From Teacher Burnout to a new career as a Massage Therapist & Yoga Teacher
Laura Alpe is a successful Massage Therapist and Yoga teacher embodying the guiding principles of our Māori models of healthcare, in particular Mason Durie’s founding model, Te Whare Tapa Whā, Today she runs her successful practice Mauritau from a beautiful space in an Allied Health Centre in Orakei, Auckland.
Getting to where she is now has been a journey of transformation and education. Before discovering Holistic Healthcare Laura was a dedicated teacher, a role that she loved, but that she knew was unsustainable. Feeling burnt out and exhausted Laura decided to leave the teaching profession and embarked on a journey of self-discovery, a decision that would lead her to study to become a Yoga Teacher and enrol to study for two massage qualifications with Wellpark College.
Combining all that she has learned from the practices of Yoga, Massage and Hauora, Laura is now able to offer her clients at Mauritau a rounded holistic experience, guiding them from the suffering of burnout, anxiety and stress into wellness.
Laura has taken generous enough to take time out of her busy day to talk about her education journey and her unique approach to holistic health.
You came to Massage Therapy and Yoga after a career as a Teacher, can you tell us what prompted you to move away from teaching and embark on an educational journey that would lead you into a career in Health and Wellbeing.
Moving away from education and into health was a move that I didn’t really plan. Rather, studying relaxation massage at Wellpark College served as a necessary part of my own healing from burnout.
I’d been teaching for 3 short, but intense years at a high decile primary school in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland). And while I loved my job, looking back I see that I had such high expectations of myself in my role that I failed to instil healthy boundaries between my mahi (work) and my home life. I was literally working all hours and not able to switch off at home. I was having panic attacks, trouble sleeping, a relationship breakdown, and I’d developed stomach ulcers. If only I knew then what I know now about the impact of stress on the body/mind.
I had gotten to the point where I had very little energy left to give to my school community, and therefore studying something completely different was refreshing, and filled my emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual cup.
Wellpark’s Grey Lynn campus was such a tranquil little escape from ‘normal’ life. We would sit in the sunny garden and take an hour to eat our lunch while catching up with our classmates. I hadn’t taken a proper lunch break in what felt like years, so this, along with frequent massages, helped to reset my frazzled nervous system and remind my body how to be relaxed.
Learning about the body through anatomy and physiology was also a revelation. I fed my mind with knowledge about what prolonged stress had done to my own body, and in doing so, I was able to have more compassion for myself. It didn’t take long before I realised that I wanted to share massage and relaxation with everyone.
Your journey to improve your own health and wellbeing has seen you train to be both a Massage Therapist and a Yoga Teacher, allowing you to offer your clients a well-rounded holistic experience. How do the practices of Massage and Yoga complement each other and what are the benefits of these practices for people experiencing stress, overwhelm, burnout or anxiety?
I see yoga and massage as two sides of the same coin. They are both embodied practices that allow a person to feel at home in their body. Often when we are overwhelmed or anxious we can dissociate from our body, so one of the main ways to calm the mind is through slowing the breath and by coming back to the senses. Both yoga and massage allow these things to happen but in different ways. In massage the therapist facilitates the reconnection of body and mind through manipulation of tissues, whereas in yoga, the onus is more on the person practicing to create the shift.
Both practices can be very healing for those experiencing chronic stress or burnout through their release of fascial tension. Massage techniques such as myofascial release work to slowly melt through long-held tension, which has been said to store trauma and emotions. Restorative and yin yoga use props to support the body to hold poses for several minutes at a time, allowing a similar release of myofascial tension and emotions.
I believe that a great relaxation massage should allow the client to enter a semi-conscious state, whereby they can safely process their own thoughts, feelings and memories. Similarly, a complete yoga practice does not only include asana (physical poses), but also breathwork and meditation, so that by the end of the practice, the person is also able to quieten their mental state and come to a place of clarity.
However, not everyone is ready for both practices, and I’ve found that massage is an easier way for people to see immediate results while costing more. Most of my clients are struggling with stress, anxiety, or burnout, but some clients who have time and money to receive massage, lack the energy, inclination or discipline to practice yoga regularly. In time, as they begin the healing journey, they often pick up a yoga practice.
You have deep connections to Te Whare Tapa Whā . You named your practice Mauritau, which describes the state of landing in a place of calm and balance. What can we all learn from Hauora and taking a more holistic approach toward our health and wellbeing?
Our modern lives seem to compartmentalize ‘health’ into something you ‘do’ when you go to the gym, see your doctor or naturopath, or eat a salad.
But my observations from Te Ao Māori (the Māori world) is that hauora is as much about how welcome or supported you feel in an environment, whether you’ve lost a loved one recently, and how often you get to go ‘home’, as it is about how hearty your meals are and when you last exercised.
Hauora is an all-encompassing, holistic way of being that is always searching for equilibrium. It is more about being, rather than doing. And while there are many actions we can take to bring about a state of balance, often what’s required is a letting go of a perpetual need to be busy, and a willingness to stop at times and be really present with ourselves and with others. This is where the ‘tau’ or settled state occurs.
Take kai (food) for example. Often it’s not what we are eating that’s the issue, but how we are eating it. Are we eating lunch on our own, at our desk, on our phone or even in our car?
Or are we sitting around with friends or colleagues, sharing some good conversation, maybe a few laughs and taking our time? This speaks to te taha whānau and te taha hinengaro, the social and emotional dimensions of health. When we are connecting with others, we digest our kai better in this happy and relaxed state.
Do we take time to practice gratitude, or even say a karakia (prayer) in thanks for our meal? This speaks to te taha wairua, or spiritual connection. Shared rituals like karakia can help us to not only feel connected to each other, but to something bigger than us.
At one of my schools, the staff room was like a ghost town at times, with many teachers opting to eat lunch in their classrooms while catching up on mahi (work). The stress in the school was palpable, burnout was high, and several senior staff had cancer diagnoses. The environment did not feel conducive at all to hauora.
Contrast that to my current school environment, which I believe values hauora highly. The kihini (kitchen) is always full of staff sharing their kai, telling stories, cracking jokes and shooing out stray kids so we can get a real break away from the mahi. Staff are happy, fulfilled, and generally well.
So I see hauora as the whole bigger picture, where the small insignificant parts all add up to something great.
Education is important to you, you have studied and learned many things including Te Reo Māori. You now teach bilingual Yoga Classes. Why is it important to you to promote the use and learning of Te Reo Māori and for you to pass your knowledge of Te Reo on to others?
Te Reo Māori came to me at a time when I was going through a lot of transition, and like massage, it provided its own healing properties. Te Reo opened the doorway to Te Ao Māori, the Māori world, and since being here, I’ve made so many connections that have enriched my life in countless ways. It is a part of my wider sense of hauora, or wellness, to know myself as a tangata tiriti, as a Pākehā (European), in relation to tangata whenua, to Māori. I am comfortable in my skin, grounded in my cultural identity, and from that place I can walk confidently in the world.
Te Reo Māori is a national taonga (treasure) that I am privileged to possess. I know for a fact that there was an expectation on me to pass on this gift to others through teaching, so that’s part of why I promote te reo through whatever kaupapa I am a part of. It was a koha (gift) and koha need to be passed on. But it’s more than that. It’s a soul passion. I want others to benefit from this beautiful language in the same way that I have, and I want our reo to continue to thrive across Aotearoa.
You first studied for your Certificate in Relaxation Massage at Wellpark College but choose to return to study for your Diploma in Wellness and Relaxation Massage and was the recipient of the Massage New Zealand Award at Graduation. How has the Diploma Programme allowed you to expand your scope of practice?
I am so happy that I returned to Wellpark to ‘upgrade’ my qualification. Alongside the obvious new massage techniques and modalities, the biggest expansion has been in the areas of communication and wellness theory. Before, I would say that I could give a great relaxation massage, full stop. Now, I would say that I can empower my clients to take greater control of their own health and wellness. I do this through education, through my social media and blog, but also during my client consultation, where I get to ask open questions to prompt reflection into their own health and propose home care suggestions. My clients know that while I have all the empathy in the world, I’m also going to be their biggest champion in terms of their wellness goals.
You practice massage therapy from a beautiful space in Orakei which you share with a number of other practitioners. What have been the advantages to you as a massage therapist to work alongside other wellness professionals and practitioners, rather than work alone?
I love being part of our growing wellness collective, and I gain so much from the other practitioners. We are all fairly part-time and very busy people so we don’t have as many health-related conversations, but I feel that I’ve been picking up so many business tips and ideas from them as they are all so much more established than me. There are also lots of opportunities for referrals between our services, which wouldn’t happen as often if I was working on my own.
You run a successful Massage Therapy practice, you are a yoga teacher and you have returned to part-time teaching, what self-care practices do you have in place to ensure that you maintain a healthy balance and avoid burnout?
Great question! Self-care is a daily discipline that I’m quite strict about, as I’m really clear that I do not want to head back to the place that I was in.
My daily yoga practice is non-negotiable, and I do between 30-60 minutes of asana (yoga) or walking, breathwork, meditation and journaling every morning, (unless I am really unwell). In my experience, on the days that I do my practice, I am much more able to flow with what life brings my way, but if I skip it, then things start to rattle me and anxiety creeps back in.
Self-care to me also looks like drinking decaf coffee. It looks like eating home-cooked meals with whānau or flatmates. It looks like taking a sick day when I need to and not muscling through. And it looks like growing my māra (garden).
Do you have any advice for students who are looking to follow in your footsteps and provide a multidisciplinary holistic approach to helping clients to better health?
Gain confidence in one discipline first before then developing a second one. It’s virtually impossible to gain mastery of multiple things at the same time, and you’ll have to learn to prioritize. When I started my wellness business, I focussed really hard on developing my massage skills and building my reputation. When the massage side of my business started humming along, then I was able to start developing my yoga teaching side.
Look after your clients through building strong relationships and being generous and they will reward you with their loyalty. I have no problem giving free trials for yoga classes or the odd extra 5 minutes of massage here and there. It doesn’t mean much to us to offer this, but clients really value the small acts of kindness. And often when clients trust you, they will go to you no matter what you are offering. For example, my massage clients come to my yoga classes, and my yoga clients come for massages.
Pace yourself, and be prepared to reflect often and change things up if they aren’t working. One of the great things about working within multiple disciplines is that there is always variety and rarely a dull moment. One of the not so great things, however, is the tendency to work a bit too hard, especially when we are just starting out and passionate about everything. When I’ve reflected on my business, I’ve seen that I was putting 40% of my effort into yoga classes, while this was only bringing in 10% of my revenue, so I’ve had to be honest with myself and make changes for my business to be sustainable.
- Favourite Massage technique: Myofascial release – all of it
- Favourite yoga asana : Wild thing – Camatkarasana
- Favourite Essential Oil: May Chang
- Favourite Quote “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel” – Maya Angelou.
- Your go-to snack to get you through a busy day? Bliss balls all the way
Interview with Laura Alpe By Nikki Morgan
Find out more about the NZ Diploma of Wellness and Relaxation Massage
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