Meeting up for a slice of the healthy, sober side of life

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From The Irish Times

Key in health and wellbeing  “meetups ” into your search engine and you ’ll be offered an array of possible social events to attend in the Dublin area alone.

Over the course of seven days, you could pop along to a laughter yoga or mindfulness meditation session, join a raw living food group, sample energy healing or go to a talk/seminar on some aspect of holistic health.

The US-based social networking site asks those organising meet-ups to pledge to  “create a real face-to-face community ”. The site itself started as a reaction to all the online activity of social networking sites and picture sharing. And since it started in New York city, it has spawned more than 100,000 meet-up groups worldwide.

These include everything from hiking groups to techie groups to parenting meet-ups. In Ireland, the spirituality/holistic health/personal growth sector has embraced the concept of meet-ups with vigour and enthusiasm.

Meeting up to socialise

David Maher is an example of someone who set up a meet-up group as a means to socialising with like-minded people.

 “I gave up alcohol in August 2010 and for the first six or seven months I found it a challenge going to the pub with my friends and not drinking, so a year later, I founded A Sober Slice of Dublin. ”

The nature of meet-up sites is that they are automatically connected in to other similarly themed meet-up groups so Maher ’s site immediately attracted members who were already on the wellness bandwagon.

 “I ’ve had people come along to events who have had issues with drink and drugs, others who are disillusioned with the drink scene in Dublin and then others who do drink but are looking for an alternative way of socialising, ” he explains.

 “There ’s such a high tolerance of alcohol in this country and an undercurrent of depression linked to excessive consumption of alcohol among young people that we ’re not addressing.

 “I think people are looking for something different  – the search for real health and wellbeing on a day-to-day basis, ” he says.

A slice of sobriety

So, the social events calendar of A Sober Slice of Dublin will include opportunities to join in a session of African tribal drumming in the multicultural Lantern Centre in Synge St, or going along to one of the Funky Seomra non-alcoholic discos or meeting up to go to the cinema.

Maher also organises seminars on strategies and approaches to mental and physical health.

 “A lot of the people who come are single and they want to get hooked up with someone but find it impossible with the drink scene, ” explains Maher. A Sober Slice of Dublin has about 1,200 members.

The Positive Living Network is another  “real life ” social group which organises seminars and workshops in Dublin and Belfast. It was set up about seven years ago in Belfast by life coach Jenny Grainger who now runs monthly events in Dublin and Belfast with life coach Eoin Scolard, meditation teacher John Doherty and holistic therapist Maria Jesus Lopez.

 “The idea in the beginning was to give support to people who are on a spiritual journey or those who want to lead a conscious lifestyle, ” explains Grainger. The Positive Living Network was launched in Dublin about three years ago and there are now about 800 members in Dublin and 400 in Belfast.

 “We have a real cross-section of men and women coming to events  – single, married, divorced, with and without children. People come along to make like-minded friends or they are drawn to the speakers, ” she explains. The meetings last about two hours, the first section is dedicated to a guest speaker and the second section is purely sociable.

Although organised through the meetup website, Grainger says that there is not much online activity.

 “I think the face-to-face contact is what people want. It ’s a reaction to our fragmented society where people don ’t know their neighbours or haven ’t got their extended family to call on. Many people don ’t have a sense of geographical community so this is a great way of bringing people together. It ’s a place to come the last Thursday of every month [Grand Canal Hotel, Dublin] and the last Wednesday of every month in Belfast [Wellington Park Hotel]. ”

And of course there will be those seeking commercial opportunities in this burgeoning wellness sector. Connectedtrips.comis a new Irish company which promotes wellness trips, retreats and classes in more than 8,000 centres in 40 countries.

Refuge from stress

 “We ’re hoping to become the tripadvisor for the wellness market. People are very stressed and under pressure and we can help them find healing, back-to-nature and outdoor activities that will help their personal and spiritual development, ” says Alan Wyley, the entrepreneur who set up

Wyley is a chartered accountant and businessman who experienced a life-change.  “I did have a transformation from being a pure businessman to being a more rounded person. I don ’t drink or smoke now. I ’m three stone lighter than I was and I meditate, ” he says.

Yet, his business acumen has remained intact: he raised  €250,000 in private finance for the business which was matched by Enterprise Ireland.  “Our aim is to open people up to experiences that are fundamentally good for them and build a thriving business. ”