“I take care of my own wellbeing…” I focus in on this phrase, completely absorbed in Deep Relaxation, a guided meditation session using the Yoga Nidra technique.
It’s the end of a long day, my body is resting on a comfy sofa in front of a fire, earbuds in, laptop resting on my stomach (ok, that bit might not be the best for relaxation), and I almost drift off to the soothing voice of our facilitator, Ceremony Woods.
Deep Relaxation is one of many sessions offered as part of Whakatau Mai | The Wellbeing Sessions – Changing Minds’ response to COVID-19. These online, Zoom-based sessions are offered to anyone in New Zealand over the age of 18, who can benefit from attending (with no referral required). And they are all free, no payment is necessary thanks to support from the Ministry of Health.
Today it’s my turn to be “anyone” and, to my surprise, after 45 minutes the day’s build-up of tension has left my body. I feel refreshed, as if I’d taken a nap. It’s slightly odd being in a Zoom class, but the physical distance between me and my classmates doesn’t keep us from uniting in a desire to improve our wellbeing.
It was the same in my Qigong session with Kate Clapham Dorjee, earlier that same day. Lycra-clad we followed Kate through 18 movements, known as Shi-Ba-Shi. Some left their camera’s on after the welcome. I turned mine off and stood in front of my laptop, feet apart, knees and shoulders relaxed.
Kate guided us from her sitting room, fluffy cat lolling front and centre, as our arms, hands and legs tried to keep in time with her smooth, unruffled pace. She took us through the pattern once. Then again. There was a ‘flapping goose’, something about ‘orangutans’ and then ‘gazing at the moon’. But above all, there was a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie as the session came to a close.
Building a community
“I appreciated the kindness and care shown to the participants. I was impressed that there was a peer-to-peer facilitator available.” (participant’s feedback)
What makes Whakatau Mai special is not just the warm welcome participants receive from the facilitators. It’s also the crew that support them (technical and peer-to-peer support). Most come from a background of lived experience [of mental distress], so they understand if someone is not feeling their best and they are there to offer people a break-away space to chat if they need extra support.
Aileen and Oliver, who both have experience of anxiety, are tech support on a number of sessions. They tell me Whakatau Mai provides people with a safe place to share how they might be feeling and an opportunity to try different things to improve their wellbeing.
“It’s good to have a space to be supported and be around people who understand what you might be going through,” Aileen says, who dials in from Christchurch.
Wellington-based Oliver agrees. “What we do is provide a place for people to explore their mental health and wellbeing. It is completely pressure-free, but people quickly connect and sessions have a feeling of community.”
Project Manager, Fiona, says that is the beauty of Whakatau Mai. “Some sessions are structured; some are more conversational, but they all connect people in their little Zoom windows to each other.
“We have people from Dargaville to Dunedin and everywhere in between, so we’re connecting up a lot of people in different places that wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to meet or learn from each other.”
A privilege to offer support
“The facilitators have established a light, open and friendly atmosphere for the groups to participate in.” (participant’s feedback)
Nadine is an Inner Growth Coach who has facilitated a number of different sessions. Her Dad passed away in 2013 from heart failure, so his death became a big reason why she turned towards helping others. Now she guides people through their fear or pain and loves being able to connect to different people in the sessions.
“Having and holding these spaces for people who might not otherwise feel comfortable in these kinds of spaces, or having access to them, is a privilege for me.
“In my sessions, the general discussions we have help people. Some people have not released the emotional side of their experience before, and I find that once one person opens up, others find their voices too.
“You can tell when the light bulb moment goes on and they realise something about themselves, something they hadn’t realised they were doing that contributes to how they are feeling.”
She believes it’s important people reach out for help in whatever way works best for them. “Don’t be afraid to speak up and seek support.”
A place to nurture wellbeing
“Whakatau Mai has changed my life.” “I feel like I am co-creating wellness with others.” (participants’ feedback)
Like Nadine, Oliver likes being able to give back to the Whakatau Mai community after going through his own challenges. “And it’s not just being tech support – I get benefit from participating in the sessions myself. It’s helped make a difference to my general wellbeing.
“It’s knowing that you are not alone, you’re not the only person dealing with ‘things’. There are other people out there experiencing the same things and we can hold each other up.
“In Friday’s Let’s get Talking sessions, it’s free form, a check-in. We all chat about how our week has gone and we have a nice big heart-to-heart which is very cathartic.”
Aileen has 10 wellbeing sessions in her calendar, seven as a guest. She likes the way Whakatau Mai values people’s privacy and that guests are not required to turn their video on, or speak – that they are encouraged to do only what they feel safe doing.
“But I love learning and listening to other people’s lived experience stories, so when they want to share them, it does make a difference,” she says. “And it reminds me that I don’t need to be perfect to help others.”
Oliver has one final thing to say to everyone, “The Whakatau Mai team are awesome! All the hard work they have been doing is starting to show. Some people might think they won’t get a lot out of it, but I would recommend that they give at least one session a go. They will get more out of it than they might expect.”
After the sense of calm and relaxation I achieved in two small sessions of Qigong and Deep Relaxation, I couldn’t agree more.
How do participants rate Whakatau Mai?
- 98% satisfaction rate (Very Good to Excellent)
- 80% said they attended sessions to support their personal wellbeing, 20% to support themselves and someone else
- 99% agreed the session’s content was useful
- 99% said they felt safe during the session
- 98% felt more connected and less isolated after their session
- 99% felt better after attending a session
- 99% would recommend attending a session to friends and family
(*Empirical data sourced June – August 2020, based on over 130 feedback surveys from session guests.)
We welcome all New Zealanders aged 18 years and over to these online, Zoom-based wellbeing sessions.