If you’ve ever wanted to watch an international artist create an eco-friendly live installation, listen to experts talk about everything from mental health to active children, try creative workshops focused on the mind and sample dozens of fitness classes meant to challenge your body, then say hello to the Livehealthy Festival.
This first-ever event, which ran on January 24 and 25 at Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi, brought together people from all over the world – all of them focused on how to feel better in mind, body and soul.
More than 800 visitors came to attend 53 sessions and hear 60 different speakers at an event which organizers are planning to repeat next year.
“Our vision was to create a festival where people are actively able to experience the seven dimensions of wellness, which meant, in essence, they could physically experience what our publication livehealthy.ae stands for,” says Mohammed Al Otaiba, executive director of livehealthy.ae, which is published by Syndication Bureau.
“I think we have managed to accomplish that, with of course the support of our partner, the Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre, all the speakers and instructors who were part of our sessions, the vendors and the larger community who attended.”
Talks and panels addressed a variety of important topics including How to Do Good, Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life; Beyond Movember, which explored men’s mental health; Handling Depression; Getting Our Kids Moving.
Many talks focused specifically on the region, like how to recycle properly in the UAE or the specific mental challenges faced by residents of the Middle East.
Everything was deliberately kept small and intimate, allowing for open dialogue across topics and cultures. For instance, Sheikh Majid Sultan Al Qassimi, adviser to the Minister of Climate Change, offered a Q&A session looking at food production and sustainability in the UAE.
“The highlight of the festival for me was being able to have deep discussions with some of the most important people doing wellness work in our community,” says Ann Marie McQueen, livehealthy.ae’s founding editor. “Psychologists who are devoted to helping people figure out who they really are, doctors giving the latest information that can empower us to take more responsibility for our health, and trainers and teachers showing us how to stretch and move in the best and safest ways.”
Alongside talks, the Livehealthy Festival offered a series of free workshops and workouts, too. These included sound healing meditation, yoga, father-son Muay Thai, Tai Chi, a spinal flow class, an Arabic timeline meditation by Sheikh Al Hassan Bin Ali Bin Rashid Alnuaimi, child-focused yoga, mat pilates and a number of classes offered by Bodytree Studio.
The Abu Dhabi Public Health Center provided free flu vaccinations to 123 people. Experts from the Center also offered insightful panels into health and wellness, including a talk from Dr. Aysha Ibrahim Al Dhaheri on how to adopt a healthy lifestyle and a workshop by Dr Arwa Al Modwahi on the food of the future. Samira Al Kathiri also explored how to keep a child safe at home and when out and about on the roads. Dr Lamees Abu Haleeqa spoke about how to create a positive work environment.
For foodies, The Snack Society’s Kamilla Omarzay hosted a workshop on vegan baking, while several other experts ran a talk on how to handle food insensitivities. At Nourishing our Children, a doctor and nutritionist sat down with young UAE young chef, Ayesha Al Obeidli, to talk about getting kids to eat healthily.
Between sessions, guests could purchase snacks from health-focused vendors including Foodshed, Nolu’s, Chop’t Salad, House of Pops, Low Calories and Guiltfree.ae. These healthy brands offered a mix of vegan snacks, fresh coffees, baked goodies and health-conscious dishes. The festival was indoor and out, meaning visitors lounged on picnic tables or tucked into artsy cubicles with their snacks.
“I was so moved seeing our online magazine brought to life throughout Manarat al Saadiyat and to meet all the lovely souls who were already part of our community or who ventured out to join us,” says McQueen.
“A lot of people mentioned that no one has really brought the various businesses working in this field together in the way that the first Livehealthy Festival has, and that’s why I think we really broke some new ground.”
Sustainability was a theme running throughout the weekend’s talks and panels, with international photographer and artist Barry Rosenthal creating a live installation using recycled beach materials. Rosenthal’s work is in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Al Otaiba pledged to use the event as a launchpad, saying, “We hope to continue on this success and build an even better festival next year.”
Danae Mercer is a freelance health and travel journalist. In addition to working as editor-in-chief of Women's Health Middle East and Men's Health Middle East, Danae has written for The Sunday Times, CNN Travel, Dubai Tourism, The Guardian, Afar, Bloomberg and many more. She's based in Dubai and is a trainer at Crank. instagram.com/danaemercer