When Jamie Marloo Thomas was trying to teach traditional dance to a group of distracted indigenous youths some 15 years ago, his uncle suggested calming them down first with some meditation. "They would be hyperactive and couldn't concentrate so I started doing some breathing exercises with them," Thomas, a cultural leader of the Gunditjmara and Gunnai people, tells SBS Life. "Soon I added some slow traditional dance moves to the breathing exercises and they really enjoyed it. They slowed down and started to develop a better appreciation for their culture and the land."
Buoyed by the boys' response, Thomas developed a sequence of 14 moving poses representing all the elements of nature, such as the sun, the moon, the wind and the rain, which tells the story of creation in a meditative sequence – he named it Wayapa, which means "connect" in his Peek Whurrung language. Wayapa has recently been approved as an official "modality" by the International Institute for Complementary Therapies and is being taught to everyone from kinder kids to corporates.
A sequence of 14 moving poses representing all the elements of nature, such as the sun, the moon, the wind and the rain, which tells the story of creation in a meditative sequence.
While physically similar to yoga and tai chi, Wayapa encourages participants to use the movement and meditation to feel a connection to the earth, rather than just search for stillness within. Wayapa starts with deep breathing exercises where participants are encouraged to feel the land beneath their bare feet before slowly moving through the sequence of exercises that facilitate an appreciation of the environment. "Indigenous people have a relationship with the land that's about respect and responsibility," Thomas says. "These days there is a lot of disconnect between humans and the land, and the earth is choking as a result."
It gives people a tool to use nature to find stillness and quiet their mind.
Once people experience Wayapa, Thomas says they often begin "living Wayapa", becoming more conscious about everyday choices that influence the environment. "We need to change people's attitudes from thinking that somebody else will do something about the environment, to taking stewardship of the land, in the way Indigenous Australians did for 60,000 years," Thomas says. "These days we get a bit complacent. We have started to want instant gratification rather than things like seasonal veggies that are grown in normal organic conditions. If we are more mindful and have a connection to the environment, we think about it more and remember we are related to the earth – we're not its owners."
Most Wayapa classes run for an hour – the first half is spent explaining the modality and giving context to the poses. Then an Indigenous soundtrack is played as participants are instructed to make movements with their eyes closed to help them visualise their connection to the planet.
"Participants tell us it opens up their eyes to what is around them and helps them feel a connection to nature," Thomas explains. "It gives people a tool to use nature to find stillness and quiet their mind. It benefits people physically and mentally, plus benefits the earth by making people be 'Wayapa' with sustainability."
Want to give it a try? A 6-week Wayapa introductory course is starting Thursday April 14 at the Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural Centre at Federation Square in Melbourne at 5.30pm. Bookings essential. For more information go to wayapawuurrk.com.
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