Hā tool aims to help those with anxiety

By Aroha Mane

Julia Wikeepa (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Pukeko) is honest and open about her struggles with anxiety. She recognises how debilitating it is, but rather than fighting it, she works on it every day. It's also the inspiration behind 'Hā Habit,' a tiny breathing taonga that she believes will benefit others.

As a youth, Wikeepa suffered from really bad social anxiety and she would often turn to alcohol and drugs to cope.

“At 24-years-old I became pregnant with my son and I decided it was time to change my lifestyle. I gave up everything, started reading self-help books and enlisted in projects that were meaningful,” said Wikeepa.

She began running and completed the Rotorua Marathon. She raised money to volunteer for a Habitat for Humanity project in India and learned to sew and design garments. With Te Wānanga o Aotearoa she graduated from Te Ara Reo, Te Pūtaketanga and Te Aupikitanga, Māori language classes. All of these modifications improved her health, but she still wanted to learn more about her condition.

“I enrolled in a Social science degree at the University of Waikato. Through research, I learned about the Win Hof method and how elongated breathing allows your parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and calm the mind and body quicker.”

Her research also looked for examples in other cultures where she found out about the breath techniques of ancient Japanese Komusō monks. She decided to look for examples from her own Māori heritage.

“Taonga pūoro are Māori musical instruments. Flutes like the pūtōrino and koauau not only play beautiful music but are used as calming tools for mental wellbeing.”

“Science tells us that the long exhalation needed to play these instruments stimulates the vagus muscle, which sends a message to the mind and body to relax. While playing the flute, the focus muscle is also exercised. A breathing rhythm is used, which is a form of meditation. Just like playing Taonga pūoro, being able to focus on breathing and block mind chatter is a skill that can be honed.”

Wikeepa says these similarities can be found in her Hā tools, the only major difference is that her breathing necklaces are discrete.

“Hā habit is all about empowering people to be the best version of themselves. Amongst all the chaos, you have the power within to ground yourself, breathe and reset. Focus on what really matters”

The Covid climate has delayed her preliminary launch but she’s looking at 3 January 2022 as her new proposed date. To be notified about her new collection you can register on her website Hā Habit.