Rachel Hunter Wants You To Pause For A Moment

The yoga devotee and new face of Essano skincare discusses meditation, beauty and honouring the moon


Rachel Hunter. Photo / Supplied

There was a time when Rachel Hunter was nervous the public would think she’d gone off the deep end. “I thought people were going to say, ‘She’s weird. She’s a freak.’”

The LA-based New Zealand supermodel is discussing her enthusiasm for the spiritual, from her love of philosophical books to studying with witches in Salem, Massachusetts. Feeling comfortable to share this side of herself came after recognising a wider acceptance of mind-body practices, she says, and now, she’s taking her long-established yoga and meditation practice to new levels.

These days she’s a certified teacher of both and runs retreats in Bali and India, where you’re more like to find her in a wafty sundress than high fashion and heels.

When she’s not turning inward or sharing the wellbeing wisdom she’s learnt through regular visits to India, she’s the same down-to-earth Kiwi we’ve always known, this time lending her natural beauty and ambassadorship to New Zealand brand Essano skincare. While not the first beauty brand she’s fronted, it’s a partnership that suits her transnational roots.

Since Essano launched two years ago in Rachel’s adopted home country, it’s become the number five new skincare brand in the US, selling into large-scale retailers such as drugstore Rite Aid and grocery chain Giant Eagle. Rachel says Essano’s natural, no-nasties ethos aligns with her preference for plant-based ingredients and a tendency to adopt simplicity when it comes to a regime.

“My beauty etiquette is very free,” she laughs.

Today she’s chatting to Viva over Zoom from the City of Angels, her famous mane of hair swept to one side, a pair of spectacles giving her a studious air. It’s a fitting look because these days, much of her time is spent learning. When she’s not preparing for her next retreat or filming online yoga or meditation classes for her website, Rachelhunter.com, she’s burying herself in ancient yogic scriptures, Vedic chanting and her learnings from India, where she’s hoping to return for another immersive deep-dive into the inner realm.

Relaxing on a plush couch in her friend’s beautifully furnished living room, Rachel is the first to point out she’s not sitting hermit-like in a cave in LA; she still likes to go grab a coffee following her morning meditations.

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“That’s the most exciting part of it. The integration of spirituality doesn’t have to be separate from daily life. To bring a sense of peace to yourself, just put your hands over your heart and breathe and connect, bring yourself back to a centred, balanced, stable place. That to me is spirituality. Or when you see sports people doing what they love, or look at my ex-husband [Rod Stewart] on stage, I mean this is someone loving their purpose and expressing it.”

So what is Rachel Hunter’s purpose these days? You could say it’s an eternal quest for both inner and outer beauty, much as it was when she helmed the popular series Tour of Beauty, when she scoured the globe in search of the elixir of wellbeing and youthful looks. It was during the filming of that show, she says, that she discovered the benefits of rose oils and rosehip, so when she came back to New Zealand in 2012 to host New Zealand’s Got Talent and popped into New World, a bottle of Essano rosehip oil caught her eye.

When she rediscovered it at her local Rite Aid in LA, she didn’t wait for them to call — she got in touch herself. That chutzpah is just as apparent when she says she’d love to front another TV show, hinting that our chat might help to bring it into effect.

While you can’t get much further from the quiet, contemplative life than putting your face and personality out there for all the world to judge, anyone keen to understand Rachel’s true essence should look no further than her website, where she has blogged about her trajectory from self-described “lanky, dress-hating, frizzy-haired, gapped-tooth tomboy” to Vogue cover star to young mum, to TV host, to teacher, a vocation that, while worlds away from her other life, utilises many of those same presenting skills.

“I’ve been on this journey with spirituality since I was born,” she explains. “My mum was into tarot, Buddhism, Mormonism, born-again Christianity — we did the whole thing! Before she passed away, I asked her, ‘What did you regret?’ And she said, ‘I really regret not being fully who I wanted to be’.”

Inspired, Rachel took a pilgrimage to India, not only to help her move through the grief, but to follow her heart into yoga. She’d been practising for 12 years by that stage, and although she didn’t set out to teach, she went through a stage of questioning the direction of her life.

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“You go through grief and fear, to what is my purpose? Where am I? What am I doing? All these questions arise at certain points in our life. And it usually brings us to our knees somewhere along the line. It’s always been in me,” she adds. “It’s just that the modelling was part of the journey at the beginning.”

Likewise, daughter Renee, a dancer (and fellow yogini), recognised the peace her mum came home with and went on to do her teacher training in India too.

“She’s a beautiful teacher,” says Rachel, who will take the meditation side of the retreats, while Renee will focus on the asanas. “We wanted to do something together where it’s light and fun and happy.”

How does she apply her learnings from India with the fast-paced, often superficial world of LA?

“It’s about the ego,” she says. “As soon as I go, ‘Oh that person said that, and they’re wrong, or that was really disappointing’, I think, ‘What is it that’s within me that’s made that assumption?’ People may go, ‘Lighten up, that’s a lot of hard work.’ Trust me, there’s a lot of laughs and a lot more happiness. But that reflection really helps you get past things that can sometimes get stuck.”

Rituals are another powerful means to retain her sense of equanimity. Aside from her meditation, coffee and dog-feeding morning routine, she’ll honour the moon with a mind-body practice depending on where it is in its cycle, or indulge in “lovely little magical things”, like spending time in one particular room in her house that she refers to as her temple.

“It’s full of statues and tarot cards and I just sit in there. I love night-time. And I love that it’s my room filled with all this magical stuff that I can just get lost into and have a sense of peace and quiet.”

Finding inner beauty indeed.

WHAT’S INSPIRING RACHEL HUNTER RIGHT NOW

What are you listening to?
Vedic chanting. It’s a course from Europe I’m doing but I listen to it all the time because it helps me learn. Otherwise I love Indian and mystic music. And hip-hop.

What are you eating?
A lot of plant-based food. I’ve taken myself away from wheat because of the premenopausal hormones. I still cheat — I eat bread sometimes. And I still eat fish because of the omegas. I don’t like to label anything — then it just becomes a nightmare. But meat naturally drops away after you meditate or do yoga. You just don’t feel inclined to eat it.

Where are you dreaming of travelling to right now?
I have this desire to go to Egypt right now. About an hour ago I was on the way here and
I saw someone banging something, like they do at one of the temples in India. Usually when I start hearing sounds that remind me of India I know it’s time to move, to get going somewhere.

What are you reading?
Indian philosophy, either the Sutras or Upanishads. Right now because I’m doing different courses I don’t want to have someone else’s story in my head. So I refrain from reading books during that time.

What’s an event you’re looking forward to?
The Bali retreat, to connect with people because I haven’t done any of those events for a while. I hope to put on about three events in New Zealand in September. I want to come home. I haven’t been in 18 months.

What’s keeping you inspired right now?
I recently started drawing. I love drawing snakes and cobras and eyes. I’m not the best artist, but I love it.

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