By Meriana Johnsen of RNZ
Karakia and connecting with te hā (the breath) were among mindfulness practices found to improve health outcomes of wāhine Māori suffering chronic stress.
As part of her doctoral research at Massey University's School of Psychology, Dr Miriama Ketu-McKenzie (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Ngāti Rongomai and Ngāti Whakatere) ran a "Māori-centric mindfulness programme" for eight weeks.
Her research found mindfulness practices which "wove in Māori elements" helped regulate the hormone cortisol, a marker of stress, in the wāhine Māori participants.
As their mindfulness scores increased, their self-reported perceptions of stress also came down week-by-week, Ketu-McKenzie said.
There were five women who had very clear PTSD symptoms when they came in and Ketu-McKenzie said all of them reported a range of benefits, including better eating, sleeping and for some, a reduction in their waistlines by up to 5cm, at the end of the programme.
Ketu-McKenzie found there were similarities with mindfulness practices and Māori concepts like mauri.
"There is an inherent belief in mindfulness practices that there is a life force (mauri) to things and that all of these things and beings are interconnected which is also very inherent in our [Māori] ways of seeing the natural world and each other," she said.
Having become "frustrated" with the clinical methods she'd been trained in as a psychologist, Ketu-McKenzie was drawn to the holistic nature of mindfulness.
"When you're doing it, you're really connecting with something that's bigger than you. It's inside you but it's connecting you to everything else and that concept just seems so familiar to me as a Māori."
She said her research showed mindfulness practices, particularly with a group, can be a cost-effective treatment for chronic stress.
"[The participants] really enjoyed the experience of coming in together to sit and not have to talk about things... and I guess we don't really encourage or make spaces for that in our lives.
"I'd love to see a time where Māori can go to these services and be encouraged to use their own mindfulness practices that are already in the culture as a way to get well because we now have evidence that it really does work."
Ketu-McKenzie is now training to be a mindfulness teacher to continue to develop the programme.
"I want to ensure our programme is rooted in the original concepts of holistic wellness and has bi-cultural practices built in."