Health | June 21st 2018

International Yoga Day with Kait Hurley

Kait Hurley is a movement and meditation mastermind. Based in Portland, Oregon, Kait created an online training program that pairs dynamic exercises with meditation in order to reach the highest consciousness possible. We talked to this inspirational beauty about how she got started with her practice and how she shares it so effortlessly with the world! 

So Kait, Tell us about yourself!

I’ve been an athlete my whole my life, and I ran cross country and track competitively in high school and college. In high school, my relationship with running was healthy. My coach would joke around and give us Disney Princess fruit snacks after practice—he pushed us hard but he kept the atmosphere light and fun. I took running seriously, but I didn’t allow the sport to determine my worth as a person. In college, I ran at the Division 1 level, and that’s when everything changed. I saw a darker side of myself as I started chasing perfection. All I cared about was how hard I could train, how fast I could run. And the more focused I became? The more I started to struggle with anxiety, feelings of not enough, and body image issues—I always wanted to lose 5 pounds because I thought it would help me run a personal best.

I assumed all of this would just go away when I graduated from college and stopped running competitively, but it didn’t. My drive to chase perfection stayed with me as I took my first job in the health and wellness industry. Even though I loved my job working for a fitness brand and teaching group exercise, my anxiety got worse. I tried so many things to make it go away—more exercise, less exercise, going vegan, and eliminating inflammatory foods to name a few. While all of these things taught me something about myself and maybe gave me brighter skin or more energy, they didn’t offer the quick fix I was looking for. My anxiety wasn’t going anywhere.

I reached a breaking point. One day I had a series of anxiety attacks between meetings at work. It wasn’t until that point that I even considered meditation. A therapist had suggested it years ago but I rejected the practice because I thought it sounded hard and boring. I also was concerned that it would make me too complacent—that I’d lose my edge. A part of me liked my anxiety because it drove me to achieve and get things done. Even though I was skeptical, I found an amazing teacher (who is my mentor to this day) and I learned how to meditate. After a few weeks, I started to feel more steady, and I noticed that I got better at responding to stress. But honestly? I dreaded the practice of meditating. And I was working so much, that I felt like I didn’t have time to meditate and exercise. I had to choose one or the other due to time constraints. I usually chose meditation because if I didn’t, my anxiety would take over. I missed my workouts.

Then one day, I got curious. I only had 20 minutes free. What if I did a quick sweat session and then sat in the quiet and meditated afterwards? The results were just what I needed and then some. Combining movement with meditation allowed me to find a little more ease and joy in the practice. Because once you’ve worked up a sweat and blown off steam you’re less antsy and more open to the experience of meditating. After a few weeks, I knew I had to share the practice. That’s when I got the idea to start my company.

Today is International Yoga Day. What does Yoga mean to you?

Well, yoga comes from India, and the word yoga was first mentioned over 5,000 years ago in the Rig Veda, one of the oldest sacred texts. The Vedas were a collection of songs, mantras, and texts used by Brahman priests. So the roots of yoga didn’t even include a physical movement practice of the body at all!

For me, yoga is all about increasing awareness. It’s bringing the internal sense of the experience to the center. That means noticing the qualities of breath, becoming aware of patterns of thinking, and noticing where in the body you’re feeling tight and stressed—and where you’re feeling free and easy. Oftentimes our body feels things before our minds can make sense of it. Yoga gives us space to get curious and gather information that can then guide us.

It’s important to remember that this practice isn’t all about feeling calm and blissed out. I love challenging students and myself to stay present especially when it’s physically or emotionally uncomfortable. When we can stay present even when it’s hard, that’s when we build mental strength and resilience and that has a ripple effect on the rest of our lives. We become better at managing the energies of our stress. We’re also able to stay steady and strong instead of getting swept up in stories we tell ourselves or the reactions to our emotions. There is so much freedom to be enjoyed once we give ourselves some space to feel whatever is showing up from moment to moment. Once we feel and observe whatever is showing up, that’s when it can flow through us.

You’ve been an athlete for most of your life. How has your relationship with movement and athletics evolved since you’ve moved on from competitive sports?

For a long time, exercise was about about winning—about proving myself to myself and chasing perfection. Now? I play things by ear. I make more in the moment decisions about how to move my body based on what I need. I’m less concerned about simply performing moves. I focus more on how it feels. My attitude during my workout has changed. I’m more patient and curious. This shift certainly didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken years and years, and I know it will continue to change and evolve. This is the most unexpected benefit from my movement and meditation practice for sure.

Because health and wellness is the backbone of your career, how do you find balance and refrain from pushing yourself too hard?

A lot of people think that I just move and meditate all day. While I understand why they may think that—that’s not at all true. Teaching classes and deepening my own practice is a big part of my job – but it’s just one part. There’s business development, customer service, event planning, program development, and a variety of other special projects and collaborations. It’s hard for me to find time to squeeze in my own movement and meditation practice sometimes. And I think, “Ok, if this is hard for me at times, it’s got to be even harder for other people.” That drives me to make the Move + Meditate Method even more accessible and doable. I’d say while it’s not hard for me to not push my limits during my workout—it is hard for me to have boundaries with my business. I sleep with my phone in my living room, which helps. My husband (who’s also my business partner) and I meet on Sundays and block off “no work” times on our calendar. If I don’t do that or have him to help me stay accountable, I’ll work late at night and on both days of the weekend. I love what I do. It’s a privilege and a joy to pursue this work—but I still need rest.

Your Move + Meditate series is available online. Why did you choose to create an online training program rather than an in-person studio and what are your goals for the future of the program?

For me, it comes back to making these practices accessible and easy to fit into people’s busy lives. Most days, I don’t have time to go take a 60-minute class at a studio—and that doesn’t even factor in the time it takes to get there and then get home. It’s also important to me that movement and meditation is affordable. So many people don’t participate in these practices because they’re in survival mode and struggling to stay afloat. My hope is to be able to reach a broader audience and help them infuse a little more joy and ease into their days. I want to help them uncover the inner strength and resilience that’s already inside them.

As our company continues to grow, my plan is to put scholarships in place for people who can’t afford streaming videos monthly. I’d also like to team up with nonprofits and organizations who are fighting for human rights and helping marginalized people. The people who are on the ground doing the work to take care of others and end racism and violence are heroes. They’re doing so much emotional labor. My hope is that I can help them in some way to take better care of themselves so they can keep making an impact.

How, if at all, has your movement and meditation practice changed since launching your online training program? Is it difficult for you to separate your personal practice with the ones you share with others?

Since I’ve launched my training program, my own practice has become even less rigid and I’ve become a lot more curious. Now it’s not just about deepening my own practice so I can learn and grow, it’s about deepening my own practice so I can hold space for others to learn and grow. It’s an exciting shift, and at times it feels like a lot of pressure, but I just remind myself that it’s not about me and it doesn’t need to be perfect. You’ll see in my videos—sometimes I fall over or need to take a break or I stumble over my words. A year ago, I would have been embarrassed about showing that. Now, I like showing it because that’s what other people are doing too. We’re all in this together.

I think I really need to separate my personal practice from the ones I share with others. It’s not like I tell people what to feel or what they should experience….there’s none of that. It’s just that all I have is me and what I have to offer comes from my experience of my own personal practice. It’s funny because people tell me they like listening to my voice during meditations. Their feedback is that my voice is soothing. I usually just smile and say thank you, but it really has nothing to do with my voice at all. They are sensing the energies behind my voice—the consciousness coming through the practice – that’s what they’re picking up on. The reason why it’s there is because I received that from my teacher and my daily practice. If I had never meditated before and I was just reading a script without actually doing the work, people wouldn’t connect in the same way. It’s all about the energy coming through my words and that energy comes from ancient Eastern traditions.

Anyone can see that you’re a wellness rockstar and all wellness rockstars have a rockstar morning routine. What does yours consist of?

My morning routine is hardly sexy. I wake up, pee, brush my teeth, drink water, do a few side body stretches, and then I sit up in bed and meditate. Sometimes I meditate for 10 minutes. Sometimes I meditate for 45. It depends how I’m feeling and what time it is. Full disclosure: I don’t think everyone needs to meditate that long each day. As a teacher, I need to keep my practice strong to hold space for others.

Every morning at 10am, I meet with my husband and business partner Peter to discuss our priorities for the day. There’s always a lot to do, and by sitting down and talking about exactly what we’re working on that day, we’re able to stay organized and on track.