Explore your whenua for your mental health

One in five New Zealanders experience mental illness each year. Almost all of these people will recover or live well with the right tautoko (support).

Te Whare Tapa Whā is a model of health that helps us identify where we need extra support. It describes health as a wharenui/meeting house with four walls. These walls represent:

  • taha wairua (spiritual wellbeing)
  • taha hinengaro (mental and emotional wellbeing)
  • taha tinana (physical wellbeing)
  • taha whānau (family and social wellbeing)

Connection with the whenua (land) forms the foundation. When all four walls and the foundation are strong, we feel strong too, including our top two inches (our mental wellbeing).

What is whenua?

Whenua is the place where you stand. It is your connection to the land – a source of life, nourishment and wellbeing for everyone. Whenua includes soil, rocks, plants, animals and the people inhabiting the land – tangata whenua. We are linked physically and spiritually to the land – it is the earth through which you are connected to your tūpuna (ancestors) and all the generations that will come after you.

You can also think about whenua as your place of belonging – that means the spaces where you feel comfortable, safe and able to be yourself, which could be at mahi (work), in a sports team, with your friends, or at home with your whānau.

Why is whenua an important way to wellbeing at work?

In Te Ao Māori, everything has mauri (life force). When our natural resources are not looked after, this life force is weakened and this directly impacts mental health and wellbeing. If your place of mahi is not safe, welcoming and inclusive, it will also have a huge impact on wellbeing.

Exploring your way to wellbeing at work through whenua

  • Get your hoamahi (colleagues) together and explore your local maunga (mountain). Getting outdoors helps to re-energise and focus on the tasks ahead.
  • Create an green space at your workplace and invite people to bring in an indoor or outdoor plant for everyone to enjoy and look after.
  • If you have a dog, see if you can bring it onsite – being around animals is a great way to boost wellbeing.
  • Have a lunchtime feast with your hoamahi! Ask people to bring something from the whenua to contribute – the possibilities are endless.
  • Challenge yourself and your hoamahi to produce less waste. Turn it into a competition and ask people to come up with initiatives around how to make your workplace more environmentally friendly. It could be anything from using less printer paper, to having a compost bin for food scraps.
  • Invite your hoamahi to head out of their usual workplace environment for an hour to do a clean-up around your local neighbourhood! Even if you work outdoors, it’s a greay way to get a change of scenery, take a break and spend quality time together outside of your workspace.
  • Take a break from mahi and go for a walk. See how many native plants you notice. Can you spot any harakeke (flax), pūriri, tōtara or rengarenga/native lily?
  • Create your pepeha (a way of introducing yourself in Māori) and invite your hoamahi to share this at a workplace hui (meeting). You can view examples of pepeha here.
  • Learn a karakia, whakataukī (proverb) or waiata (song) with birds, plants or nature in it. Use it to start a hui.

Take some time to reflect on what whenua means to you. If you tried out any of the activities above what specifically made you feel good and what didn’t? If any of the activities helped to boost your mental health and wellbeing why not find ways to include them regularly in your week.

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Source: Mental Health Foundation

The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand is a charity that works towards creating a society free from discrimination, where all people enjoy positive mental health and wellbeing.

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