I had no idea what this festival was about when I purchased the tickets to it one day before the event! All I knew was that Serge, my movement coach, would be conducting a class on both mornings and I wanted to attend it.
Later on, I also found out my new friend Graedon from the Organic Mechanic was giving a talk on #consciousbusiness and that, together with the enticing list of workshops lined up for the event, sealed my decision.
What is it?
Essentially, the NZ Spirit Festival is a “celebration of well-being in all of its forms“.
Kind of like a yoga+music+dance+knowledge sharing holistic wellness event that was inspired by the success of the Bali and Byron Spirit Festivals.
The main themes of the event are Culture, Community and Environment with a strong emphasis on the indigenous heritage of Aotearoa (New Zealand).
After the Wim Hof workshop, I was asking around if anyone was heading up to Albany for the festival and through a mutual friend, I got a lift from Cameron Sims, the founder of Plant Culture who was giving a talk later that day.
It’s so cool how I’ve been consistently meeting new people who all seem to be a part of some ‘circle’ of special individuals who are creating waves in the world around us, ever since Serge responded to my FB post that fateful day.
We got to Kawai Pura Pura around 1pm, just in time for Graedon’s talk but when I got to Korero Zone, I found Graedon and a bunch of people standing outside the room. Apparently the workshops were running late by 20 mins. Yet here I was running up the hills because I was fretting about being late!
It had been a cold, rainy day and since we were in the Prema Cafe, I decided to get some Kai (food). That turned out to be the best vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free pizza I’ve ever had in my life! It also came with 2 salads and a hummus dip.
Organic Mechanic – The Conscious Business Revolution
Graedon started out with an activity where everyone to introduce themselves to the room and share any business experience they had. He was real chill about it and patiently listened intently to all 50+ attendees!
Considering we were running late, it felt like I was more worried than he was about not having enough time to share what he had prepared!
Eventually he shared his OM story. The following is what I remember off the top of my head and may not be the most accurate so forgive me Graedon!
He studied graphic design in university and like most uni students, lived on the typical student’s diet (think cup noodles, microwavable foods, caffeine and energy drinks 😋). He eventually got really sick with some serious gut issues and that was a turning point in his life. He took his health into his own hands and educated himself about nutrition and eventually healed himself through diet and lifestyle modification.
Back then, Graedon and his close friends also felt like the city was ‘sick’. It did not exuberate the kind of liveliness that they craved.
They wanted to do something to raise the positive vibes of the city. They didn’t know what they were going to do but that was their why.
Pooling together their knowledge of nutrition and business, they decided to try selling green smoothies at a stand at the La Cigale Market in Parnell.
Back then, nobody knew what that viscous green drink was and frankly, sometimes smoothies can be a little off putting (like sludge?). Eventually it caught on and their business has expanded to a permanent shack selling Acai bowls and kombucha too. These days you can find their kombucha in many health food stores too!
#consciousbusiness is basically what the name implies. Being conscious of how your business influences the world around you. Business are such huge vehicles of change and truly have the power to change the world.
Organic Mechanic is more than just a business. It is a social-movement that initially started out seeking to promote health and wellness through the products they sell. Today, OM also uses its influence to affect environmental, societal and communal change through the events and workshops they put up. Check out their blog and this article about consciousness to learn more!
Sacred Earth Medicine: Jules Bright
Straight after Graedon’s talk, I stayed for this next one. Again, I had not much of any inkling about what it would be about but the title definitely interested me as a student of Naturopathy.
Immediately, Jules and her two assistants began setting up the stage. Arranging Kawa Kawa branches and passing around a ‘Kawa Kawa elixir’ for us to try.
It tasted sweet and pleasant, warm and comforting with a hint of ginger I think. It felt soothing like a warm embrace from my mother and as Jules began to talk, I started noticing people were getting really comfortable and lying down on the ground to listen to her.
Jules’ talk was more like a storytelling session. It kind of felt like I was transported back to a time long forgotten where our ancestors would gather around a fire as a community and the elders would tell their stories passed down through the generations. It felt tribal, primordial and almost sacred.
It was a story about how we lived as hunter gatherers in the past. How we lived in perfect harmony with the seasons and life cycles. We would make long journeys from the mountains to the beaches in accordance to the appropriate seasons.
Julie’s voice was so soothing and her words painted such beautiful scenes. I closed my eyes and imagined myself being transported back in time, into her story. It was a magical and rather healing experience.
I later learned about her journey to where she was today. How she has travelled extensively and stay with indigenous peoples from India to Egypt. She has studied extensively and has a wide range of qualifications from a registered nurse to ambulance officer, Naturopath and Medical Herbalist, Rongoa (Maori Bush Medicine) practitioner, Reiki Master, Shamanic Practitioner and many more!
She has also “… attended many ceremonies and has been initiated by the Ancient Ones of the Quero Indians as an Earth Keeper and Wisdom Keeper. Her teachings have been endorsed by Maori chiefs and she has now been sent forwarth by a Native American Indian Chief to bring these teachings to the World.” (read more about her incredible story here)
I don’t know how to explain it but somehow in my heart, I knew this talk would be special from the moment I saw its title on the schedule. I knew it was a talk I had to attend. And that was before I knew anything about Jules Bright!
After the talk, something stirred deep inside me. I felt like I had to get to know her more and learn from her. Not just because everything about her spoke “nature” to me (which really resonates with my being) but also some higher power was calling or directing me to approach her and hopefully learn from her sometime in the future.
Hemp: Cam Sims
Next up, in the same room was Cameron’s talk about hemp.
I did not know much about Hemp to begin with but after this talk I have become a Hemp fan. From being an extremely dense source of nutrition to its myriad uses such as in clothing, building materials and even a solution to fossil fuels, it seems like there is nothing that Hemp can’t do!
I learnt about how Hemp has had a bad reputation because of the cannabis industry and how only a few species of Hemp are used for Marijuana. How there is so much legislation and control over the growing and selling of hemp and about Cameron’s mission to educate the public about the benefits of Hemp.
More specifically, Cam focuses on the use of Hemp seeds as a nutritional powerhouse and an extremely versatile culinary ingredient. In fact, just a week prior, Cam had successfully pulled off a pop up restaurant event where every course on the menu had hemp as one of the main ingredients – from Hemp Loafs to Hemp Hummus, Hemp Pesto, Hemp butter, Hemp Dukka, Hemp Pizza, Hemp Brownie, Hemp Chocolate, Hemp Cookies and Hemp Latte!
For the rest day one, I attended a few other talks which were great such as the Energy Education talk by Brian Berneman. But these mentioned above are were the highlights of my day!
730am: Power Serge – Physiculture
I was delighted to be able to attend Serge’s movement class in the morning. His classes are always my favourite way to start the day!
Our session this morning focused on a lot of squat work and bulletproofing our knees to prevent injury. We learnt how to pivot our hips and feet to create healthy reflex patterns to that would protect us from injury which often happens because of a sideways impact or twisting of the knee, sometimes due to faulty movement patterns.
There was also lots of play (exercises with partners which were more like movement games) and even movement riddles.
As usual, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and were brimming with energy at the end of the session!
9am: Animal Flow with Glen Crofskey
Having gone through the Spartan SGX coaching Level 1 certification, I was quite familiar with the ABCs (Ape, Bear and Crab) of animal movements. However, I’m always eager to learn and every instructor brings in his own unique perspective.
Glen started us off with some shaking and stretches, then some core activation before teaching us about the ABCs first statically, then dynamically. We then moved on to some travelling movements and finally, learned how to switch and transit.
It was all very well planned and progressive and a very different perspective to animal movements compared to the basics that I was trained in. Very comprehensive. In Glen’s own words, “I’ve taken a 2 day course and packed it into a 1 hour lesson!”
10am: Laughing Yoga
Glen and I promptly left for the Lotus Room where Nick from the Organic Mechanic was conducting his Laughing Yoga session.
He started with some statistics of how 4 year olds laugh about an average of 300 times a day (I think) while adults a meager 15 times. Also, how induced laugher or ‘fake laugher’ has similar physiological effects as real laugher.
Unlike a traditional yoga class, there weren’t many stretches. This one consisted mostly of a series of activities that centered around laughing to and with one another. Ha Ha ha. We would be moving around the room, imagining a scenario or role-playing to one another. For example “imagine you just discovered your ability to laugh!” We would make a surprised face and laugh at each person we passed.
One cool activity at the end was how we lay with our heads on another person’s belly, forming a kind of human caterpillar and laughing all the while. Our belly laughing would literally get into the head of the person lying on us!
By the end of the session, my face muscles were cramping and some people had caught a “laughing bug” to the extent that they could not stop laughing to themselves, even as we all lay down in Savasana pose for the final meditation.
By now, I was pretty hungry after 3 physical sessions back to back and decided to get some grub!
Lunch at the Prema Cafe would only start at 1215 so I explored the food trucks on site and one thing caught my eye – Nachos!
I gotta say I used to be a huge fan of cheese and would order extra cheese to go with my nachos at the movies and even then, would finish the cheese before the nachos! (literally drinking it 😁) However I have not had a nachos in months!
This plate of Nachos though… man it was the healthiest Nachos I’ve ever eaten!
Dairy and gluten-free with a homemade salsa and cheese sauce and some kale to top it off… besides more vegan cheese, it couldn’t have been any better. Next time you’re in Taupo, be sure to check out the Raw Balance deli for more healthy and delicious food!
Next, I headed back to Prema Cafe for lunch proper.
Today, an “Autumn pumpkin and eggplant vegan lasagna” dish replaced the Pizza from yesterday.
Once again, I had no regrets paying that $15 because it was irresistibly tasty and undeniably healthy! As a bonus, there were 3 dips today! All of which were terribly incredible. Hats off to the chefs!
I took my time to savor the dish on the porch outside the restaurant, enjoying every bit of sunshine I could get which was a stark contrast to yesterday’s weather.
Before I knew it, it was almost 1pm! Time for the much-anticipated Cacao Ceremony which Jules had mentioned yesterday that she’d be a part of and would consist of a fusion of 4 different cultures too.
1pm: Cacao Ceremony
Before the ceremony, we enjoyed a great performance by a group of people who played some really cool instruments like sound bowls and didgeridoos. In my naiveness, I actually thought that was the ceremony!
It was not until they finished and the organiser of the event told us to gather closer to the stage did I realize my mistake. Well, we were in for a real treat! (literally with hot chocolate!)
Bursting with anticipation, we patiently waited as the main performers set up the stage. Jules was back and it seems like she was the one who brewed the cacao as her assistants went to work setting up two distribution points at either sides of the stage.
Jules gave a brief explanation about the ceremony as our cacao drinks were being passed out to every guest.
Cacao ceremonies have been in practice for thousands of years. Since the time of the Aztecs and Mayans. In these ceremonies, cacao was used as a form of ritualistic medicine because they believed that cacao had a “heart opening” effect and allowed one to connect more deeply to one’s inner self or to the heart chakra, to release negative emotions and unlock euphoric states.
Science explains this through the active ingredients in cacao such as Tryptophan which our brains use to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter that can produce feelings of happiness. Phenethylamine, an antidepressant also found in cacao, promotes feelings of attraction, excitement and nervousness and is associated with the initial euphoria of falling in love. And finally, the Theobromine, a weak stimulant that works alongside caffeine to produce the characteristic ‘high’ that many people experience after getting their chocolate fix. 
After this, we tasted our ‘hot chocolate drink’ at our own time and pace.
I started by sniffing the aromas of the cacao. Immediately, I could tell its extraordinary richness. It was so fragrant that I just sat there for a couple of minutes, eyes closed, savoring the cacao aroma. Indeed, I was already in a happy place. 😊
When I finally tasted it, I was blown away by how rich it tasted! It was unlike any hot chocolate drink I’ve ever had. In fact, I was happy it did not have much sweetness or sugar added which would have dulled the real cacao flavors.
Then the songs began.
To this day, 3 days since the festival, I am still buzzing with the high from that sacred hour of music, singing, dancing and cacao.
The first song was slow but definitely a feel good song.
The highlight of the ceremony (and possibly the entire festival) was the second one though.
It was sung in a format such that each verse was repeated and the audience could participate too. We were all seated at the start, sort of just following along. However by the end of it, we were all on our feet, dancing and singing along to the music.
I cannot find the words to describe the atmosphere and spirit of that moment but hopefully the following video can convey what we felt. I initially intended to take a short clip but it was so good that I recorded till the end!
Now I’ve even converted it to an MP3 file to play on my phone and relive the memory of this amazing experience! Enjoy!
After the ceremony, I left to get a traditional Maori massage called a Miri Miri.
I’d seen people flocking to the tables all day. Every one of them highly recommended it whenever I asked. I thought it was a perfect way to end the festival after a long day of activity.
I wish could remember the name of my masseuse but alas, I am still getting used to Maori names. He was gentle yet firm and targeted the usual parts of the body most prone to tension and ‘blockages’.
I was told that this form of Rongoa (Maori Medicine) was more than a physical experience. It had the potential to release emotional and spiritual blockages within your body too.
2 really unique parts of the massage happened at the end – my masseuse dug his elbow deep into my abdominals, just below my stomach. Apparently this was the emotional ‘seat’ of the body. Besides the physical discomfort, I’m not sure if it did clear up any emotional blockages I had.
Lastly, when he was done, he used a water spray to spray the ‘aura’ around me.
That was very unexpected and apart from the sudden cold mist, it was actually refreshing! Like a cleansing veil of mist settling down on me like the morning dew fall, signalling the start of another day. That was magical.
Finally, I stopped by the Organic Knowledge food tent to take away a large bag of organic popcorn to share with my flatmates! I got a mix of all three flavors and we all agreed it was thoroughly satisfying!
The NZ Spirit Festival 2018 turned out much better than I could have imagined!
Although my spirit was a little down because of the cold rainy weather on Saturday, it did help that all the workshops I wanted to attend were indoors and almost in the same room!
Then Sunday came and our moods were as bright as the Sun that day! (pun intended😉) Again, I was thankful that the weather let up because most of the workshops I wanted to attend were at the main stage – exposed to the elements! Some serious divine intervention must have been going on.
It was also really cool how the entire festival had a healthy, holistic and wellness-centered vibe to it. Delicious organic, vegan, gluten- and dairy-free food was readily available everywhere and there was no alcohol, just your good ol’ Kombucha.
I remember Franko, the main organiser, commenting early on Sunday morning when he was cleaning up the trash at the main stage from Saturday night’s late night partying:
“Wow guys, it’s so cool how you can’t find any beer or wine bottles in the trash after a night of dancing and music eh? This is instagram worthy!” (Whips out phone to take picture of nicely laid out trash)
Lastly, I still feel the effects from being surrounded by amazing people throughout the weekend who just exuberated positive vibes. There was so much I learnt and so much inspiration drawn from these individuals. The entire community was special.
That night, I woke up at 1am and could not fall back asleep! My mind was abuzz with a thousand and one ideas and thoughts about how I wanted to impact the world positively and create change. Maybe it was the Cacao or maybe the euphoria of the Cacao Ceremony.
Whatever it was, this year’s New Zealand Spirit Festival has definitely left a deep impression on me and hopefully, has also been a catalyst for change in everyone else who attended too!