The benefits of traditional Māori and Pacific herbs in wellness have been well-known amongst indigenous healers for centuries, but slowly mainstream medicine is coming around to a more holistic way of thinking. Rochelle and Tana Umaga have developed a supplement range called Viktual+, to try and help Kiwis look after their overall wellbeing. Rochelle tells Capsule about how her journey to understand her wellbeing started when she became a mum at 20 and how that changed her priorities.
How has your approach to your wellbeing changed throughout the years? When did you realise that your wellbeing was not only something you not only had to pay attention to but actually prioritise?
I became a mum at 20 years old and everyone warned me how hard it would be. This was the first time I prioritised my wellbeing. My focus was on being a full-time mother so that’s what I did. I got into a daily routine, exercised while he was sleeping, I ate three balanced meals a day with 2-3 snacks and slept when I could. This approach gave me the stamina I needed for when I went back to work, full-time, when he was 5 months old. I’ll be 50 in two years and I’ve reassessed my lifestyle. When I’m not fueling, by body properly, the aches, pains and low-energy levels are much more noticeable than when I was a 20 year old. We’ve been plant-based going on three years soon, which includes a balanced diet of fats, protein and carbohydrates and consistent exercise. And with our busy days, we’re supplementing this with our product range to ensure we’re getting enough vitamins and minerals.
The idea of self-care is transforming into community-care, where we not only look after ourselves but we look after our unit as a whole. You come from a large family and you’re also a mother, so this idea of having to take care of a wider whānau or community is not new to you. How do you balance your own health with that of your whānau and friends?
To take care of my whānau, I know I have to prioritise my own wellbeing. If I don’t – nurture my body, nurture my mind, nurture my wairua – I’ll get run down, then how can I expect to take care of anyone else. As a whānau we eat at least five home cooked meals a week and encourage our kids to exercise whenever they can. We also share the load around the house. It makes life a lot easier when everyone is helping each other.
How did you decide to start Viktual+ and what were your biggest goals and also apprehensions with starting your own business in the wellness field?
Viktual+ started from making my own skincare. Tana has used supplements for over 20 years, and we realised there are no supplement brands incorporating both Māori and Pacific plants. Including these plants in our range was one of our major goals as they have many health benefits for many ailments including to reduce stress. Our goal is for people to prioritise their personal wellbeing, to share the benefits of our Māori and Pasifika plants to help people rebalance and support their busy lives. We’ve funded this ourselves so we’re a bit apprehensive about that but we believe we’ve got a great product range which we’re proud of.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about wellness?
I think the biggest misconception about wellness is that it’s about how you look. For me, this has been exacerbated by the warped images we’re seeing in a lot of media and more so through social media. It’s put immense pressure, especially on younger people, to look a certain way and the effect this is having on people’s mental wellbeing is understandable. For me, wellness starts from within, but I’m not sure if the effects that food has on our mental wellbeing is being highlighted enough. What we consume has a huge flow-on effect, not only on our physical self but our mood swings, happiness and confidence in ourselves.
A lot of the kaupapa of Viktual+ is returning to the wisdom of the natural world. When did you first learn about the use of native plants in promoting health and who taught you?
I can remember as a kid at school, hearing the whispers about tohunga. My mum would briefly talk about how they used plants in the old days but I didn’t really have an understanding of it all. In the last few years, I’ve become more aware of what I’m putting onto my skin. I started researching and learning more about natural skincare products, native plants and how they were used traditionally. We’re incorporating Horopito, Mānuka, Kānuka and Kava into our supplements in a powder form to enable people to get the health benefits in a modern method.
The Māori concept of Hauora is a very powerful one – when it comes to looking after the four pillors of your health, what do you know works for you?
Growing up, I felt a disconnect to Tikanga Māori and even the concept of Hauora. Now that I have a better understanding of it, I’ve realised that when my Taha tinana is strong, it helps with the others too. Because of this I prioritise having a healthy lifestyle.