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Health and wellness

Hong Kong health and wellness festival wrap – yoga, Bollywood dance and dog exercises at Iris: Your Escape

More than 4,000 attendees turned up to try 130 different healthy activities on offer at the Iris: Your Escape festival last weekend, with sessions not limited to two-legged participants

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 March, 2018, 7:45pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 March, 2018, 7:45pm

Downward dogs, upright dogs and lucky dogs working out with their owners all featured at last weekend’s Iris: Your Escape festival, held over two days at the West Kowloon Cultural District’s Nursery Park.

The event, in its sixth incarnation, reflects Hongkongers’ growing passion for yoga, meditation, dance and fitness. More than 4,000 attendees – many with dogs – turned out to try the 130 activities on offer, compared with just the few hundred people who attended the festival’s debut event.

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They got to watch and try everything from chilled-out kids yoga, family yoga and doga (yoga for dogs) to meditation sessions such as tea-style meditation and sound healing. More boisterous fitness, dance and Zumba sessions energised those who wanted to build up a bit of a sweat.

Clad in an orange and bronze Indian ensemble, Victor Kumar of Bollywood Dreams Group stole the show with his Bollywood dance class. During one segment with Cutiepie by Ae Dil Hai Mushkil blasting, he yelled “Hut, hut!” and “Look at my head!” as he demonstrated hands-in-the-air moves, neck motions and turns galore. The crowd followed his lead, with many obvious first-timers flinging their limbs around with glee.

Hong Kong University student Hubert Leung was one of them. He turned up with friends for an earlier ju-jitsu self-defence session in the same space. When Kumar’s session began, they got swept along.

“It was really fun – the guy was really energetic and made the atmosphere amazing,” Leung said, admitting, though, that his own performance was “pretty bad”. The 22-year-old had never done ju-jitsu classes nor Bollywood dancing before, noting that his usual exercises are tennis and football.

That’s the spirit of this festival, where attendees can immerse themselves in activities old and new to invigorate their fitness routines.

This was Kumar’s third time at the festival. He spent four months preparing, developing his choreography and costumes to showcase Indian colours and culture. His goal for the class went beyond simple exercise: he wanted to encourage participants to engage in a stress-free activity, be joyful and express themselves through Bollywood dancing.

“It’s not just about young people and fitness, it’s about the arts, too, like dance and music,” he said. “I think the event is a great concept and mission as it also brings all of the talented people like us to share their passion.”

The event is also a showcase for healthy eating and a sustainable lifestyle. This is the kind of place where vegan meals sell out faster than the pork and chicken equivalents, something that happened at the Eat Now food stall.

It’s been great to see the evolution of Hong Kong in terms of wellness, recycling [practices] and being mindful of the environment
Laura Offe

Reflecting current food trends, many stalls offered coconut water, and one had cupcakes iced with turmeric-accented vegan “cream”. Meat-free institutions such as Mana, hawking its popular wraps, were lined up alongside less familiar names that showcased their mostly plant-based fare, all harpooning the notion that vegan and vegetarian dishes are dull.

This was the first time at the festival for Laura Offe, co-founder of Uma Nota, a Brazilian-Japanese Sao Paolo-style dining venue on Peel Street in Soho. For the occasion, she prepared 600 portions of healthier twists on her restaurant’s cuisine. This included vegetarian and vegan-friendly ceviche with mushrooms, tomatoes, red onions, avocado, lime juice and spices; and an octopus version with olive oil, tomatoes, onions and white vinegar.

“It’s been great to see the evolution of Hong Kong in terms of wellness, recycling [practices] and being mindful of the environment,” said Offe, a French native who has lived in Hong Kong for 15 years.

Festival organisers discouraged the use of plastic, urging attendees to bring their own bottles. Many spots had filtered water stations courtesy of Urban Spring and Bluewater, and bottles were available for rent. It was all part of the organiser’s attempts to minimise its impact on the environment, an effort that slashed the need for 5,000 plastic bottles that could have ended up in a landfill.

“Hong Kong in general is a very stressful city, and fast-paced, so having something where you are actually required to slow down, enjoy the outdoors, enjoy the kind of fresh air, is something that should be done more,” Offe said.

Dogs, too, were encouraged to come along. SPCA Hong Kong was present with some of its dogs seeking adoptive homes, and held sessions including exercise routines with pets.

Joseph and Paula Yuhico brought their seven-year-old dog Sasha, a Japanese spitz-huskey mix, to the festival to try this out. Paula usually does yoga at home with her dog present, but she wanted tips on how to exercise properly with the pet as participant, not just as a bystander, she said.

Ingrid Lam, an advanced personal trainer at the Asian Academy for Sports and Fitness Professionals, led a small group of two- and four-legged participants in doing yoga and gentle stretching routines. She showed moves suitable for people of all ages and abilities, and highlighted how easy it can be to work out with pets. She hopes participants can get into daily exercise routines that involve their furry companions.

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“I found most people here take care of dogs, yet hunch their back often, so these exercises remind them to straighten their neck and back,” Lam said. “They are always crouching when feeding or holding their dog, so they should lengthen their back and open the shoulders.”