Sitting with Tigers

Jenni-Lee Reardon is a practitioner in Māori romiromi and mirimiri at Ata Bodywork. She connects through kōrero, intuitive movement and breathwork, to clear blockages, rebalance and realign.

Jenni-Lee Reardon is a practitioner in Māori romiromi and mirimiri at
Ata Bodywork. She connects through kōrero, intuitive movement and breathwork, to clear blockages, rebalance and realign.

Ko Rangataiki te awa
Ko Putauaki te maunga
Ko Mataatua te waka
Ko Ngā Maihi te hapū
Ko Ngāti Awa te iwi
Ko Tūteao te marae
Ko Jenni-Lee taku ingoa

“My story began in assumptions. I was a Māori; people just figured I had it, and I was comfortable with that. My mum and dad were brought up in the era where language was not supported, so
we lost our mother tongue. Both my parents were teachers, so they were very much colonised
in that space of survival.

As an adult, I realised I had got lost in assumptions. I was a mother of two teenagers who were
born of two iwi, and they were starting to track in the same spaces I had been comfortable in,
which I didn’t want for them. So when a friend told me about a wānanga for romiromi and mirimiri
led by Tracey-Leigh Te Paa, I was like, ‘Why not? I’m on a bit of an adventure of ‘who am I?’

I walked into this world of, ‘I don’t know anyone. I don’t have the reo. I’m gonna be exposed!’ But
it was the most transitional thing I’ve ever done. My fear moved very quickly into the sense that
I was where I should be. It wasn’t long before I sat in the long grass with the tiger, and tiger was
sitting beside me. Tracey told me later, ‘I knew when you walked in, you were where you were
meant to be. I could see your foremothers.’

That’s how I started in the world of mirimiri and romi, eight years ago, and Tracey-Leigh is my
pou [mentor]. I got encapsulated by the energy, which helped me to confront and grow in a very nurturing but vulnerable space. I still didn’t have the reo, but I am born of this culture. So, with
this, my reintegration and reconnection with my iwi and hapū started — and that journey was very scary. It was a wero for me to front up or to live with the excuse, ‘Mum was disconnected, so I am, and so my children will be, and their children’. I have never carried such a fire in my belly [as when
I decided] to do it for my kids. As I was growing, my girls were growing. They became inquisitive
and started hanging in the wānanga space, asking questions.

Mirimiri is the energetic exchange, the wairua; romiromi is the physical. It’s unlike going for a massage, where you walk in and you don’t know the whakapapa of the practitioner. With mirimiri, there’s always kōrero before anyone gets on the table — and that’s about meeting in a place of mutuality and safety. Before they arrive, I always do a clearing, a karakia, and I prepare for conversation and vulnerability.

Jenni-Lee at her calm, light-filled studio in Mount Maunganui.

There’s always kōrero, an exchange of information, before her sessions.

As we’re working with the body, there are challenging moments. But the secret is: breathing gets
us through. My treatments are not a place where you come and fall asleep. I want you to experience it. People are on the table because of mamae, because of sadness, because of troubles. But sometimes they just want that connection. It’s a beautiful place to just release what we manage
on a day-to-day basis.

There’s no right way or wrong way with body work. We all have our different styles, and one should respect the other. This is about creating community. This is about an ancient service that was here long before any of us. Our foremothers and fathers used it to connect, to create community. You never stop learning. We will never be the masters of such a historical practice. It’s only for us to
be facilitating what our tūpuna are really asking us to do.

When I came across Flowpresso, I was so intrigued. It’s a hands-off treatment, delivered through
a compression suit with infrared warmth as well. It works up through your body, like a massage
with many hands. The treatment allows your body to go into a parasympathetic state of rest
and restoration, it promotes gentle detoxification and flushes your lymphatic system.

One of my pet peeves is the word ‘anxiety’. We have been so quick to put meaning to a feeling
that is actually really natural. I’m not pooh-poohing the psychology world or the medical world.
I have a degree in social science, and I have worked for the last 21 years alongside clinical psychologists, connecting with the world of science. I’m just saying, sometimes our journey is
to learn what the feelings mean.Understand it and learn, ‘Who am I?’ Not, ‘What medications do
I take?’ Of course, there are diagnoses, and that is not the anxiety I am referring to — I have a lot
of college/uni students who come for flow to help them move from their sympathetics (fight or flight) to their parasympathetics (rest and restore).

The anxiety I am referring to is the everyday human experience of anxious feelings. We need to
sit in the long grass with the tiger, figure out what the tiger is, because that will develop resilience. That ‘gut feeling’ we talk about, butterflies in our stomach — that’s not anxiety. That is the feeling
of something new.

I have a beautiful [colleague]. His name is James Hancox [Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai]. He’s a zenthai
shiatsu master who comes from a yoga background, and also does romi and mirimiri. He comes down to the Mount once every three months and works out of my space. James has helped me
create a community, and I encourage some of my clients to go and see him. He’s also one of my
go-tos when I need to release.

When Jenni-Lee attended a wānanga for romiromi and mirimiri, she discovered her calling.

The other practitioner that works out of this space is Āwhina Motutere [Ngāi te Rangi, Ngāti Kahungunu], a beautiful rongoā practitioner. I have learned so much from her about when to
and when not to pick, and asking permission when picking the plant. I also have astrology nights.
I’m really blessed that my space has become its own community. As long as people come in with respect, they are welcome.

My space is a place of peace, where you leave your to-do list at the door. You can pick it up on
your way out, but this is a neutral space. People will have emotional releases, and we sit with that. They have a right to release in a safe environment and not be judged. Tears are a sign of strength because it means we’ve gone deep. You’ve got to be gentle on yourself. The world’s a harsh place.

I’m really proud that what I have now is intimate and private. Is growth on the horizon? Maybe.
My tūpuna will support that, or not. I want to grow my te ao Māori space — I can’t do that if I am
trying to grow everything. But a kauri doesn’t grow strong on its own. I think the most important thing is figuring out who my tribe is. I live trying to stay humble. I want to serve my whānau, my rōpū, my tribe — part of that is community.

Do I wake up feeling like I can give more? Absolutely. But I also shut shop when I need to regroup
— I will not lay my hands on someone else’s tinana [body] if I am not right myself. I don’t live a perfect life. I don’t pretend for a minute that all my shit’s lined up and done. I’m always sitting in the long grass with tigers — just like everybody else.”

Ata Bodywork, 32a Tweed St,
Mt Maunganui
Mirimiri/romiromi & Flowpresso tabodywork.co.nz @ata.bodywork
James Hancock
Zenthai massage  @shiatsudon
Āwhina Motutere
Rongoā Māori/herbal remedies lua.co.nzlua_nz
The Kōrero series is supported by the Creative Communities Scheme
Arpége Taratoa is editor of Kōrero

As told to Sionainn Mentor-King (Te Āti Awa)
Photography by Adrienne Pitts