Life is hectic - with kids, family, friends and work - and most of the time it seems hard to get a moment to oneself to even think of what you have to do next, never mind a mindful moment.

Mindfulness is the buzz word in health and wellbeing.

With mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression on the rise, antidepressant prescriptions rose by 17 per cent between 2012 and 2016 and since 2000 antidepressant prescriptions in New Zealand have risen by 150 per cent.

With increasing awareness and understanding of mental health, there is desire to seek alternatives to medication, or even just include mental health 'exercises' as part of a daily exercise regime.


Enter mindfulness. According to the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, research suggests that when we intentionally practise being mindful, we feel less stressed, anxious and depressed, and more balanced and in tune with what is happening inside and outside of our bodies.

The resulting calm and clarity boosts wellbeing, broadens perspective and provides an important foundation for learning."

Mindfulness means paying attention to what is presently occurring. While that sounds simple, it requires practice. There are a number of courses and books you can buy, but for an introduction to mindfulness in a delightful settings, I was invited to a two-day retreat at Polynesian Spa in Rotorua.

The Mindful Moments Retreat, run by wellness blogger Makaia Carr and the Polynesian Spa's Helena Keenan, a qualified mindfulness trainer, has the mantra "stop, relax and reset".

Packed with stillness, calmness, meditation - and yes, lots of mindfulness - it's the perfect weekend for busy women to get away and reset.

Whether you are wanting an introduction to mindfulness or a refresher, something to propel you into your own programme of wellbeing, or simply a weekend away with like-minded women, this retreat ticks all the boxes.

"The retreat will not only guide those who are looking to introduce a different focus to their lives but can also be used to guide those more experienced in the art of meditation by showcasing different ways and means of finding inner peace," says Helena.

In the glorious setting of the spa, retreat guests have unlimited entry to the Deluxe Lake Spa, which include several naturally heated geothermal pools as well as a cold plunge pool, luxury changing rooms, rest areas and spa rooms.


A spa treatment is included with guests able to choose from Aix Therapy, Age Refine Facial or Aromatherapy Massage - choice of destress muscle or relaxation with aroma oils.

We started the morning with a welcome and introduction from Makaia and Helena, and rather than go straight into guest introductions, I thought it was great Helena ran us all through a relaxation and mindfulness technique that we could do sitting in our chair.

It was easy to remember, involving positioning and breathing, and something you could incorporate into daily life, even sitting in the office. After doing it, the room seemed immediately more relaxed and open to the weekend ahead.

After introductions, we delved excitedly into our goodie bags - huge navy cotton bags by Togs which were packed with treats including a Rotorua mud scrub, oil from Linden Leaves, body lotions, Ethique natural deodorant and soap, coconut water, and the highlight - everyone received their own Shakti acupressure mat. More on that later.

Makaia Carr shows the group how to use a Shakti Mat at Polynesian Spa's Mindful Moments Retreat. Photo/supplied
Makaia Carr shows the group how to use a Shakti Mat at Polynesian Spa's Mindful Moments Retreat. Photo/supplied

After a delicious morning tea we had a more in-depth mindfulness workshop with Helena who is extremely knowledgeable about the theory and practice of mindfulness and was able to answer our curious questions.

Although some of the workshop was theory-based, there were practical exercises incorporated which again were very easy to adapt to one's own routine.

The training room in the nearby Millennium Hotel was huge, which was great as we could stretch out if we wanted, lean against walls or stay seated.

Helena told the group her personal experience with meditation began in 1992, developing for her a deep interest in the wellbeing benefits of meditation. Further studies and reading into mindfulness meditation created a goal to pursue formal studies in this area.

Eventually the opportunity to study Mindfulness Meditation Teacher training with Dr Ian Gawler arose and in 2009 Helena completed her first course.

More recently she completed further studies with Ian Gawler and Ruth Gawler in Australia in the practices of Guided Imagery and Contemplation, and she is now a qualified MBSM (Mindfulness Based Stillness Medication) and a member of Mindfulness Works, New Zealand's largest mindful training organisation.

Another workshop with Makaia talked about using music as a meditation tool. While listening to the music, we practised relaxing on our Shakti Mats.

Initially when Makaia enthused about the delights and benefits of these mats - she even sleeps on them or uses them as a backrest in bed - I was skeptical about this modern bed of nails, and so were the souls of my feet which protested against the spikes.

Comprised of thousands of spikes on a mattress-like mat, once you breathe through the initial discomfort, the stimulation does spread a warm and relaxing feeling throughout the body. You don't have to lie completely on it to start with, but all of us used the mats to listen to the music and meditate. It was remarkable how moving it was - there was both laughter and tears.

Once again the workshops are useful not just in the retreat experience but in giving women tools to use at home. It would be easy to make our own playlists and repeat the exercise at home.

Delicious, wholesome and organic lunches and morning teas are provided throughout the retreat as well as juices, smoothies and morning teas. If you do want a flat white fix there is the Polynesian Cafe on site.

We finished day one with a dinner in Eat Streat. Dinner out is an option, but for those women like me from another town or attending the retreat alone, it is a great evening to share with fellow guests as well as Makaia and Helena.

We began with a morning yoga session with Hollie Beau, a local yoga instructor. The setting was amazing, with the sun rising over the smoking geothermal lake pools.

Polynesian Spa and therapy centre Rotorua massage therapy. Photo/supplied
Polynesian Spa and therapy centre Rotorua massage therapy. Photo/supplied

Hollie's session was perfect for the group and would suit both beginners and more experienced yogis. A beautiful, gentle way to start the day.

After a brunch of mueslis and smoothies we set off on a walk. The walks, like all things on the retreat, are optional, but we all felt like stretching our legs and getting some cool Rotorua air.

The retreat normally includes a walk through the famous Redwoods, or a walk around the lake, but this time due to inclement weather, which had made some of the paths muddy, we took a walk through the former Rotorua Tree Trust, now called Centennial Park.

After lunch I went for my chosen spa treatment, one of Polynesian Spa's signature treatments, the Aix.

Aix massage derives from the Latin word aqua. It combines traditional massage with jets of warm water and was introduced by the French in the early 1900s. The therapist wears wet gear and you strip to a pair of throwaway pants they give you. You lie on hydrotherapy beds surrounded by jets of water.

After a full-body exfoliation with thermal mud polish, the therapist turns on the jets and massages the whole body for an hour using a blend of coconut oil.

So the massage benefits come from both the therapist and the jets of water which she positions on the part of your body she is working on. You can request different levels of pressure resulting in a deep, relaxing massage that lasts for an hour.

Not only is it relaxing, skin is left exfoliated, making it a good treatment to have in spring or at the beginning of summer as it revitalises skin dried out by winter and air conditioning, and the coconut oil is softening and hydrating.

After the spa treatments we relaxed on loungers in a room overlooking the lake, sipping on herbal teas, flicking through magazines and chatting.

After a final mindfulness workshop with Helena we were free to depart or could stay and enjoy the baths in the spa or continue relaxing in the lake front room on recliners.

With more time to explore the spa I tested several pools. The spa has two types of water - the medicinal choice is acidic, which relieves tired muscles, aches and pains, arthritis and rheumatism. The alkaline water in the Rachel spring is soft and soothing on the skin and said to bring ageless beauty. Sounds good to me.

The pools are of varying temperatures and the norm would be to move from the lowest temperature to the hottest.

On the encouragement of one of the girls I braved the plunge pool and although I temporarily upset the zen-like environment with some squealing, it was quite refreshing (just remember not to scream). For relaxing outside of the pool there are thermally heated recliners.

After two days of working on mindfulness, soaking in geothermal water surrounded by beautiful flowers and plants, I felt very blissful and inspired to try to build this in my everyday life.

We are lucky to be just an hour away from this incredible spa and the retreat is very affordable, especially given the inclusion of such bumper goodies and the delicious spa treatment, amazing food, and access to the two wonderful retreat leaders.

Makaia is a joy and inspiration as well as really kind and caring to individuals with a wonderful intuition about others. Helena is clearly passionate about sharing her knowledge of mindfulness and able to break down the theory into simple techniques.

Another highlight is being with a group of like-minded women which is a good reminder that some of the challenges we have in life we are not alone with and there are in fact some very simple things we can do to live a happy, more fulfilled and mindful life.

I would highly recommend this retreat to anyone looking to reset themselves in this busy world we all live in and take the opportunity to remind ourselves of the delight in enjoying each mindful moment.

*The next Mindful Moments Retreat is November 11 and 12. See

Relaxing in the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua. Photo/supplied
Relaxing in the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua. Photo/supplied

What is mindfulness?
Paying attention to the moment with kindness and curiosity.
We might be paying attention to a thought, a feeling, physical sensations, other people or the environment around us, but to be mindful means to give the present moment our full attention, without distraction.

With time and practice, mindfulness helps us to more fully appreciate the relationship between our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations and the outer world. We learn to see how they are all connected, and that this shapes our wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us.

We are all capable of mindfulness - some people are naturally more mindful than others, and all of us have times when we are more mindful than at other times. Mindfulness practice is about training our ability to pay attention so we can improve wellbeing and decrease distress.

Practising mindfulness helps us to feel less stressed, anxious and depressed, and more balanced and in tune with what is happening within and around us. This helps us feel calmer and clearer, which in turn boosts wellbeing and provides an important foundation for learning.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Research shows that, when practised over time, mindfulness: decreases symptoms of anxiety and depression, decreases the production of the stress hormone cortisol, improves concentration and the ability to learn, increases resilience and calmness, enhances self-awareness and well-being, and helps with conflict resolution and the development of positive relationships. With practice, we can overcome distractions and over-thinking.