If you don't drink, or would just like to see what it's like to go alcohol-free for a weekend and socialise in a supportive environment, this weekend's NZ Spirit Festival might be the event for you.
The three-day festival taking place from tomorrow until Sunday on Auckland's North Shore has been introduced to New Zealand by co-founders and life partners Nikki Rhodes Franko Heke.
Nikki is a yoga and meditation teacher who works with teen parents and youth offenders. Franko also teaches yoga and meditation, and is a sought-after musician at international wellness festivals.
Inspired by the successful Byron Bay and Bali Spirit Festivals, the alcohol-and-drug-free event will offer a weekend of entertainment, music and dance that's grounded in the culture of Tikanga Maori. During the daytime, six workshop spaces will offer sessions in holistic practices such as yoga, meditation, dance, traditional Maori massage, tribal drum workshops, kapa haka and more, while the evenings will give way to gathering and celebrating and connecting with one another.
In a culture like New Zealand's, where drinking alcohol is deeply embedded in the way we socialise, events like this are few and far between. But Nikki believes New Zealanders are ready to embrace "conscious partying".
"More and more we're waking up to the adverse effects that alcohol has on us, whether it's the weight gain around the middle or cancers or break-ups with partners, fights with our friends. More and more people are going alcohol-free a few nights a week, and a festival like this is really good practice for all those wanting to try something a bit different.
"People who want to be healthy, who want to feel better and not have that low the next day, be able to remember the night before - all those things that alcohol really steals from us - this kind of partying puts you in a place where there's also no pressure to drink."
Nikki, who at 31 has five university degrees, is a former University of Auckland lecturer on ancient medicine and has three children, has not touched alcohol in years.
"There were times where I had two or three a week and thought 'this is getting a bit of pattern' and I've pulled back, and as a teen I tried a bit too much a few times but it's never been something I've done a lot. My family are all heavy drinkers and I've watched it really be a thorn in their sides in many ways.
"Unless you're on the street holding a black plastic bag and drinking in the alleyway you're 'not an alcoholic' in New Zealand. But so many of us are living with a dependency on alcohol which is really inhibiting our relationships and our health. If you rely on alcohol to unwind at the end of the day, or to 'escape' then there is a dependency."
Nikki hopes the work she does with vulnerable young people will help derail some of that dependency in New Zealand. Nikki believes alcohol dependency exists in all facets of life in New Zealand "because we live in a world where we're constantly pushing ourselves".
She says the youth offenders she teaches yoga and meditation tell her 'for the first time in my life I have space in my brain'.
"With yoga, you can learn how to release stored energy. You get into a position and you hold it and as every muscle releases and relaxes you open up different energy centres of the body which are not really recognised in modern medicine but have been acknowledged for thousands of years as integral parts of ancient medicinal practices. You can become more mindful and slow down processes.
"Meditation slowly helps us understand that we are not our thoughts. The voices, the things you've heard as a kid, the wounding, it slowly gives you some sort of space between yourself and those thoughts; a chance to take the ones you want to work with and leave those ones you don't.
"So you begin to know yourself and what's going on within your self and then we can pause reacting to the kids, pause reaching for alcohol, pause hitting out."
Franko gave up drinking after attending a transformational Vipassana retreat five years ago.
"I was like many typical New Zealand young males, drinking excessively and doing drugs – I was a successful musician but I was depressed and unhappy. I had to break down to break through – and I've never looked back."
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