A dynamic mother/daughter duo discovered through their work as yoga instructors that different paths can flow in the same direction, writes Leanne Moore
Q. The two of you bought Eastwest yoga studio in Ponsonby, Auckland, six years ago. What does your mother/daughter relationship bring to your work?
Amelia McCombie (Ngāti Pāoa, Tainui): "When we first went into business together I felt like I had to downplay the mother/daughter thing. I wanted to keep it professional. Now I see our relationship, our ease, understanding and depth with each other is unique. It is our superpower. A core value for us is connection and creating a sense of belonging for those who walk through the doors. I think our closeness as mother and daughter supports this feeling within our incredible community of teachers and practitioners."
Q. You have a strong te ao Māori aspect at Eastwest. Have you always been connected to your Māori heritage?
Sheryn Gieck (Ngāti Pāoa, Tainui): "No. People would ask me if I was Māori and I would say, "My mother's Māori and my father's German and I'm just me." My mum had little contact with her whānau and so I was raised in a very Pākehā way."
Q. What changed?
Amelia: "I noticed in my late teens that when I was around someone who stood in their Māori culture that I was drawn to them. I wanted to be near them. Yet I also had a deep sense of whakama [shame] that I was not "Māori enough". I was fearful that they would speak te reo to me and I would not know how to respond. There was this deep desire to stand confidently in being Māori. When I told Mum she didn't understand at first."
Sheryn: "Not only did I not understand, I dismissed it when Amelia tried discussing it with me. I was completely disassociated from being Māori. Amelia challenged me to look at where that was coming from. It was painful for both of us. I realised how important it was to Amelia and over time I could see her self-confidence growing. It started me on my own path, confronting the disconnection within me. I have been reflecting on my past and on my mum's life. Her name was Mere Taripuhi Tamihana and yet when she moved to the city as a young woman, she changed it to Mary Thompson. That's how I knew her. I feel the whakama that Mum carried and can see I have carried that too. I now speak her name out loud. She died many years ago and yet I have never felt closer to her."
Q. It sounds like yoga has been instrumental in your te ao Māori journey?
Amelia: "Mum's been practising yoga since I was a baby, so I was raised with it as part of my daily life. In my teens I was going through some challenging times and it was then that I really dived into my own yoga practice. It helped me to heal, to strengthen and find more comfort in my own skin. When we bought Eastwest there were a few open and inspiring Māori students and teachers within our community. I told them about my desire to connect to my being Māori and yet my sense of shame of not being "Māori enough". They reassured me that this was a common feeling for Māori when they began their reclamation journey, and encouraged me to continue. My yoga practice equipped me with many tools to support me on this journey of learning and healing."
Sheryn: "Yoga is such an integral part of my life and it keeps asking me to open my heart and open my mind. So through my practice and the inspiration I get from Amelia, I am well supported in my te ao Māori journey."
Q. What's the connection between te ao Māori and yoga?
Amelia: "The wisdom of te ao Māori complements yoga. They both have an ancient lineage of teachings and ways of seeing the world that align beautifully. For example, in te ao Māori there is something called hauora. That's the word, or concept, for wellbeing. There are four pillars: taha tinana (physical health), taha hinengaro (emotional and mental health), taha wairua (spiritual health), taha whānau (connection and belonging). We can use these four pillars as guides to finding true health. Hauora is a holistic approach to wellbeing and a way of connecting to all aspects of ourselves and our environment. This is what yoga is all about."
Q. You've just opened a second studio, in Newmarket. That's a bold move in the uncertain times that a pandemic brings.
Sheryn: "Opening the second studio was unexpected. My friend was the previous owner and I heard that he was going to close it. It's a beautiful space and community and we decided to trust our instincts and go for it."
Q. So you are on a journey of self-discovery together?
Sheryn:"We both have a strong commitment to self-growth and self-discovery – and life seems to keep showing us when is the time to focus on something. We both know that our personal journeys will continue and yet they are so much richer with the support and heart of our community."