When Jase Te Patu held a special yoga class in te reo Māori as part of Te Wiki o te Reo Māori in 2018, more than 100 people showed up, filling the central Wellington studio to capacity.
“I was gobsmacked,” said Te Patu (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Apa and Ngāti Tūwharetoa).
“It really made me think, ‘There are people who aren’t in the room.’ What if we were to speak to them in our language?”
At the time, the studio was called Power Living NZ, an offshoot of an Australian yoga business. But in November that year, co-owners Te Patu and Justine Hamill relaunched as Awhi Yoga & Wellbeing, with a distinct Aotearoa identity and kaupapa.
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They’ve become known for their bilingual approach, offering basic instructions and names of postures in both English and Māori during classes.
It was Hamill who came up with the name Awhi, which means to support and embrace in te reo Māori.
“I don’t even like calling it a brand – this is like a marae to us,” she said.
“Once we had the name, it just evolved from there.”
Te Patu and Hamill say yoga marries perfectly with te ao Māori.
Their teachings incorporate hauora, the Māori philosophy of health, and te whare tapa whā, or the four pillars – tinana (physical), hinengaro (mental), wairua (spiritual), and whānau (family).
“When I started studying yoga, I was like, ‘Whoa – this is what I’ve been taught by my nan and my koro,’” said Te Patu, who has been teaching yoga for 11 years.
“It’s about taking care of Mother Earth, Papatūānuku. Teaching about a connection to something greater than ourselves – atua [gods], our ancestors, all of it. It’s the very same teachings.”
For Te Patu, that first yoga class he taught fully in te reo Māori inspired him to take classes at Te Whare Wānanga to improve his language skills.
“I would say I’m proficient – I can speak conversational reo, but I just wanted to level up,” he said.
“It’s a point of difference. For quite a long time, I was the only Māori in yoga – and male. Yoga is quite often represented by white women. I feel really empowered to be able to express yoga in my own reo, so I feel more at home.”
Te Patu last year created a set of instructional yoga cards in Māori, working with te reo experts to come up with the right words for each posture.
Some were relatively straightforward – downward dog is kurī whakamuri, and pigeon pose is kererū. But others were more complicated.
“We had a whole day workshop where we went through all the yoga postures and said, ‘This is what this means in Sanskrit, this is the mana it holds’ – there’s a story behind every Sanskrit posture,” Te Patu explained.
“So virabhadrasana, or warrior one – it means hero’s friend. We came up with the word toa, which is warrior in Māori, but in our culture it means so many things. It means someone who’s both powerful and peaceful – they have to be super focused when they’re about to go into battle. But also someone who is fierce as a friend.”
It’s not just Te Patu who speaks te reo during yoga classes – the whole Awhi team gets involved, including instructors from Scotland, England and America.
“Jase speaks more than the rest of us, but we’ve learned to integrate little sayings, names of postures, and whakataukī [proverbs] that we can theme around and really bring in,” Hamill said.
“That’s been a cool thing for our team as well. It’s not about being really good at pronunciation, it’s the intention – giving it a go. That makes it accessible. So we notice then our students start having a go, even if it’s just coming into the studio and saying, ‘Kia ora.’
“And it just sounds so nice,” she added.
“You don’t even have to know what it means, but you can get the essence of it with the movements.”