This article first appeared in The House of Wellness magazine.
Every morning before she gets out of bed, life coach Tracy Manu rests one hand on her belly, the other on her heart, and draws three slow, deep breaths. She closes her eyes and inhales deeply. "Breath is powerful," she says. "And self-care is really, really important."
It might seem like a relatively straightforward thing to do – self-love, self-care, self-actualisation – but she has been working on it for more than 20 years. During that time, she's been building her confidence, a successful business and, through good habits, reaching a place of purposeful peace. And she's on a mission to help others create a life they love too.
For Tracy, it starts with affirming rituals. One she performs habitually is a type of karakia before she begins and ends a coaching session. "I feel really proud to be Māori," she says. "In my twenties, I was very shy about it. I wouldn't say 'kia ora' to people. I just denied that part of me. But when I started to learn te reo Māori, probably two and a half years ago, it became a beautiful healing process. As I've learned more and more about my ancestors, I just feel so proud."
Getting vulnerable about her progression from a solo mum of three in her early twenties to a successful indigenous businesswoman in her prime is what makes Tracy so sought-after as a life coach specialising in transformative change. But that doesn't mean she's preaching the art of perfection. Rather, her work focuses more on acceptance and soft power. "Mindfulness to me is awareness," she says. "It's about looking after your mind, honouring your emotions and noticing what feelings you might be having."
A good place to start is by simply paying attention to how you deal with everyday interactions. Are you a reactor or a responder? If you find yourself reacting, or in some cases overreacting, Tracy suggests this could indicate that some work could be done. This could relate to setting boundaries, speaking up for yourself or investing in better self-care.
Aim for a thoughtful response. "Responding to a situation calmly and with more awareness is about being present," Tracy advises. "It shows we're not making stories up about situations – because our mind loves us to make up stories!"
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When then, is it okay to be emotional? Tracy says it depends how connected we are to what we're doing. Emotional eating, shopping or smoking, for example, can be a result of deflecting from the root cause of our discomfort. She suggests that taking a pause before we act is a positive way to reconnect with our true emotions.
"For many generations we were told, 'Stop that crying, don't be silly.' So we push our emotions down or label them as 'good' or 'bad'. But as we begin to notice our feelings, and actually acknowledge them, we become less reactive and then we can start to be guided by them. Emotions are one of our superpowers! They can tell us when we're on the right track, or when something does or doesn't feel right."
On the balance
But what happens when hustle culture takes over and work-life balance teeters right on the edge? "I think balance is different for everyone," says Tracy. "I also think that high achievers can be hard on themselves. Sometimes it's about letting go of some of that stuff and realising that two days at the gym rather than five is going to be enough."
She suggests that lowering our expectations and being kind to ourselves is often better than pushing so hard that we veer towards breaking point. If you're someone who has long, never-ending to-do lists, try choosing one to three top priorities and completing these – you'll feel so much better at the end of the day when you've completed some, rather than none.
"It comes back to values," she says. "It's about tuning into what comes naturally to you and saying that you're doing enough, and that you are enough. Having worked with women from all walks of life, there is no difference between successful women and women who haven't found the success they'd like yet. Everyone doubts themselves at times and doesn't feel good. But with self-awareness of how we treat ourselves and by discovering what we want and taking steps to achieve that, we can all do it. Everyone goes through similar stages. It's human nature."
But what if we don't know what our values are? We often naturally live our values, so noticing what we're drawn to, how we show up in the world, can be indicators. A technique she uses to figure this out is writing in a journal. "Journalling is a fantastic self-awareness tool. Some days I don't have anything I want to write about, so I will write, "I don't know what to write about,' and then all of a sudden stuff starts to come out."
Getting ideas out of your head and onto paper helps you see clearly what's whirling around in your brain. The questions, the doubts – seeing them in writing helps point you in the direction of what really matters. And what really matters to you is a good indication of what your intrinsic values and beliefs are. Also, discovering how you wish to feel during your day is a great way to bring more satisfaction into your life. Journal how you want to feel and then reflect on your life. Are you doing things that bring about those feelings? If not, what could you do that allows you to feel them more?
Connecting with the natural world is another mindfulness tool to stay calm when times get tough. "I'm a massive believer that when we get out into nature we start to use all our senses, which brings us more into the present moment," she explains. This is also when inspiration, creative ideas and solutions to our problems can pop into our minds. Daily gratitude also has many benefits to our mental, physical and emotional health.
Tracy recommends giving yourself space to step away and become more of a witness. You could imagine yourself sitting on a mountain and looking down at your life. "You'll see things very differently than if you were down there trying to solve things at that level."
Alongside nature, Tracy is a believer that she's supported by her tūpuna. "I feel like they are here with me when I'm talking with clients. It's not just coaching that's going on – there's healing taking place. And I feel really blessed to be a part of my clients' journeys."
Tracy’s mindful practices to use daily
- Develop self-care via meditation or journalling
- Breathe deeply to calm the nervous system
- Allow yourself to feel your emotions
- Consider your core values
- Move your body through yoga or walks in nature
- Surround yourself with supportive people
- Notice your self-talk and practice positivity