What is wairua?
He aha tēnei mea te wairua?

"Hurihia to aroaro ki te ra tukana to atarangi kia taka ki muri i a koe"
Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you

Wairua – a living soul

Tihei Mauri Ora - Behold there is Life! Māori believe the sneeze of life, the mauri, was breathed into the body and created humankind. The combination of the physical body and the mauri created the wairua - a living soul. While mauri is the intrinsic power that brings life, wairua allows us to relate to others.

We are all born with taha tinana (our body), taha hinengaro (our mind), and taha wairua (our spirit); these are integral to shaping every person. Taha wairua relates to the unseen and unspoken energies. For some people, wairua (spirituality) is about having faith and religious practices, for others it's an internal connection to the universe or the sacred.

Hauora wairua describes our spiritual health. Spirituality is a broad concept, but in general it includes a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves - hence our opening whakatauki here: as we look to something bigger, like the sun, the things that have burdened us become more manageable, the shadows fall behind us.

Māori believe all things have wairua as well as a physical body; from the earth, to people and animals. It is believed that before man was fashioned from the elements of the earth, he existed as a spirit and dwelt in the company of the gods. When a person dies their physical remains are interred in the bosom of Papatūānuku (Mother Earth), but their spirit lives on and travels the pathway of Tāne to be with the gods that created them. (For more information read Tikanga Whakaaro: Key Concepts in Māori Culture)

Wairua is also reflected and recognised in places and people we feel a connection to - the place you grew up, the beaches you surfed, lakes, mountains and rivers or the lands your ancestors fought for. You will also have spiritual connections to certain whānau, friends, your unit, hapū or iwi. These are powerful bonds that can help you maintain your sense of belonging even when things are not going well, or you are far away.

Is being spiritual the same as being religious?

Spirituality typically involves a search for meaning in life - or it can describe the things that give us meaning.

For some people, developing a sense of spirituality involves connecting with a specific religious belief or practice. They might believe that a deity or God - something beyond ourselves - influences us and the world around us.

But wairua can be different things to different people, and you don't need to identify with a religion to find meaning in life. Some people experience this in their commitment to a set of core values, or in a sense of shared community and humanity.

People may describe a spiritual experience as sacred, transcendent, or simply a deep sense of being and interconnectedness. Our spiritual self is where we find our sense of belonging, our connections with people, groups and places.

What does spirituality have to do with my health?

Māori have always recognised the significance of wairua for wellbeing and good health.

There may be times in life when you feel like you've lost your way, which can leave you feeling unsettled within yourself or like you don’t belong anywhere. When we're “feeling out of sorts” and experiencing inner confusion, it's usually a sign all is not well with our wairua.

These feelings can start to affect other areas of life, such as your relationships with family or work colleagues. People turn to lots of distractions to try and fill that void or emptiness, such as unhealthy relationships, alcohol and too much partying. But often these distractions from our problems just make things worse.

Research suggests that cultivating some sense of spirituality can help people build their sense of identity, meaning and purpose in life. It can also help people find more significance in relationships, better handle adversity, and experience life more fully. And studies have shown that having a sense of meaning or purpose in your life, is associated with better overall health.

Hauora Tane: Wairua - Huataki Whareaitu (english version)

Huataki Whareaitu gives us his view on what he has experienced with te taha wairua - spiritual health as it applies in Te Whare Tapa Whā Health Model by Sir Mason Durie.

Hauora Tane: Wairua - Huataki Whareaitu (Te Reo Māori Version)

Huataki Whareaitu gives us his view on what he has experienced with te taha wairua - spiritual health as it applies in Te Whare Tapa Whā Health Model by Sir Mason Durie.

How can I nurture wairua?

If you are interested in developing your own sense of spirituality, you might consider some of the ideas that follow, and also check out the other links in this wairua section.

Things to help you develop a healthier wairua

Many people feel spiritual health underpins life satisfaction and happiness, just as much as physical health does. But you can’t get spiritually healthy by joining a gym.

Identifying what brings meaning to your life and finding your why, or purpose, is essential to resilience. The good news is that even if you feel like you've lost or haven't quite found your spiritual way, you can get there. You might need a little help from others to re-establish your connections with those people and places that are important to you. You may find it helpful to take time to reflect on where those lost feelings are coming from. You may find it helpful to pray or mediate.

Sometimes talking to an elder, a kaumātua, minita, chaplain or priest can help you make sense of what is going on for you. The NZDF has three marae, one each for the Navy, Army, and Air Force, and each Camp and Base has care there if you need to talk. To get in touch with a chaplain, you can ring and make an appointment or drop by their office. The NZDF Chaplains are always happy to put you in contact with someone who you feel more culturally or spiritually comfortable with, if they can’t help you themselves.

Or here are some more suggestions to tune in to and foster your wairua.


  • Sometimes we feel like we've lost our direction in life and we're not sure what to do about it. Re-setting a foundation for your life starts with finding your own individual purpose or belief, which takes honest self-reflection. Once you have a better sense of your purpose you're likely to see life with more clarity, have more confidence in yourself, and it will help you connect with your identity and place in this world.
  • Read more about identity and meaning here.

Mindfulness & Meditation

  • For centuries, people of many beliefs have practiced meditation as a strategy for connecting with their own sense of spirituality, and disconnecting from the demands of everyday life. Research shows meditation can be helpful in reducing stress, speeding recovery, increasing quality of life, and in some instances reducing pain.
  • Meditation can be divided into two different approaches - concentration meditation and mindfulness practice.
  • During concentration meditation, an individual focuses attention on a single object, and continues to return their focus back to that object when their mind wanders. Focusing on a specific object creates a neutral point upon which to centre your energy and attention. People often use a mantra (a simple word or phrase repeated over and over), a visual object, or even the breath. This type of meditation has been found to be useful for achieving relaxation, which in turn can reduce stress. A spiritual approach to meditation would mean that rather than aiming for a neutral point, there is an intention to focus on the divine - someone such as Jesus, Buddha, or Allah. Similarly the words uttered in a mantra might be from a sacred text.
  • Mindfulness practice focuses your attention on the present moment, and can take a number of forms including prayer and contemplative practices. When we allow ourselves to be truly aware of the moment, we pay attention to physical sensations, sounds, thoughts, and feelings without attaching judgment to them. As is the case with concentration meditation, a person’s mind will tend to wander. When that happens, the goal is to recognise it and bring the mind back to the present. Contemplation often describes the state of utter stillness when our mind no longer wanders, and when we are no longer concentrating on the focal point of the mindfulness exercise.  It is the deepest point we can reach. Mindfulness meditation and contemplation have been associated with reduced stress, increased quality of life, reduced pain, and faster recovery from injury or illness.
  • Read more about mindfulness here.

Spend quiet time in nature

  • Connect with the natural world by going on hikes and walks. Turn your phone off so you can quiet your mind. Don’t check your messages or take pictures. Instead, find quiet places to just sit, be, and observe the plants, animals, and clouds.


  • Prayer is often used to cultivate a stronger spiritual/religious connection, ask for guidance to cope with difficult life events, seek forgiveness or help in forgiving others, or to express a sense of gratitude. Books, websites and information provided by specific religious organisations can all be helpful in understanding more about how others have benefited from prayer, and how you might incorporate prayer into your own life.
  • Prayer is simply kōrero. You are both talking to - and listening to - the divine, te Atua. An easy guide to prayer for total beginners can be found in the app U Version - it comes from a Christian source, but the basic guide to prayer can be applied widely. Many religions have their own prayer traditions, such as the use of a rosary for Catholics. Some religions provide the words for prayers that you can adopt as your own, while others encourage people to use their own words.
  • There is a strong association between music and prayer - music can draw us into a place where we feel wairua strongly, and into a space that is conducive or prayer and meditation.

Connect with your culture

  • If you have never been connected with your culture, or have become disconnected from it, and would like to learn more about your whakapapa and where you have come from, reach out to whānau or local points of contact (including the marae on our bases) who can help you.


  • Many people find comfort, strength and guidance on their spiritual path by sharing with others. The most familiar examples of spiritual community are religious organisations, or congregations, which share a specific set of beliefs. Think about your beliefs and what you are hoping to gain from the experience, and look into the beliefs and practices of nearby groups.
  • Many people tend to make these decisions based on the religion or spiritual practice they experienced while growing up. It’s important to remember that, as an adult, your views may have changed and you might want to explore a broader range of options.

Reflect on your beliefs

  • Maintain the principles of your faith by writing down the things you hold to be true. If something is troubling you, don’t hide it from yourself. Share it with someone you trust, and discuss your concerns together.

Foster empathy for others

  • Develop empathy towards all people by paying close attention to the people who surround you. If you find yourself feeling contempt, disgust, or hatred towards others, take a deep breath and try to see things from their perspective. Think of what they may have suffered, of what they fear, and of the things that bring them feelings of joy and safety.

Forgive yourself, and others

  • Longstanding conflict and bitterness in relationships wears people down. There are ongoing costs for you if you have historical grievances you haven’t been able to let go of. Much experience and research has shown that whether you hold a deep faith, or no religious beliefs at all, finding a way to forgive those who have wronged you has great benefit for the person doing the forgiving.
  • This isn’t necessarily easy. The first step is often deciding you're willing to start the process of trying to forgive someone - even when you don’t feel like you want to, and you don’t feel they deserve it. There will also be times when you will need to forgive yourself. Working through either of these things may be a time when you need some support from someone you trust, perhaps an elder, a kaumātua, chaplain or a priest.

Express yourself creatively

  • Creative exploration will strengthen your spiritual understanding. For example, you could try singing, dancing, baking, decorating, painting, writing, or gardening.


  • Focusing on others will help you develop yourself. Find a cause you care about and donate your spare time to it. Look at local organizations that could use volunteers, start a fundraiser, or begin your own volunteer group.

Find Balance in your Life

  • Balance is spending the right amount of time to meet your responsibilities while also taking care of your needs. There are many common causes of imbalance in life including: a lack of focus and not planning ahead, never saying “no” to requests, mixing work and personal time, difficulties in relationships or personal issues, or neglecting self-care.
  • It’s important you know your limits and set boundaries. Consider what you can reasonably accomplish, set priorities, work out your schedule, and practice self-care - looking after your own health and wellbeing.