High Sierra Music Festival: Medicine for body and soul

When people want to relax and rejuvenate, the obvious ideas that come to mind are massages, spas, sleep, a warm bed and maybe a luxurious getaway at a high-end hotel. Not ridiculously late nights and camping in a tent. Or uncomfortably hot days, ongoing loud music and communal cold showers. But let me tell you, if you’re an outdoorsy, music-loving type, a camping music festival (specifically High Sierra) may be just what the doctor ordered.

(Toots at the main stage)

Anyone who knows me knows that my quality of life basically revolves around the mood of my stomach. It’s a capricious one, that tummy, and some evenings it will have a fit and cause so much discomfort that I need to retreat to my bed instead of moving forward with evening plans. I’ve been able to negotiate with it by altering my diet, getting a consistent amount of sleep and exercise, and basically being a better listener to its needs. Though these adjustments have helped tame the outbursts, they have not been enough to alleviate its regular poutiness, making me, more often than not, a tad bloated and numb in my core. This is why I avoid tight pants.

(Deer Tick night show)

The High Sierra Music Festival is a 4-day festival in Quincy, CA, about 4 hours north-east of San Francisco. It happens annually the long weekend after July 4th. If you want to score a desirable camping spot, it’s best to arrive as early as possible Thurs AM, if not Weds night to queue in line for entry. The foothills of the Sierra Mountains make for incredibly hot days in the sun, reaching upper 90’s, and significantly cooler nights that require bundling up. There is never a shortage of music options within the entire 4-days: the festival’s 3 stages each have bands playing continuously from 10am – 12am; “late-night” shows go on 12-2am; Silent Disco allows you to dance it down to a DJ’d set on headphones (respecting the noise ordinance) in the meadow with other night owls from 2am – sunrise; just walk around the grounds at any time of day or night to find a pop-up band or jam session playing somewhere amongst the tents. Basically, it is an onslaught of music and (if you’re me) dancing for 96 hours straight.

(me dancing with the samba drumming parade, in festive style)

Two days into the High Sierra Music Festival, I noticed that I was feeling unusual…my stomach actually felt connected to my body and I felt 5 lbs lighter. No bloating, buddha belly or debilitating pains. Yet, I was running on no more than 8 hours of restless sleep between the last two nights, my meals had been few and far between, and the food I did eat contained wheat and other ingredients that have been triggers in the past. I also had an endless amount of energy given my lack of physical rest. I’m normally a need-8hrs-of-sleep and in-bed-by-11pm type of girl. Generally, staying up past 1am ensures that I will be groggy and suffering from stomach pain the next day. Yet, here I was unable to stop dancing, hour after hour, feeling my healthiest. Most importantly, my stomach area, or solar plexus chakra, was happy.

(stilt walkers in the parade)

Our solar plexus chakra is associated with our self-confidence, self-esteem, will and empowerment. It is the fire that fuels our “gut instincts” that lead us into action. It embodies our sense of self. It is ultimately the source of our self-acceptance and confidence with our place in the world. Given that this blog is about me learning how to settle into my body and “true self”, it is no surprise that my solar plexus chakra is generally unbalanced, causing stomach pains!

(drum circle dance party at end of parade)

So what is it about the festival that balanced my tummy chakra and allowed me to embody my true, free and jubilant self? One could argue it was the insane amount of dancing, an exercise that stimulates the energy center with all the twisting and hip-shaking, promoting healing. Or maybe it was the healing power of live music inundating my every cell. Maybe it was simply the fact that I was free to do whatever I wanted at any time, whether it be dancing, napping, swimming, exploring vendor tents or getting a snack. I was able to pay attention to my needs and desires full-time, with no obligations, responsibilities or restrictions getting in the way of honoring them.  I was surrounded by the things I love most, and had no computers or even phones (low battery and poor reception) to distract me from interacting with them as I wished. This was the perfect setting for pure, uninhibited self-expression.

(The Nibblers rockin’ out on the roof of a winnebago)

Now that I’m back in the “real world,” where responsibilities and obligations do exist, my goal is to not let them cramp my festival style. I don’t see why the sense of freedom and connection I felt on the festival grounds cannot be continued into my every day life. The key, I believe, is prioritizing my needs and not allowing external responsibilities and obligations overshadow them. Our first responsibility truly is to ourselves – during a plane emergency, you are asked to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before assisting others. For example, there is no reason for me to not make yoga and dance classes during the week, since movement expression is clearly vital to my health. Why should these things not get prioritized over other activities? There is no reason why I should hold back impulsive self-expression in social situations. Who’s to say I’m too quirky? And it is necessary to lay down boundaries so as not to feel guilted into saying “yes” to everyone, every time. Not acknowledging needs and expressive impulses will force that energy to be stagnant once more in my gut.

(The Motet funkifying Grateful Dead tunes on the Big Meadow stage)

Lastly, it is necessary to have a positive attitude and deflect negativity. It is obviously easier to do this in an environment that is already brimming with smiling, happy faces, and where the person finding your lost ID and credit card returns them safely to the lost & found (thank you, whoever you are). But this positive energy ultimately begins with one person. I’m going to try to approach every day, every situation, as though it is a festival. What about life is there not to celebrate? Maybe my stomach will take a hint if I lead by example.

A big thanks to Lloyd Chang for letting me display a few of his shots! Check out more of his wonderful pics at socialskit.com

2 thoughts on “High Sierra Music Festival: Medicine for body and soul

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