What a Month in India Taught Me About Yoga

What a Month in India Taught me About Yoga
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Before I begin I want to make clear that the views expressed here are purely objective and that I’m only going on what I experienced, not an in-depth study or survey.

‘What are the differences between practicing yoga in the West and practicing in India?’

This is a question I’ve been asked quite regularly in recent weeks, having embarked on a solo trip with no definitive end on the basis of exploring the ancient practice and contrasting attitudes towards the study of yoga around the world (well in Asia, anyway).
To be honest, I came to India expecting (or maybe hoping) to experience some sort of revelation when it came to my yoga practice, the stories I’ve heard having inspired me to explore the places most attributed with the origins of yoga and somehow find or realise something I haven’t before by immersing myself completely in a strange country and alternative habits, values, and climates. I wanted to really push my boundaries and experience yoga as a lifestyle properly for a little while, embracing new aspects and styles with unfamiliar surroundings and people – places you don’t see on Instagram or enticing Google adverts boasting a luxury yoga retreat and 5-star accommodation. In a way, that’s kind of what happened.
In another way, it’s not. At all.

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It sounds obvious to me now, but the biggest thing I’ve realised since coming to India is that it really doesn’t matter where, when, why, or how you practice – yoga is both universal and intensely personal. Yoga is as unique to each practitioner as their individual height, weight, hair colour, daily nutritional requirements and sleeping patterns. Each person’s practice is their own, no matter where you do it, for how long, or at what intensity.

Or at least it should be.
Strangely, one of the things that brought me to this realisation was attending classes that seemed very impersonal, and I was surprised to find that some of the guided classes I attended in McLeodGanj (Dharamsala, North Indian province of Himachal Pradesh) in particular lacked in creativity. Disappointingly they felt like going through the motions of a standard fitness class in the gym back home. At the same time, I understood the reasons behind these elements of the practice.
After speaking with several yoga-instructor friends and enthusiasts alike, I came to understand that some of the more established Indian yogis (I won’t name names for obvious reasons) have been doing the same ‘routine’ sequence and practice every day for over 40 years. Because of this, it has become almost mechanical in its routine progression, and one could almost argue that anyone who’s attended enough of the classes to learn the routine by heart could in theory also ‘teach’ a class themselves.
I want to be careful how I vocalise this, but the truth is I found that this sameness has both positive & negative aspects.

On the positive side, the benefits of 40 years of consistent Ashtanga practice are blatantly apparent in the physique and steady, controlled way these yogis speak.
It’s also inspiring to see that the practice itself has become a sort of constant for them, in the way that prayer or religious devotion has for the many Buddhist monks and nuns inhabiting the Northern Himachal Pradesh Himalayas. It’s ritualistic, which can be a valuable thing in a modern world that otherwise lacks rituals.

On the negative side, the lack of creative exploration & facilitation for the fluctuations of the body from day to day during these routines flies in the face of one of my own beliefs about the practice of yoga – that it is a way of accepting and appreciating change with ease and grace, being open to and moving with it, instead of resisting.

I cannot help but marvel at the depth, widespread popularity, and general understanding and acceptance of the entire practice of yoga in India. I have already learned to open up and trust myself and those around me more thoroughly than I thought possible.
For me, this is what yoga is all about – opening up (both physically and mentally) and accepting what is. Trusting what you have and that which is constantly in flux around you, instead of creating unnecessary anxiety worrying about things outside of your control. A feeling of harmony in body and mind. Harmony within your place in the world.
This includes change.

Change and evolution are part of who we are, the only two constant reliable elements of life that we can depend on outside of our own minds. Being able to tolerate and adapt to natural and environmental changes is crucial for so many reasons, and it confused me to see some of the yogis upholding a practice that seemed quite stagnant and repetitive, unbending even. Maybe I’m just too used to attending creative classes that adapt and cater for the elements and our bodies – a rainy day class at home in Yogahub Dublin once focused on shoulder and chest-opening poses in response to the week of horrible weather we’d just experienced, hunched over and hurried pacing a necessity with disregard to posture or discomfort.
But it seemed to me that the whole ‘oh she’s gone to do yoga in India’ myth and expectation of self-understanding and epiphany-gaining experience is exactly that – a myth.

This is what I mean by having an evolving practice. India as a country is still evolving; it is a land of extremes. Colours, tastes, wealth, poverty, heat, rain…you name it, India has an extreme to meet it.

Avoiding extremes and finding balance has been part of my own yogic journey, and I found the almost extreme lifestyle and all-or-nothing vibe of several of the yoga studios and gurus I attended to be somewhat overwhelming and contradictory in their message. That being said, there were several teachers that were more supple in their ideologies and achieved a more rational balance between the unchanging ritual & the realities of a living daily practise, so I can’t be too generalistic here either.

My point in writing this was to express what I’ve learnt, and to disprove the theory that yoga can only be learned correctly or experienced fully by travelling to India. I’m guilty of harbouring beliefs such as this, although deep down I sort of knew the truth for what it is – that yoga is accessible anywhere, to anyone, and in whatever capacity you have to experience it and your own body. Even on a balcony in a tiny hostel in Sri Lanka where the cleaning lady tries to sweep crumbs and dust from within an inch of the mat around you. I’m still practicing. I’m still moving. Evolving, changing. And that’s ok too.

 

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The Importance of Establishing Trust Whilst Travelling

The Importance of Establishing Trust Whilst Travelling

 

 ‘If fear is holding you back just remember that in general, places are safer and people are kinder than you may expect. Discovering this is one of the beautiful benefits of travelling’ – Justin Alexander

“Be careful. Mind yourself. Take care. Be safe.”
Anyone who’s embarked on a journey further than the corner shop or into town for the day has heard the warnings.
What if you get robbed? Knocked down? Attacked? What if you don’t understand what they’re saying?

Travelling places you directly in the firing line to be stifled and stagnated by these often irrational fears – yet also to conquer them. To experience humanity in all it’s confusing and miscommunicative glory, and for once, to let go and trust it.

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Finding and attending sunrise yoga sessions overlooking the Himalayas, meditating on the mountaintop at Tushita, jamming with local and Israeli musicians at Jolly’s and in tiny cafés and bars hidden away down windy paths in the mountains, and some of the best and cheapest monk-made vegetarian food at Tibetan and Indian restaurants where nobody actually speaks any English….2 years ago these things would have seemed impossible and terrifying for me.

I’ve experienced the anxieties, and I’ve now learned to surrender to the language barriers and embrace my fellow humans as the kindred souls they are. As a solo female traveller in particular, the warnings I received about India were enough to make me doubt my decision the entire flight over here. While an element of common sense is required in navigating unfamiliar soil and encountering cultures and people unaccustomed to communicating with pale-skinned, ginger women, in general, my experience here has been altogether more comfortable than the warnings had led me to expect – something which has left me ashamed of my paranoid actions (or lack thereof) on more than one occasion.

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Building bridges

Having become so used to this typically Irish paranoia, self-consciousness, and disinclination to trust ourselves or others we have come to adopt as the norm, I only realise now how much I was limiting myself in denying the natural inclination and need all humans possess to communicate and be open with one another. Given that communication leads to understanding, and understanding lies at the root of any harmonious relationship – be it mind and body, our relationship with ourselves, with friends, family, food – every aspect of our lives, it follows that the initial first step to reach out and interact with another human is often the most daunting, yet rewarding action we can take.
In the travelling/backpacking scene (in Asia, anyway) it may seem easier to speak to and make new acquaintances as everyone seems in the same boat – all secretly sipping beers or coffees in the underlying hope that the attractive guy across the bar will make the first move and ask you to accompany him to see the temple tomorrow (*swoon*).
We need to stop assuming.
We need to take action for ourselves, be more assertive and attentive to our own needs in the moment, and trust whatever natural direction we receive, be it from the kind stranger who just returned a 10 rupee note you dropped by accident, or the vague gestures of locals towards a forest path with not a word of English to accompany their directions. 9 times out of ten you will find their intentions to be genuine and heartfelt, even if their initial scowls or frowny faces may suggest otherwise. Some cultural differences will never change. It’s a shame that I still sometimes feel the apprehension before trusting the directions or unprovoked aid of a local on the street, but I’ve learned finally to open up and trust their lack of agenda for what it is – honesty.

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New friends and good food…

Travelling has helped me see that people aren’t so bad, really.
Discovering the kindness and hospitality of the Indian and Tibetan people I’ve encountered during my short time here has been fulfilling and heartwarming, and part of the reason I’m so reluctant to leave. While I have been careful not to walk too far alone at night or to concern myself with any ‘dodgy’ looking characters, I’ve found it’s the times when I’ve opened my mouth and made the first greeting, comment, or question to a fellow traveller or local that I have been rewarded with a flicker or flame or warmth and friendship – sometimes lasting no longer than a cup of chai, sometimes a whole week of meeting up for yoga classes, activities, or meals. Climbing mountains with new acquaintances and not being afraid to show your true self or embrace your lack of umbrella in a downpour at the Taj Mahal during monsoon season is about as freeing and grounding an experience as any I can hope to ever have again.

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An Irish & an Indian climb a mountain…

After all, aren’t we all just doing our best to keep going? Keep meeting, discovering, and moving onwards to the next destination, even if it’s just down the road? In my experience you are 10 times more likely to encounter kindness than nasty or dangerous behaviour whilst on the road, and discovering the importance of trust and my capacity to remain calm in these situations has already led me to several places and friendships with people and places I never would have experienced had I remained in my ‘safe’ bubble of a hostel room. While an element of self-awareness and common sense is also necessary, the key is to find a balance between overly-analysing the outcome of potential interactions and ultimately ruining them for yourself before they ever happen, and just going with them without thinking. I’ve come to a peaceful middleground where both sides are now available to me, and now just appreciate that I have the opportunity to experience it all.

 

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Bhagsu Waterfall, Dharamsala

 

 

 

Yoga For Creativity & Connection, and Why I Want to Teach

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The Yogabarn, Ubud, Bali

CONNECTION and communication lie at the heart of all our experiences and have profound influence on the way we live our lives.
Humans are sociable creatures – we THRIVE on interaction with others. Yet because of this we often lose touch and suffer miscommunication with the one most important relationship any of us have – our relationship with ourselves.
By helping others to see this and to subsequently address the way they treat themselves and put it into practice, we contribute to their overall wellbeing and as such (in the long term), to society as a whole. This is why I want to be a yoga teacher.

I love to talk, to explore new ideas and places, and most of all, I love to connect. I see connection and interaction as the single most important means of attaining fulfillment, of enjoyment and progressing forwards, and of existing within our ever-evolving and increasingly isolating society.

I have passion. I have buckets of this undirected enthusiasm, dedication, and drive that is waiting to be deposited somewhere relevant; somewhere it can be made matter. I have so much potential to contribute to something amazing – and I am aware that I have the ability to do so. Yoga has provided me with the tools to believe this, and to direct this energy correctly; to channel it effectively in order for me to succeed in my creative pursuits, thus rendering my ‘passions’ (which have always existed) somehow more relevant. It has allowed me to glean an in-depth understanding into the way my own mind and body works, and instead of frantically trying to escape or change this – to sit with, appreciate, and respect it for what it is; knotty hair and dry skin included. For within the external imperfections there lies a potential that is just waiting to grab the next wave of opportunity when I’m feeling inspired or enthusiastic or energised. It’s always there, just lying low until I tap into it through my yoga practice.

I am also aware that many others like me possess this potential, and seek direction and guidance for which to do so too. This is another reason I wish to teach. The overwhelming tragedy of ideas and inspiration and unrealised potential being wasted on anxiety and circumstantial or locational misery is honestly very saddening to me, and I wish to aid this creativity and potential, however small, however ‘irrelevant’ or trivial it may seem, to come into being. Everything deserves to be given a chance. So do you.

In channeling my creativity through the energy and focus I achieve from practicing yoga, I have been able to increase my dedication, output, and potential for further exploration of these ideas. It’s not all going to come at once, but I’ve come far enough now to notice the difference between what I achieve on a day when I’ve done my yoga practice and a day when I haven’t.

Connection strengthens us all, and when you’ve included and taken into account your own self within that mainframe of responsibilities and polite interaction, the potential created becomes endless.

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The unpictured side of yogaclass in Ubud…shoes everywhere!

Excess is Easy – Yogahub Dublin, and the Benefits of Regular Practice

A poem I wrote here early last month inspired by the changes I’ve experienced through regular yoga practice has led me to further explain my new obsession with yoga!

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Excess is Easy 

Excess is easy. That much I know for sure. Too much, too little, too often. It is one of the easiest things to let ourselves indulge in the safety of the extremities. It takes courage, balance and practice to remain upright in the midst of it all, and stay grounded in the middle of chaos. Being aware that there will always be limitations, and things we cannot do – yet along with these limitations will be good things; positive and progressive possibilities with every new movement.

Yoga and the Yogahub in particular have helped me achieve some of the balance required to walk along the narrow space between these extremes I used to bounce between.
Already on my way through a slow but steady recovery, a regular, daily yoga practice added into my daily routine proved the missing link between the confused streams of thoughts that raced through my head on a daily basis. The breath being added back into my conscious flow of thought aided to bring me back to the now, to the moment of what is happening as I speak, as I write, as I sit here.

It reminded me that it is ok to occupy the space I have been given on this earth, within the often disagreeable walls of my body. It is ok, and perfectly acceptable to be myself, to be in my own skin, and to allow myself to enjoy being within it, even if I’m not always it’s biggest fan.
The Yogahub provides a healthy and friendly atmosphere for me to learn all of this, and to relearn it as required – because balance is not something you can achieve once and expect to be able to attain again at the click of a finger. Even though it is always fairly accessible, there is a constant upkeep and awareness required to maintain it – much like the physical balance required to ride a bike.

In the monthly unlimited membership I took out at the beginning of September with the Yogahub, I not only found this kind of strong balance in daily practice and attending classes, but it was a stable balance. Stable enough to maintain for a prolonged period of time.The variety of classes available, styles and flexible timetable really allowed me to personalise my practice and accomodate for all levels and intensities, to suit how I was feeling on a given day. Each friendly face glows with a welcoming smile as you step foot inside the doors, whether for a random drop-in class or a scheduled flow, the delicious HappyFood vegan and vegetarian café providing the perfect pre or post – class fuel to help your body move through the hour.

I’ve realised during my month with the Yogahub that yoga teaches me not to rush ahead – to remain calm and to accept what is happening when it does. There is no use in constantly casting your gaze forwards, anticipating anxiously things that are beyond your control. The one thing within my control is my own body – not even my mind is always controllable. With yoga, my focus is shifted back to the physical power which resides within my body, and the very fact that I was bringing this body on a daily trip in to the city centre to the Yogahub was enough to begin the positive reactions within, and aid me to maintain a comfortable and healthy distance from all extremities I used to reside in.

The people at the Yogahub eminate this contentedness and oneness with the world, hippie-style ‘tree-hugger’ labels really not being necessary or applicable in this sense – it’s just a truly calming place. The huge variety of yoga styles means that everyone is catered for, no matter what level, and each class welcomes newcomers with open arms (or elbows, knees, hips, legs, whatever you’re stretching into at the moment!!).

 In moving my body, and staying with it as it goes, I have grown more accepting of both it’s limitations and it’s strengths. I appreciate what it does for me, and I work daily toward improving it so it can bring me where I want to go, and move me all the different ways I want to move, difficult poses and balance included.

It will always be an ongoing thing – constant maintanance and awareness is what is needed, and the Yogahub has given me the strength to accept that I will need to maintain this. It requires effort and practice, yet each time now that I return to the mat and begin my practice, I feel the benefits mentally before even beginning to move.

The extremities are always going to be there, and I may not always be able to avoiding brushing off them from time to time. Instead of shying away from them and fearing the downs and bad days however, I try now to embrace them for what they are, and allow them to serve as a foundation on which to start rebuilding a new day, a new practice, and new movement. We’re only human, and I feel that limiting yourself too much in anything inevitably leads to an equalising swoop in the opposite direction, as your mind and body try to balance things out. In maintaining as level a field as possible for as long as possible, the breadth of that level is strengthened, and makes it easier to stand on.

It’s probably a good thing that the monthly membership limited me to one class per day though, as there were days where I wanted to stay and do more! On these days I had to pull myself up on the urge and remind myself that excess also comes in the form of good things. Finding and maintaining this balance is how I have come to be where I am now, and I am looking forward (but not too far!) to re-commencing my practice with the Yogahub as soon as I return home from travelling.

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Statue of The Buddha at the Royal Palace of Cambodia

#onlypositivevibes

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Days 3 -5 in Cambodia and Why I’m Going to Stop Numbering Them

From Connemara to Cambodia

Days 3 -5 in Cambodia and Why I’m Going to Stop Numbering Them

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The Royal Palace of Cambodia

It’s funny that as soon as I finally have something and somewhere to write about regularly and keep people updated with that I find it difficult to get the right headspace and time to sit and actually write it. I think the main and most important difference is that I’ve been so busy, no longer having the time to spend thinking about travelling and being elsewhere and doing something different, seeing new things – I am now finally living those thoughts and wishes, and no longer stuck in the repetitive cycles and mindset of not being in the moment – because I am all here. I am doing the something different, I am seeing the new things.

I’ve never been so fully engrossed in a place or trip or country as I have been this past week, and it’s only starting to hit me that this is actually my new home until Christmas. As the ‘holiday’ mode wears off and we begin to settle in to our new surroundings, there’s a sense of identity and self-sufficiency that comes along with it unlike any I’ve experienced before.

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Floating lilypads outside the Royal Palace

The confusion over tuk-tuk prices, haggling at the markets, getting lost down unfamiliar streets and tasting all kinds of new and strange foods I swore I’d never even take a whiff of before is all part of the excitement of learning to live a new lifestyle, and accepting and appreciating things as they are in the moment. I’ve come so far out here – travelled over 16 hours, saved up the money and challenged myself so I have time to spend growing accustomed to and experiencing a new way of life, to shake up my own and prove to myself that there are other ways of being, thinking, and living than the stagnancy I had become so accustomed to. Even though it’s different, and I’m enjoying every second, I’m not going to limit myself to it either – we must always keep moving.

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New friends!

There are so many things to experience, so many places, people, and routes to take, that has made me realise that ultimately the only thing keeping my head clouded and in the darkness before was my own negativity and inability to appreciate the light in the world. That’s easy to say as I sit in the shade from a glorious 34 degree ray of sunshine in South East Asia, but I’m talking figuratively here aswell as literally!

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Spotless grounds of the Palace

Our visit to the Genocide Museum of Phnom Penh was eye-opening to say the least, and shed some light on the dreary history of Cambodia which we’d heard about, yet failed to understand in detail before. The rows of cells and torture mechanisms still in existence (some fully furnished) and barbed wire on the outside of the buildings to prevent suicide attempts as the innocent prisoners suffered under the Khmer Rouge really shook me to the core and reminded me that all is never what it seems.

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Block of Prison Cells in The Genocide Museum, many still containing the locks, chains, and torture instruments which bound prisoners

The “Land of Smiles” which we’d been introduced to the country as suddenly seemed all the more powerful as a title, as we considered the hardships the Cambodian people have been through in such a short space of time (it has been a mere 40 years since the prison was in use). To have the resilience and strength as a population and city to recover from such horrors and progress onwards after any growth of the sort being stunted for years is admirable, and even though they seem to struggle still with poverty and wellbeing, the general standard of living around here seems to be simple, yet sustainable.
In the end, isn’t that all we want? To be able to sustain ourselves, in an uncomplicated and easygoing way, without getting too caught up in trivialities and superficial worries that are ultimately damaging to our beings and make things harder on all around us?

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“Never will we forget the crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea regime”

The young monks we observed around the Royal Palace of Cambodia and Wat Phnom on our final day as ‘tourists’ before starting teaching placements embodied this peace of mind and simpicity of lifestyle, their brightly coloured orange robes informing the world of their devout nature.

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I found it interesting to discover that there are 3 main reasons a young Buddhist enters the monkhood, the first being an obvious devotion to the religion, and need to shorten the distance between himself an The Buddha in a personal vocation to search for Enlightenment. The second occurs only if a family is too poor to send the son to school, or to afford to keep providing for all children in the family. Any young boys who find themselves at an age suitable to entering the practice are morally required to do so, to lessen the strain upon the family and expand potential for their own futures. The third and probably most surprising reason a monk enters into the practice is as an element of the recovery process from addiction, mostly drug-related in Cambodia, but also involving alcohol and other ‘soul-damaging’ practices within the Buddhist community. While all young monks have the choice to enter into the practice, not all monastic undertakings are definitive, with a ‘temporary’ Bhikku (young monk) merely taking the robe for a few weeks, months or years of his life to dedicate some time to a monastic and detached life.

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Young Monks at the Royal Palace

I tried taking a picture of a small group of monks from a distance, and was taken aback as one laughed, raising his own iPhone in response to take a picture of me!

It really just proved in a very peaceful and lighthearted way that our cultures have so much to learn about one another, and that exposing ourselves to them can only lead to a further understanding and acception not only of ourselves, but of the world around us and our space within it.

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Buddha….

The traditional meals of Cambodian Banh Cheo, a sort of flour pancake served filled with broad beans and a peanut sauce, and another containing tofu and stir fried vegetables were interesting to experience, and really added to the shift in our mindsets from being mere backpackers and tourists to working ‘citizens’. It’s strange to think that from today onwards we will be contributing to society and sharing knowledge necessary for our young students to expand their own horizons in the future, and hopefully understand a bit more about Western culture.

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Sideview

While the main tourist attractions served as a great way to further our knowledge of the city we are about to take up a lengthy residence in, there is a certain reassurance in being on the way to a more settled environment and day-to-day structure, even if it will be interspersed with various national holidays and days off! We’re excited for the next stage of the journey and to meet the students and staff of our school.

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Interns on the steps of Wat Phnom!

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European Vs Irish Music Festival – What We’re Missing Out On

Okay, so it’s not as if I’m pretending to be an expert or hardcore attendee of music festivals all over the world, but I like my music, I like my festivals, and I just thought I’d express some opinions and realisations I’ve had here after attending Sziget festival in Budapest last week.
As someone whose general vision and experience of music festivals has up until now included multiple layers of clothing, umbrellas, ponchos, muck, and copious amounts of alcohol, the differences between this European festival and the likes of Electric Picnic or Forbidden Fruit at home were something that hit me at every single colourfully signposted and culturally unique corner.

 First of all, and probably most obviously; the weather. Having gone from being a total newbie to the interrailing lifestyle, my opinion of European climates ranging from varying extremities of heat to cold and ‘home’ as a default becoming all jumbled up in my head all meant I hadn’t given the temperature much thought before I left. Luckily my instincts overpowered at this point as the word ‘holiday’ seems to have been engrained upon my brain, triggering an unconscious reaction to pack only Summer clothes.
The weather in Budapest at Sziget this year rarely dropped below 30 degrees, something which makes or breaks a pale ginger Irish fresh-air junkie such as myself, especially considering the lack of air conditioning available whilst camping (I’ll give you a guess – there’s none!!). Not to mention the constant battle with our neighbouring ant colony to keep the tents clean and cool enough to actually provide some sort of respite from the blaring midday heat. I’ve gotten to the stage now where I know better than to even try to withstand a sun like that for longer than a few minutes at a time, and dreams of attaining an actual tan from it are frankly laughable, so my bottle of factor 40 came with me everywhere I went.
My one main complaint with festivals at home has always been simply that it has been too cold. There’s only so many times you can justify standing waiting for one of your favourite bands, shivering beneath layers of soaked plastic ‘waterproof’ jackets and squelching along miserably back to a tent that may or may not yet have been flooded, trampled on, or worse – inhabited by unknown drunkards mistakenly thinking they’ve found their own resting hovels. Of course, this may be where the tendency to over-indulge in alcohol comes into play at Irish festivals – any excuse to keep warm and be able to sleep somewhere you usually wouldn’t put your dog to rest is surely going to sound like a good option after dutifully standing in wait for hours in unpredictable and rowdy crowds at varying levels of intoxication.
But this is what I mean. The good weather lent itself to every aspect of the festival abroad. Not only did it allow us to enjoy the daytime activities and decorative features for what they really were – a makeshift ‘beach’ and volleyball courts adding hugely to the ‘holiday’ feel of the place – but the sun and warm weather put everyone around in a good mood, and generally just brought out the best in everything. In that heat, tolerance for alcohol is down, so one or two drinks is all that was necessary to obtain a good buzz; even at that there were days where I completely avoided the bars, not by choice, just by sheer preoccupation with the amount of things there were to do and see around me. This in itself is a huge contrast to any festival at home, where the general consensus once entry has been successfully gained and tents hurridly pitched is to ‘head for the bar’ or ‘meet back here for pints’. Starting as you mean to go on only really works when the festival itself only lasts a day or two – a week of that kind of debauchery would be enough to cripple even the most seasoned festival-drinker.
Even so, it was amazing to see all those different walks of life and nationalities merging together in one place like a giant Noah’s Ark, as representatives of each country arrived and set up camp in twos and threes. All this in the love of music, life, and having a good time really succeeded in cementing in my head that life is for living, enjoyment, and sharing that love through a balance of art, music, and a general understanding of one another.

If there is one thing human beings from all corners of the globe love more than anything, it’s having a good fucking time and enjoying the fuck out of what little time we have here.

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The experience of the likes of a week-long festival such as Sziget being condensed down into a 3-day pissup in a field in Laois is something which really opened my eyes to the state of Irish festivals and our attitude towards them in general. Although Sziget is very much a limbo kind of paradise in that many travellers attend as a stop-off on an interrailing trip, it still manages to stand alone as an ‘Island of Freedom’, as they call it, and I spent a few content mornings alone wandering the island as the sun came up and many of the hardcore stragglers stumbled home or collapsed under various trees and bushes dotted in the mainstage area – none of the bars or DJs in the arena stopped until 5.30am, something we sadly discovered after setting up camp less than 50 metres away from one.
This closing time is something that in Ireland would only tempt fate and end badly, yet here it somehow worked with such a culturally diverse crowd of attendees merely looking to meet new people and share in the delights of such a positive and interesting atmosphere. Again, this idea of music and the arts bringing people together is more successfully executed and appreciated due to a better attitude towards alcohol comsumption and social norms – people actually talked to one another in these ‘clubs’, and I found the best place to make new friends was literally – anywhere you wanted to do so. All you had to do was look around, smile, and ask someone where they were from. Of course, this might just have been the incredible holiday-atmosphere and general happiness of everyone in attendance, but it’s difficult to imagine getting a similar reaction everytime at a festival in Ireland – people would think you’re either extremely drunk or just really creepy.

Of course a lot of this is all a massive generalization, as I’m still 100% going to attend Electric Picnic again this year, and more than likely enjoy it immensely. The main difference will be that this time I’ll be making sure to keep a broader mind when it comes to evaluating my understanding and appreciation for it, and hopefully experience more of the cultural and artistic side of things than I have before. Maybe this time I’ll also try to be aware of the various nationalities that (I’m sure) are always in attendance. Sziget has opened my eyes to the world through musical and creative displays of individuality, yet contrastingly has also helped me draw many parallels between myself and other human beings; this European melting pot (in 39 degree heat, this sometimes became literal!) and hub of life, activity, and 200,000 people roaming about a field in their own filth and excessive food and drink consumption, all just silently in search of love or some other form of connection with someone else – because in the end that is what we all seek, is it not? Not necessarily love, or a partner, or a means of procreation – it is merely companionship; likeminded souls who share a similar disposition and understanding of our situations, regardless of background, heritage, culture, or previous successes or failures. These are all just things which become wrapped up in negative and unecessary tension. They do not really matter. For a week on end I shared a common location, contentment, and various experiences with walks of life I never could have dreamed of encountering were it not for this fantastic festival.

As eye-opening as most travel can be in this respect, there was something extra special about the context in which people came together at Sziget. It wasn’t just to satisfy a niggling wanderlust, or to escape from a hometown or a job for the weekend, or even just an exuse to get drunk – it was out of a genuine love for music, life, and a celebration of all the good things there are to be had from this combination if we just do it right and balance it out. While it differed immensely from my experiences of music festivals at home, I’m certain now that when I next attend an Irish festival, I will do so with a completely different attitude, between expectations, enjoyment, and ability to sit back and enjoy the show, the acts, and the surroundings – even if the Irish weather is promised to put a dampener on everything!

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