weren’t sure of when it comes to Taoism and Tai Chi, in preparation for one of her courses at Body & Soul. And we can now say that we understand what meridians are…
Could you explain Tao to a lay person who’s not sure what it refers to? Aha, well, this is a lifetime of learning! The Tao literally means ‘The Way’, although its meaning transcends words. It’s the source of all things. To live in harmony with the Tao is to understand the natural way of things. Taoism is a philosophy, a way of living, originating from ancient China, which makes today’s teachings more than 4,000 years old. There’s incredible wisdom in this tradition, and it is so applicable to our modern busy lifestyles, which are often punctuated by stress and ill health.
One of the reasons I felt drawn to Taoism is that it’s a path of self-mastery and empowerment. There’s no guru system – each of us finds our own way! Its roots are shamanic, and there’s a real honouring of nature and the cosmos, a reflection of our Inner Universe – what’s going on inside. Through practical exercises like the Inner Smile meditation, Tai Chi and Qi Gong/Chi Kung, greater grounding and a deeper connection to oneself is experienced. I had travelled all over the world over a number of years and dabbled with numerous spiritual traditions. The Tao was on my radar for a long while, but it was only when I studied in London with Anamarta and Kris Deva North that I understood how powerfully effective I am as a human being. Within a short period of time (I’m talking months and not years!) I noticed profound shifts of transformation within myself. I had discovered self-healing. Through the women’s Yin practices, Jade Circle, I embraced my femininity and whole mind-body-spirit health. And I was blown away by how simple and practical it all is. One thing that struck me is that unlike other traditions I had flirted with, the Taoist practice is a complete system – integrating physical exercise, meditation, martial arts, sacred sexuality and shamanic practice.
You will be teaching Qi Gong at Body & Soul – what does Qi Gong consist of? Qi Gong or Chi Kung is a system of movement and breathing to cultivate good health, promote vitality and longevity. It’s particularly effective for grounding and flexibility, one of the reasons a lot of students come my way. It consists of gentle, soft, flowing movements which allow energy to flow freely through the body as well as more static, standing postures to increase strength and power. These are blended with an awareness of the breath and a calm, contemplative state of mind. When you do Qi Gong, you develop an awareness of ‘heaven and earth’ chi – basically you learn to receive energy from nature around and from the universe above. We are natural conduits for this energy flow and Qi Gong facilitates this process to happen more effectively and to store it in our bodies. I hear most people say after a Qi Gong class that they feel energised and calm. One thing I really like about Qi Gong is that it’s accessible to people of all ages and levels of fitness; I have students aged from three years up to 70!
Explain the idea of meridians to someone who may not have come across it before. How can it improve your sense of well-being? So firstly, meridians refer to energy pathways in the body. They flow like a network of rivers and are related to different organs and glands, eventually branching out to transmit energy to every tissue and cell. Understandably, we want high-quality energy to flow freely through our meridians, because it has a major impact on our overall health and well-being. Doing Qi Gong provides a simple, effective way to recharge and rejuvenate the body as it helps prevent stagnation and imbalance.
As well as impacting on meridians, Qi Gong strengthens muscles, tendons, ligaments and bone. The organs and glands receive an internal massage, blood circulation increases and the nervous system is stimulated. And in a natural cycle, improvements to our physical health have a positive impact on our emotional, sexual and spiritual well-being. One of my students commented at the end of a class recently, ‘It’s pretty much the ultimate workout!’
What is it like practising Qi Gong outdoors at a festival like Body & Soul? Doing Qi Gong outdoors is what it’s all about! All of the energy is magnified in nature, with feet planted firmly on the cool earth and a view of the horizon. I always feel the healing, recharging effects of nature, and energetically the practices are so much deeper – it all happens so naturally. Nature is our true home – we just need to plug into it on a more conscious level to feel the benefits.
I teach Tai Chi and Qi Gong every summer in Phoenix Park and we embrace the elements, whatever comes. At Body & Soul, I think a lot of people will like the grounding elements of Qi Gong. During the buzz of the festival, it can be very balancing to take a bit of time out to connect with the earth and with yourself. I’ll be focusing on ways to detox and rejuvenate the body to make sure everyone’s festival fit! The classes are always fun – laughter is part of the alchemy, because really that’s one of the highest forms of spirituality!
Have you been to Body & Soul before now? This will be my first time at the Body & Soul Festival, although I’ve been to the Electric Picnic a good few times before and inevitably I spend most of my time in the Body & Soul Area … I just love it! There’s always such positive vibrations and creativity about the place. It’s like an holistic Disneyland, always something inspiring to see, hear, discover around every corner! And one thing I love about it is that it’s so easy to mingle and meet like-minded folk, chat about the wonders of the world or what you’ve just sampled in the food stalls! I’ve made some great friends at Body & Soul, and it’s so refreshing for the heart and soul to have those kinds of experiences. I’m really looking forward to trying other cool workshops and I know there are some lovely therapies on offer too. I’ll definitely be checking out the natural sauna and bath-tubs in the woods – yessss, please! I love music, and having a good ol’ boogie is an essential part of my health-and-happiness régime! The line-up is incredible – I’m mostly looking forward to Goldfrapp, Jon Hopkins and Mount Kimbie. I’ll be hanging with my brothers, old-skool style – one’s just back from Australia! Summertime equals festivals to me, and Body & Soul is the perfect mix for what I’m into.
Máire Ní G is one of the carefully selected practitioners at the Holistic Haven area at Body & Soul Festival, which takes place this Summer Solstice weekend, June 20th-22nd, in the grounds of Ballinlough Castle, Co Westmeath. For more information visit bodyandsoul.ie
Roisin Agnew @Roxeenna