Photography Monty Adams.
Introducing rituals with Rachel Hunter and why health is her word for 2021.
Rachel Hunter was a resident at Sadhguru’s ashram in India when the Covid-19 pandemic began gathering international force.
She’d completed 19 days of silence, and 10 days later India went into lockdown.
It was four more months before she was repatriated to her home in Los Angeles, but Hunter was philosophical about it.
“I ended up spending the first lockdown in an ashram,” she laughs. “It was amazing. I was very safe there. There was a lot of yoga and meditation. My nervous system is quite relaxed so it was okay. I didn’t buy into any of the drama – ‘OMG, the planes have shut down’ – it was just where I was meant to be, where I was meant to deal with things. I thought, ‘this is where I am, and this will work out.’”
And it has worked out for Hunter, 51, though it has also meant she has spent most of 2020 and part of 2021 alone.
“I’m obviously single, so I’m in a bubble by myself and because I was forever moving I couldn’t connect to anybody’s bubble as such,” she explains.
After four months in India and another four months in California she desperately wanted to see her children Renee and Liam who live in London.
When the United Kingdom opened up, she booked flights but on arrival the landscape changed quickly.
This meant she could wave to them and go for socially distanced walks but strictly no hugs, which was tough.
“I wasn’t going to break any of the rules because you are putting healthcare workers at risk, your own daughter at risk – you just don’t know, so it is always living in the unknown,” she says.
The UK then entered Tier 2 lockdown and after that there was no seeing anybody.
On her recent visit home to New Zealand she admits she found it strange to adjust to Level 1 after a year of lockdowns and being mostly solitary.
“I will still step back from people when they are too close. It’s just a natural reaction, it’s very different,” she says. “And I know people will always box me in and have opinions about masks and wonder ‘why are you wearing a mask out in nature?’ It wasn’t about me getting it. What if I had it and didn’t know and gave it to somebody? So there’s a huge responsibility there with that and it is a very different world out there to be moving in, compared to here.”
New Zealand has also gone into Level 3 and Level 2 lockdowns during her recent stay, but it’s a terrain she’s familiar with.
Over the past year she’s learned to use her body differently, opening doors with an elbow or foot. “I know there are loads of conspiracy theorists and I’m all for what anyone’s opinion is, but there are some things that I just do. You just function a little bit differently.”
Keeping it simple
Personal rituals she has followed through all the lockdowns and periods of quarantine and isolation include a daily mediation practice – “it’s good for stabilising the nervous system”, yoga training sessions and keeping a routine – going for walks and doing the grocery shopping – “just keeping things simple”.
She’s an advocate of self-care rituals that can be as simple as making a turmeric latte each morning.
Her 2021 wish for humanity is ‘health’ – or heal-th – in all aspects.
“There is an irony of what is always in our words and I think we are in this place right now and all I can say is from my own experience of it. What has really come out of it for me is that health is the priority for humanity because without that the world, as we have seen, stops.”
In February Hunter returned to New Zealand to fulfil commitments that were cancelled in 2020 due to Covid-19.
One of those commitments was presenting at the NZ Spirit Festival, which was postponed due to the most recent lockdown.
On her first day in a managed isolation facility she shared a quote on Facebook and was shocked when a woman reacted with a rant about Hunter coming back to New Zealand.
“I’m not someone who has left New Zealand and hasn’t been back for 10 years. I come back every year. That scrutiny, especially after a year away, was a shock to the system and it really hurt. It was like ‘f*ck, man, where is your sensitivity?’ And everyone’s opinions about MIQ (managed isolation and quarantine) and this and that,” she says.
“Also the bullying of those who contract Covid needs to stop. Nobody wants to get Covid. Nobody wants to spread Covid. When I see and hear the comments of when someone gets Covid here I just think it is absolutely awful. It’s not okay to go after someone who is at risk and really sick.”
“I also want to be really clear that these frontline workers are the most amazing people. Everybody was amazing in MIQ. And the food was great. I never ordered anything from outside, and I know you can, but I just ate what was there. I also didn’t know where I was going when I arrived.”
“People were like, ‘oh, you got special permission.’ I didn’t. I sat online, resetting my computer and finding my space last October. But everyone has their opinions, and you can’t please everyone. There’s going to be left, right and in between and I can’t satisfy all of that and basically f*ck it. I’m just being me and there’s a lot of opinions and comments out there right now and rightfully so.”
“If you want to be in public then you are going to have scrutiny and I’m totally fine, so yell and rant, do whatever you want. It’s okay. I’ve realised that it is an interesting time online right now because there is such a heightened amount of opinion with all this stuff that is going on with Covid.”
“People should do this, they should do that, they shouldn’t come home. I mean it doesn’t stop. But the world is going through this, not one country. The world. Like I said, sometimes it’s better to just stop and listen and let it be.”
There were also a couple of times in 2020 when Hunter was bullied online.
The experience was obviously unpleasant, however, Hunter comes at it from a unique perspective.
“This person is a beautiful human being. They are angry, they could be in fear, they could be in grief or whatever. How do I manage the situation? It’s all very well to have compassion but there is also time to be really backed by the truth but never by making anyone feel weak. Power should not be a force of ‘I’m right and you’re wrong.’ No, I don’t want to be treated like that, but it’s not about making that other person feel weak.”
Rituals with Rachel Hunter
For the past few years Hunter has been running yoga retreats and community events.
She has recently launched Rituals with Rachel Hunter online at rachelhunter.com. The platform covers meditation initiation, hatha, chakras, koshas, pranayama, rituals and Japa, knowledge she has gathered and embraced in India over the past few years.
She has kept the subscription model at US$10 a month or US$108 for the year because she wants to make it accessible.
Those who sign up to the platform have the option of joining a Zoom session once a month for a Q & A and short practice together, and where Hunter will answer any questions or address any topics that people want to talk about.
There are also free videos that anyone can access on the website including one where Hunter guides a So Hum meditation.
“So Hum is a beautiful entry point into meditation,” she explains. “It means, ‘I am that, that I am’ and has a beautiful natural frequency and settles the system. I’ve been doing this for some years now and I can still fall out and be restless. When the mind wanders it’s about bringing it back to the mantra. Go with the mantra. Inhale and exhale at your own speed. Don’t attach to the inhale or exhale, just listen to the mantra and let that be. And then slowly come out and you’ll find yourself.”
Hunter performs the ritual of meditation twice daily – 10 minutes in the morning and at night.
“We don’t want to detach,” she explains. “So Hum is a beautiful way to settle our systems for a bit to reconnect, realign and to be able to go into our day very joyfully and fully, with strong, stable foundations.”
Her approach to spirituality is “an integrated person”.
Someone who goes out and has dinner and laughs with their friends, but also does yoga and deep meditation and rituals.
“You don’t have to be separate from that. You don’t have to be floating around in long dresses with your hands in prayer. A full being is expressing whatever that is in yourself,” she says. “That could be a love of painting or music, being an amazing neighbour who holds space for everybody in the street. It’s not all peace signs and sitting crosslegged. That is something I love doing. I love going to India and being submerged in those spaces. But for me, my perception is that we have to get away from this rigid idea of what spirituality is.”
Hunter also takes a practical approach when it comes to physical wellbeing.
Over the years she has had her fair share of health challenges: toxoplasmosis when she was 15, and inflammation of the heart when she was 39. She has also had back surgery.
“When different illnesses arise, I think there are meanings to them and there’s also the fact that we are in a human body so I’m very practical when it comes to that,” she says.
“My back problem could have been from years of dance or an anatomy problem that is hereditary. I look at all aspects of it as a whole. Being holistic is about the whole. I would say my approach is both medical and holistic (Ayurvedic). The moment we are born we are dying, so live.”
What does she hope to gain from the web platform? “I don’t know to be honest. I haven’t even done a full release on it or anything. Whoever wants to find it can find it. I’m a terrible marketing person,” she laugh
India and working through grief
Spending extended periods of time in India has helped Hunter follow her spiritual path, which began growing up in New Zealand where her mum’s regular rituals included burning sage and working with crystals.
She discovered her love for India while filming the television series Tour of Beauty in 2014, which saw her travel the world looking at beauty and wellbeing in different cultures.
During Tour of Beauty Hunter met “an amazing yoga teacher” in Varanasi and she then travelled south to Isha Foundation where she met Indian yogi, author, philanthropist and spiritual leader Sadhguru, and knew she would be returning to India at some point.
Since that time Sadhguru has also been an amazing teacher for Hunter who now teaches yoga too.
While California is her home base, New Zealand is also home and a place she returns to each year.
When her mum Jeneen was diagnosed with cancer Hunter felt her life crumbling and spent many months in New Zealand.
“She fought hard. She cried. We loved, we laughed, we nursed her, we cried with her. This changed our lives. My mother, the great guardian, had died.”
What so many around the world are experiencing through losing loved ones during the Covid-19 pandemic has reminded Hunter of going through the grief of losing her mum.
“There’s not one person who has not gone through it and for those of us who have lost loved ones and not been able to hug or be near them – all of that is huge.”
She recognises that everyone’s process is individual and hers included opening up and talking about it on Instagram.
“For me, I was going to be a living example and I wanted to move through that grief and that’s what took me to India to move through it,” she says.
“I had had the experience of being in Varanasi on Tour of Beauty where they openly cremated their loved ones, adorned with orange silk and marigolds, with deep prayer and honour … so I knew that they knew how to process that.”
After the death of her mother in 2017 Hunter went to Rishikesh in the foothills of the Himalayas to study yoga at the Sattva Yoga Academy.
She’d been practising yoga for 12 years and wanted to peel away the grief on a cellular level, and she found this yogic journey life-changing and transformational.
“You can’t not, when you are doing these practices. It can be an ‘ahh moment’ about something someone has said to you over a dinner table. And obviously the practices that we are doing are from a Himalayan lineage. You definitely feel the different transformation when you are moving through them.”
Part of her website programme is helping people work through will, intention and action.
“You need all those areas of activation to create change,” Hunter says. “You are not going to get in great shape if you just sit on the couch.”
Being grounded is also very important to Hunter.
“Infinitely we are everything as far as consciousness, but we are human and we are moving in this body and so we are matter,” she says.
“We express ourselves as individual self through this grounded energy, our body and within that mind and soul.” She has created a soon-to-be released Elements module that goes into this in more depth.
“The most important connection is to realise that all of those elements exist within us,” she explains. “Earth is the body we live in. Air is the air we breathe – the prana, the life force. Water – that goes without saying. Most of our entire being is water. Fire – that’s how we move, how we activate, transform and how we heat our fuel. And space, we all need space to either meditate or have that moment away from each other. If we don’t relate or have any connection with our own inner ecosystem, how can we even be thinking of how good we are going to be on the outer?”
Taking up yoga 16 years ago was the beginning of a transformational process for the former supermodel, who began the practice because of a bad back.
She found yoga very meditative and felt a beautiful connection, which included coming up with ideas and feeling inspired and creative while she was doing yoga.
This moved her to find out more about the spiritual aspect of yoga and Indian philosophy.
After some Googling, Hunter applied to Sattva Yoga Academy in India. A self-described school dropout, she didn’t think the school would accept her. (Hunter left school when she got the call up at age 17 from Eileen Ford of Ford Modelling Agency in New York, and following a highly successful international modelling career she has never looked back).
So when she was given the news of her acceptance, she freaked out and thought, ‘what have I got myself into’.
“I still remember opening the car door when I arrived at Sattva, putting on my biggest smile and holding my breath and hoping that this would go down well. I was completely scared as I walked into that place. I thought I knew yoga because I did the asanas (poses) but I got to understand all aspects of yoga and from there it has kept evolving. I didn’t go to India to teach, but here I am,” she says.
“Yoga has been an amazing entry point so thank you to downward dog, which has evolved into what I’m doing today.”
Her advice to anyone starting out on a spiritual journey is to follow whatever arises in you and what you are naturally drawn to.
“That could be walking in nature, being drawn to a priest or something more pagan. We’re so lucky in New Zealand because we have the ability to be able to explore different religions or any type of spirituality,” she says.
“So just connect with what arises. It’s going to unfold because it comes up all of a sudden. You’ll walk past a crystal shop and then you will halt and think, ‘should I go in there?’ Next thing, you might find yourself talking to the person in there for hours so just allow it to unfold.”
So what’s next for Hunter? She honestly has no idea.
“Who knows what world we will be living in, but I will definitely be going to England to see my children once it opens up.”
One thing that is certain is that she will keep the honesty button on herself.
“Whatever life throws at you, or whatever opportunity arises and it helps you evolve – do it,” she says.
“Take the step. It’s hard. Going into really embracing full access to your whole, to fully who you are both mind, body and spirit is confronting. And there’s shit that comes up, and there’s stories that come up and there’s things you need to let go of, and things that you need to bring into your life – but it’s evolving so it’s not one thing that any of us are. And to acknowledge that.”