With a Cool-Girl-Next-Door Vibe, Kait Hurley Is Taking Mindfulness in a Joyous Direction

Welcome to Next Gen of Wellness, our spotlight of the nine up-and-coming icons you need to know about *right now*.  Here, movement and meditation teacher Kait Hurley shares her mindfulness tips, nutrition advice, and routine-simplifying hacks. 

Think of Kait Hurley as the cool girl next door. If she were actually your neighbor, you can imagine her knocking on your door and saying, "Let's go do yoga on the roof!" And, even on your most sleep-deprived day, you'd probably go...and have a blast.

The Portland, OR-based meditation and movement teacher has an undeniably light vibe on Instagram—but as she wrote last year on Well+Good, her sunny demeanor today is grounded in the work she did to deal with deep anxiety and panic attacks.

How did she find her Zen? And what are her daily go-to essentials to stay energized and radiant? Read on to find out.

Next Gen of Wellness: Kait Hurley
Photo: Kait Hurley

1. How did you get into wellness, and what's
 your personal mission in the wellness space?

My interest in wellness started in high school when I ran cross country and track competitively. I was lucky to have an amazing coach who taught me that getting good sleep, staying hydrated, and not eating fast food was just as important to my training as running mile repeats. My career as a competitive distance runner continued in college. I ran Division 1 at one of the top programs in the country. While it was an amazing experience in so many ways, it was also damaging. As an NCAA athlete, the only thing I cared about was what I could achieve. How far could I push myself? How fast could I run? What races could I qualify for? The answers to these questions became how I measured my self-worth and happiness. For the first time ever, I started to struggle with body image, anxiety, and feelings of "not enough." I justified all of this because I told myself I was ambitious—that I understood what it took to win and be a successful.

My anxiety grew and grew throughout my 20s, and it was only when I started having a series of panic attacks that I considered looking inward and giving meditation a try.

After college, I stopped running competitively but I couldn't let go of my negative self-talk and relentless desire to achieve. Shortly after graduation, I found a home in the fitness industry teaching group exercise and working in marketing. Even though my job was centered around health and wellness, I didn't feel particularly well or healthy. I exercised. I ate whole foods. I did all the things that you're supposed to do...but it wasn't enough. It wasn't working for me. My anxiety grew and grew throughout my 20s, and it was only when I started having a series of panic attacks that I considered looking inward and giving meditation a try. I connected with an incredible teacher (who is now my mentor and oversees all of the meditations I create for my online classes), and dove in headfirst with daily practices.

While I started noticing the mental benefits of meditation almost immediately, I still dreaded the practice every day. First of all, it was hard for me to sit in the quiet. As soon as I'd start meditating, my mind would race and I felt so antsy. Also, I struggled because I worked long hours, and each day I felt like I had time to either exercise or meditate—there didn't seem to be room for both in my busy schedule.

It wasn't until I combined movement with meditation and started exercising and moving my body before meditating that I was able to let go of the dread factor and actually enjoy the process. By harnessing the energy and endorphins cooked up during my sweat session, I found that I was more patient and open to the experience of sitting. The combo of moving and meditating helped me connect with the deeper, wiser part of myself. I learned how to be kind to myself and let go of perfection. It also helped me stay steady and grounded in stressful situations. I no longer got swept up in my emotions or reactions. I gained clarity.

My personal mission in the wellness space is to share this powerful synergy with other women so they too can connect with themselves in a deeper, more meaningful way and uncover their inner strength and resilience. Everything we need is already within us. Meditation just allows us to uncover that inner strength and resilience and get better at dealing with stress.

2. Why do you think people have started prioritizing wellness in the last few years?

I think a lot of people turn to wellness because of the competition in the workplace, and they're looking for that edge to up their game and be their most creative, competent, best self. That's one of the things that motivated me to stick to meditation when I first started practicing daily. Yes, I saw how it eased my anxiety, but I also noticed how meditation gave me clarity and improved my focus at work. It felt like having a superpower.

I also think people turn to wellness once they hit a low point. They might be dealing with a new diagnosis, a health crisis, burnout, or maybe they reach a big milestone and finally get the promotion and they realize, "That's it? The thing that I thought would make me happy actually didn't." Once they realize the "I'll be happy when" syndrome isn't real, they start getting curious and exploring how to get happy now.

Another factor driving people to focus more on wellness is our incredibly divided political climate. The energies right now are intense. People are stirred up, uneasy, and there's a real fear of "the other." A lot of people are intuitively turning towards healing modalities like movement, meditation, breathwork, acupuncture, etc. They're looking for ways to connect deeper with themselves and stay steady in stressful times.

Next Gen of Wellness: Kait Hurley
Photo: Kait Hurley

3. What does a typical day look like for you? How do you stay productive?

There is no typical day, but I do have a simple and consistent morning routine. My morning routine isn't sexy, but it's incredibly grounding. I wake up, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, drink water, snuggle my cat.....and then I meditate. It took me a long time before I could comfortably wake up and meditate without doing a workout first—but now that my practice has deepened, I prefer to wake up and then sit. My morning meditation is just as important as washing my face or brushing my teeth. It's the non-negotiable thing that I do.

Then later in the afternoon, I do my workout and I meditate again. Full disclosure: I don't think other people need to meditate twice a day to enjoy the benefits meditation has to offer. I don't even recommend that people meditate as much as I do—I average between 30 and 60 minutes a day. Since I'm a meditation teacher, I need to make sure my practice is strong so I can help others work with the energies, thoughts, and emotions that come up during their meditations. But if you can meditate for 10 minutes a day, you're killing it.

Another consistent part of my day includes a morning meeting with my husband and business partner, Peter Marks. At 10 a.m. each day, we discuss our priorities, update each other on what we're working on, what's going well, and where we feel stuck. I usually don't eat breakfast until 11:15 a.m., and then I work from my favorite cafe, Tea Bar, in the afternoons until I either teach or work out and meditate in the afternoons.

On days when I film new online workouts and meditation videos, my schedule is a little crazier. I arrive on set no later than 8 a.m., and I film until about 5:30 p.m. Usually I bust out four workouts and four meditations over the course of 9 or 10 hours. I drink matcha and foam-roll to help me stay strong during the long day. Shooting days always wrap with gluten-free, dairy-free pizza, a big salad, and a glass of wine.

My secret to productivity? Lots of sleep, a strong movement and meditation practice, and focusing on one thing at a time. Also, I say no to things a lot. I've learned it's not just a question of whether I have the time. It's more about do I have the energy? I am very protective about where I put my energy and attention.

4. What are a few of your favorite wellness essentials?

I love Alison Wu's Everyday Matcha Potion recipe with Tea Bar's matcha. Also Robyn Down's podcast, The Feel Good Effect, is a must-listen. I learn so much from her weekly shows. My favorite episode is this one with Kate Fagan discussing the destructive nature of perfectionism and why struggle isn't weakness. It should be required listening for recovering perfectionists everywhere.

Some other top picks: This Glow & Go Power Peel Exfoliant mask by January Labs saves me when I'm dealing with occasional cystic acne and breakouts. And a woman who inspires me, big time, is Ally Love. I am not even that into spinning, and I had so much fun taking her class at Peloton when I was in New York City earlier this year. The way she and the other teachers get up in front of millions of people several times a week blows my mind. They are fearless and do such an incredible job building community and supporting others. I admire that.

5. What do you think the future holds for wellness as a movement?

I think we're going to see a bigger shift towards focusing on mindset moving forward. Because it's not just what you're doing, it's how and why you're doing it. Once people can get clearer on what their values are and understand their tendencies and patterns of thinking, they'll be able to break through barriers and get to where they want to go. Meditation definitely helped me overhaul my mindset and go from all or nothing (and intense), to gentle and more compassionate with myself. It's been a total game-changer and a major process.

For more ways to get your mindfulness on, try the guided audio in this app, to make your runs more meditative—or create your own meditation nook at home.

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