Rachel Hunter’s spiritual awakening: Sexy, single, soulful and fabulous at 50

Our Kiwi beauty is now a full-time yoga and meditation teacher.
Rachel Hunter 2019

It’s fair to say that for someone who never had a career plan, Rachel Hunter is doing pretty darn well.

The Kiwi supermodel, who turned 50 last month, is currently juggling a serious line-up of jobs: yoga and meditation teacher, brand ambassador and now, author.

This month sees the launch of her first book, Rachel Hunter’s Tour of Beauty, based on the first season of the hit TV show which has been screened in 150 countries worldwide since its 2015 debut.

It’s an experience that changed her life and began a love story with India – a country she now spends large amounts of time in.

The book acts as something of a bridge between the recent past and present of being Rachel Hunter – how she went from being a judge on New Zealand’s Got Talent to becoming a full-time yoga and meditation teacher.

“It’s the best birthday present,” Rachel says of seeing her book on store shelves.

“What an amazing gift that is, and what a celebration it is, after six years of scribbling down notes.”

It makes perfect sense that even for her milestone birthday month, Rachel was on the move.

In the week of her birthday, there were no official plans, just a bunch of “mundane, household stuff” as she had a couple of days at her home in Los Angeles before flying to Baltimore to teach a meditation course, then to Bali to lead a yoga retreat, before coming home to Aotearoa to launch the book and meet up with son Liam Stewart, 25, who is playing ice hockey in Queenstown.

Ever since Tour of Beauty, Rachel has lived a nomadic life. Following the death of her beloved mum Janeen Phillips in 2017 after a battle with cancer, without really knowing why, she turned to India.

She headed to Rishikesh, which lies just under the Himalayas, to study yoga, even though initially she was questioning herself.

“I was like, ‘Why am I doing yoga?!’ and I was so angry in that yoga school, which was bizarre, because I grew up in spirituality. So it was weird that I had that rejection. But what I realised was there were a lot of things I hadn’t gone through,” reflects Rachel.

Her 40s, she says, were a time of challenges, and when she started doing yoga and meditation, it was the first time she was sitting with those challenges as opposed to trying to escape them.

“It was always this complete running around – ‘Oh, that’s going to make me feel better,’ ‘No, that’s going to make me feel better.’ It’s taken me two years, and some really great teachers, and the willingness to put in that work.”

Although, she does admit it wasn’t advice she wanted to hear at the time. “It’s the most irritating thing when people say, ‘Oh, you should meditate more,'” she laughs.

“‘I have to sit still and work on myself?!’ But when I started, even doing 10 or 20 minutes at the beginning, a lot of stuff just started dropping away, fast.”

In the years that followed, India has become very dear to Rachel’s heart. She now splits her time between NZ, Los Angeles and India, mostly up north.

She loves the South Asian country, partly because it brings out her curiosity. “There’s so much more to learn about this beautiful place.

“It’s like you’re peeling back this incredible onion, getting more and more into the intricacies of it,” she tells.

She’s also learning as much as she can about the ancient ways of yoga and meditation that have been such an important part of daily life for the locals for thousands of years.

During her time with the Woman’s Day team in India, when there is any spare time, Rachel has her earbuds in, writing down notes from the latest lecture on the principles of yoga into one of the many giant notebooks she carries around with her.

Rachel’s barefoot on the streets of Pushkar, a town in Rajasthan where pilgrims come to bathe.

These lessons have had such a profound effect on her that Rachel wanted to share the tools she learned – even if she was initially wary of bringing this side of herself into the public eye.

But last year, she toured NZ, giving wellness talks in the big cities as well as smaller towns. The demand was high – the low-key events, where everyone brought their own cushion, would often sell out.

“It felt liberating,” exclaims Rachel.

“Not only that – it wasn’t about me. Imagine how many women, how many men, also feel that way. They just want to connect with their spirit – their soul.”

It’s an avenue she’s continued with in 2019, leading wellness trips in Costa Rica, Bali and India. But she’s got New Zealand in her sights for the future.

“I would love to open up some type of wellness retreat there,” she says. “Somewhere I can go and do those talks – to have the space to do that.”

Rachel’s daughter Renee Stewart, 27, has also become a keen yogini, and the pair were in India in March.

The young devotee was given a certificate for completing 200 hours of Yoga Teacher Training – and she’s finishing the next level this month.

Her proud mum reveals, “Renee has always been into yoga – she and Liam were surrounded by all this stuff growing up because both their grandmother and their mother were so into it.

“I used to sage the house,” tells Rachel.

“To see Renee’s path to yoga and to see her evolution through that, it’s been really beautiful. And that was not even me telling her to do it! I don’t believe in pushing your kids into anything – all you can be is a living example.”

Both Liam and Renee have moved into very successful careers in different fields from their parents. Liam has been in the sporting arena for years and Renee is a dancer and movement director in the UK.

Considering their megastar heritage, they have both remained down-to-earth.

“Their dad Rod [Stewart] is amazing; he’s a very laid-back parent,” Rachel gushes.

“And I’m a reflection of my own mother and father – not being the controlling type, allowing their own thoughts and ideas to come through, and also trusting them.

“But then again, I was lucky enough to have these types of children to come into my life, so I’m going to give them the credit as well! I was lucky – the stork really picked up a good couple of bundles there!”

Rachel stands out in one of the bustling markets in Jaipur, where she adds to her beautiful collection of bracelets.

Despite the fact that they quite often are on opposite sides of the world, Rachel and her kids are extremely close – as is the entire extended family.

The next clan gathering will be some sort of belated birthday trip to celebrate Rachel’s 50th, even if she has no idea where (or when) such an event might take place.

“These birthdays are beautiful celebrations in our lives, but I’m not a birthday person. I’m the ultimate birthday hermit,” she laughs.

“I’ll be celebrating at some point in my 50th year. Other than that, who knows what I’m going to do? As long as my kids are happy and healthy, that’s all I care about.”

One aspect of Rachel’s life that isn’t under the slightest bit of introspection is her relationship status.

“I’ve been single for such a long time now, it’s ridiculous,” says Rachel.

“To be honest, I don’t even think about it. I’ll make jokes about it because before, I would always go on to the next person. But this time around, I’ve been single for a long time.” She pauses. “Like, a really long time.”

It’s something she is completely unbothered by, and when asked about the difference between dating in LA and dating in NZ, she’s not sure if she’s the right person to ask, confessing, “I never really dated in New Zealand!

“I think dating in general has changed so much, though. In America, when one finished, I’d always go out and meet someone else, usually in the evenings, in real life.”

Her normal way of meeting someone was what used to be the typical way: meeting through friends. Rachel seems quite OK with missing out on the dating app revolution.

“The connections seem very vague and people can do whatever they want to do. It’s like putting a whole lot of colours in a washing machine and then whatever happens, happens. It’s an internet washing machine!”

Watch: Rachel Hunter gets her first big modelling contract at age 16. Article continues below.

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The strength of connection was one of Rachel’s favourite parts of working on Tour of Beauty; the ability she had to walk into any room, with any person, and strike up a friendship with a variety of fascinating people.

“All of those people we met were superstars, they really were,” she enthuses.

“Being in the middle of those rice fields in India, or being in Mexico and a shaman is spitting tequila on your chest, right through to being in a plastic surgeon’s office in Brazil.

“Those are the beauty extremes and they all have to be honoured and respected because they’re all part of different cultures around the world. Let’s just evolve and accept that – we don’t have to fight about it. Let’s just let all of those differences be seen.”

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