Building Resilient, Happy Kids with Natasha Rix from Pause Breathe Smile

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24 May 2023

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Natasha Rix’s path to becoming a mindfulness maven started as a personal one. It was the ‘90s and the recent university graduate started to feel adrift. “I didn’t have any language or context for what I was experiencing, but I was depressed,” explains Natasha. 

That mental health experience led her to a Mindfulness practice. Mindfulness wasn’t the buzzword that it is today, but back then Natasha found a book that talked about it — being in the present, cultivating a state of calm —and the power of meditation. It was the beginning of a 25-year journey for Natasha, who found a master teacher and worked on her own resilience and contentment and eventually trained as a teacher herself. 

In between work for local governments in strategic planning, Natasha helped clients to become more mindful and present in their lives, to stress less and appreciate more. When she met her now-husband, Grant Rix, on a mindfulness retreat on Stewart Island in 2001, they spent years intensively practising and studying meditation together. In 2012, as a mother to a preschooler, she founded her first business, Mindful Living, where she created a course for mothers called Mindful Mums, as well as courses for the general public. 

In 2016, the couple decided to focus on childrens’ wellbeing and to make Pause Breathe Smile their life’s work by founding their second business Mindfulness Education Group. The Pause Breathe Smile programme equips Kiwi kids aged five to 12 with the tools to manage the ups and downs of life. Delivered in schools, by teachers, it provides a structured framework of lesson plans and classroom resources that help children learn to be kind, connected, resilient and flourishing. In 2020, Southern Cross joined Grant and Natasha in their work and now funds the programme so that it’s free for all schools. 

Tash and Grant, the owners of The Pause Breathe Smile Trust.

“The genius of it is that it is so simple and yet profound,” explains Natasha of the programme.  “It grew very organically from its own success in the beginning. So much of it was word of mouth, with teachers telling other teachers that it helped their kids to be ready to learn. Now, the stresses of Covid, climate anxiety, phones and social media and other recent anxieties have only snowballed for children. They are experiencing a lot of anxiety for good reason, and they need support.

“Research has been an important part of our story from the outset, ensuring what we do is proven to work,” Natasha adds. The evidence includes internationally recognised research and a recent local report that showed that Pause Breathe Smile reduces negative behaviour in the classroom by 10% and increases student wellbeing by 16.6%. Teachers report less aggression in the playground and more focus in class. 

Pause Breathe Smile has now reached more than 115,000 children around the country. As CEO of the charitable trust, Natasha’s can-do attitude and commitment to better mental health in Aotearoa mean she is always looking at ways to offer more: this year, Pause Breathe Smile is being taught to teacher education students at AUT and Victoria University of Wellington, and an  app is being launched, making guided mindfulness practices more accessible for kiwi kids in the classroom and at home. 

So how does the woman prioritising mindfulness for others make time for her own? “As I’ve become a CEO and got busier and busier, sitting on a cushion and meditating for hours like I used to in my 20s is hard,” says the Queenstown resident. “But the mindful life, being a mindful leader or being mindful when doing housework, isn’t hard, because that awareness cultivated from years of practice is always there. I go for a mindful walk after work to transition into that more contemplative, quiet space. And I understand that as a working mum I can’t do it all.  Scaling up and rolling out Pause Breathe Smile free for all New Zealand children is enough.”

*Pause Breathe Smile is free for all primary and intermediate school children, thanks to the support of Southern Cross. You can find free recordings of mind health practices at pausebreathesmile.nz

Related Article: Dr Hinemoa Elder on changing the mental health sector

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