Wayapa ('Connect' in the language of Peek Whuurrung People of south west Victoria) started as a personal practice two decades ago for Gunnai man Jamie Marloo Thomas who says he grew up disconnected from his culture.
In a childhood marked by severe trauma, Thomas says that nature and Mother Earth became his solace. "The origin of Wayapa could be traced as far back to the many hours I spent playing in the bush as a small child, becoming one with it."
Born to a white Australian mother and Aboriginal father whom he only saw on only two occasions in his life, Thomas was curious to know more about his heritage and family that was always missing. After travelling to other communities to learn what he could, it was during one of these trips that an Elder took him aside and offered advice to reconnect with his own culture. He listened and moved to his Grandmother's Country in Warrnambool, Victoria.
"I started reconnecting back to my culture, sitting with Elders, sitting on Country, listening to the stories the land was telling me. I started doing ceremony for Country. I then realised that the only time I felt whole —perfectly aligned and happy within— was while performing Ceremony on Country. I deeply understood what most people don’t; that Aboriginal Dance and Ceremony isn’t about performance, its a true gift of wellness."
During this time he was mentoring young Aboriginal boys and stumbled upon a practice which became the foundation of Wayapa.
"Whilst working full-time, I would also drive around town picking up the boys before getting to the oval to dance. One night the boys were particularly hyped up and I was tired from a long day at work so I was getting frustrated with them when my Elder turned to me and suggested I do something to ground them. I got them to close their eyes, and keep their barefeet planted in one spot on the ground and then I started narrating about the environment surrounding them, connecting them.
"It worked so well that I started using the 'connection practice' all the time. When I moved off Country to Melbourne, I started using the practice myself to help me stay feeling connected to Mother Earth, even when I wasn't dancing.
But it was when I showed the practice to my partner Sara and she said "I need to feel that connection too" that I realised I had something to share with the world and Wayapa was born."
Wayapa Wuurrk is a method based on Aboriginal knowledge and concepts of taking care of Country, Thomas explains, "It's of understanding that it is everyone's responsibility to look after our environment because it sustains our existence. If we can connect people into feeling a part of their environment rather than separate from it, we can get them to care enough about it to look after it."
The connection to the planet and environment is a value that runs strongly as the foundation through all Indigenous cultures, it's a knowledge that Thomas and his partner and also co-founder of the method, Sara Jones hope to res-establish in modern society. Thomas says, "Indigenous people see the planet as their Mother, providing everything they need. So Wayapa combines earth mindfulness, narrative meditation and a physical movement practice to create that deep feeling of connection, purpose and belonging."
Jones grew up in Canada and after suffering from severe life trauma including years of domestic violence, she found herself at rock bottom and began studying alternative therapies, eventually coming to the realisation that connection to Mother Earth was the missing piece of her healing puzzle.
Thomas says that the widespread disconnection from the environment is causing many ailments, "I believe that most of our problems in the modern world stem from being cut off from our connection to Mother Earth. The Ancestors of every single person on this planet used to live like mine did, hunting and gathering, being in perfect harmony with their environment. They understood the relationship they had with everything around them because their very survival depended upon it."
"In today's world, we don't believe we need to think like our ancestors did —we think we are separate from our environment because we live in houses in cities and we buy our food packaged and processed and we control the heat or cold in our buildings with the flick of a switch. But if we look at how unwell we have become not caring enough about our environment, then I think it is valid to say that our very survival as a human species still depends upon our connection and relationship with Mother Earth." Thomas says
As it's not possible for the couple to meet demands for the course on their own, they have developed a certification program and now have 45 practitioners offering the course around the country, as well as an online portal which has just launched.
"The online course shares the Indigenous wisdom that has been passed on for generations plus proven techniques of whole sensory connection in different environments. The 14 Wayapa elements which make up the practice are explained and demonstrated. I narrate the movement practice so that participants gain an understanding of why each element is so important," Thomas explains.
"The 14 elements tell a story of how the earth sustains us. Also provided in the online course is a demonstration of the physical movement practice in both a sitting and standing position and we also provide a guided earth meditation for those who prefer visualisation."
For information on Reconnect the Disconnection with Wayapa go here.