The actress draws upon ancient health practices
& the mindfulness embraced by her famous mom
By Allan Richter
For her breakout role as the rock groupie Penny Lane in the 2000 film “Almost Famous,” Kate Hudson won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Since then, she has put her acting chops and decidedly good looks on display in a string of films, often romantic comedies, opposite stars like Anne Hathaway and Matthew McConaughey. In her films, she has mostly appeared sleek and toned, as Hollywood often demands.
But, as Hudson, 36, discloses in her new book, Pretty Happy: Healthy Ways to Love Your Body (Dey St.), that svelte figure takes work, and she acknowledges that she has yo-yoed between weight gain and loss. “I’ve been thin but not toned, skinny but not strong, and none of the above,” Hudson writes.
The upbeat, bubbly persona that is one of her calling cards is similarly inconsistent. “People may see me as buoyant and always smiling, but the truth is, I’m not always like that. No one is. Like everyone else, I have my good days, my not-so-good days, and my totally awful days. I’m in my mid-thirties now, and my life is even more complicated and busy, with more and more responsibilities,” the mother of two young children writes. “But I also happen to be more carefree than I was even in my early twenties, before I became a mom. I also feel stronger than ever, more self-assured and more resilient.”
In Pretty Happy, Hudson helps explain that apparent contradiction, as well as her evolution and progress toward the well-balanced and self-confident woman she says she has become, by shedding light on the variety of wellness philosophies that have shaped her approaches to fitness and nutrition. These beliefs are at once exotic—as in the ancient Ayurvedic healing practices to which she subscribes—and accessible, in her discourse on how she applies them in her life. But, as Hudson emphasizes, they are the set of beliefs that have worked for her.
For readers to properly find what works for them, they have to embark on a similar journey of experimentation.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a variety of points of view to understand your body and create the mind-body connection that is so crucial to overall health, wellness and self-care,” she says. “What I do for myself is glean from these different sources. I’ve tried many approaches to wellness and discovered what works best for me. These suggestions might work for you as well. But really it’s a process of trial and error because everyone is different, and you need to learn what works best for you.”
One of the dynamics that Hudson has found works for her came from her mother, the actress Goldie Hawn, who subscribes to the concept of mindfulness. Embracing mindfulness, which has Buddhist origins but has been adopted in Western wellness circles as a secular concept, is a way of heightening awareness to reach a tranquil, balanced state.
Working with educators, neuroscientists and others, Hawn created MindUp, a school curriculum based on mindfulness and social and emotional intelligence. It is promoted through the Hawn Foundation, which she launched in 2003 (and as we related in our May 2015 cover story on Hawn).
Hudson, the daughter of Hawn and Bill Hudson of the Hudson Brothers singing trio, first benefited from her mother’s mindfulness expertise when she was 19 years old. The young actress was starting to see her career take off, but was traveling frequently and feeling ungrounded, disconnected from her family and anxious. Homesick, edgy and frightened, Hudson called her mother, who instructed Hudson to breathe deeply and squint her eyes so she could feel as if she was seeing everything around her for the first time. The impromptu meditation calmed her down.
“I got what my mom was trying to help me understand: Sometimes we just need to slow things down so we can reframe—our situation, our thoughts and feelings, even our lives,” Hudson writes. “And not to take everything so seriously. What she was telling me, and what she explained later on, was not to forget that you are good and that everything is all right. You’ve been working without a pause and your brain is on overdrive. The situation is what feels out of control. You are okay.”
Hudson also learned to treat her body like an ally of sorts, by listening to the signals her body sends to tell her what it needs and what it doesn’t, whether she is eating well or not, and whether she is getting enough rest and fun in her life.
“I trust my body to talk to me,” Hudson says. “Listening to my body and mind, learning to understand the cues and signals, has become the single most important way for me to take care of myself. It’s how I lose weight when I need to. It’s how I keep myself toned and strong. It’s also how I stay grounded and connected—in my head, heart and soul.”
The importance Hudson places on being attuned to her body helps explain her interest in Ayurveda, a practice rooted in nature and used in India for thousands of years. It was developed when people placed great value on listening to their bodies’ natural rhythms, according to Lois Leonhardi, a Los Angeles-based Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner and educator, and author of The Essential Ayurvedic Cookbook (Robert Rose).
Ayurveda also jibes with Hudson’s philosophy that a health regimen be tailored to each individual rather than based on generalizations.
“Unlike most holistic healing systems, Ayurveda recognized that each person has a unique physical, spiritual and mental constitution,” Leonhardi says. “Diet and lifestyle recommendations were tailored to the individual—this was not a one-size-fits-all approach.”
Hudson acknowledges that she does not adhere to every detail of Ayurveda. Nonetheless, she finds it a sensible practice because it emphasizes the mind being in balance with the body.
“Ayurveda sees the body as a whole,” Hudson writes, “and any illness is an expression of something in the mind-body being out of balance. For me, this way of thinking has helped me connect symptoms or signs, both positive and negative, with what I’m doing, eating or avoiding. It offers some general guidelines to understanding our basic body type, personality tendencies and the ways we tend to react psychologically and emotionally to situations and our environment.”
Hudson finds those guidelines in the Ayurvedic principles known as doshas, a Sanskrit term used to classify people with three unique types of temperaments and body types: vata, known as the air dosha, in which people tend to have angular faces, small eyes, quick movements and active imaginations, and are sharply perceptive; pitta, the fire dosha, indicating people with a medium frame, a heart-shaped face with a straight nose and chin, and sensitive skin, and who are avid readers, intelligent and passionate; and kapha, or the water dosha, for people who have a large frame, round face and sweet temperament, and tend to be relaxed and content.
Understanding which dosha you are classified with can help you recognize imbalances in your system and strategies to correct them, says Hudson. Because we each have elements of all three doshas, Hudson provides a questionnaire—querying readers about their dreams, relationships, sleep patterns and even the speed at which they eat—so readers can identify their dominant mind-body type.
Because Hudson identifies herself as a pitta, some of the common signs that her health might be out of balance, under the Ayurvedic system, include heartburn, acid indigestion, nausea or ulcers; inflammation and infection; skin rashes or conditions such as acne or eczema; fever; diarrhea; and anemia. Remedies might include eating less sour or fermented food, and identifying, then avoiding, any environmental toxins that might have been introduced.
Hudson points to Ayurvedic approaches to diet as well, in particular a light, cleansing dish called kitchari—built around mung beans, rice and spices—that the actress says proponents eat with the change of seasons to refresh their digestive systems. (A kitchari recipe appears below.)
Working Towards Wellness
Pretty Happy is interactive not in the digital sense, but in its workbook and journaling approach in which Hudson provides pages—she calls them “Drawing Boards”—for the reader to jot down thoughts and aphorisms to help along the way to better health. In one Drawing Board, Hudson encourages the reader to write each of the provided statements three times “to commit them to your memory and soul.” Among the statements: “I want to feel happy with my body!” and “I want to control how I eat to clean out the toxins and sludge!”
Because Hudson aims for the reader to personalize his or her own approach to health, her Drawing Boards not only provide her aphorisms but goad readers into providing their own. The exercise recognizes that what works for her or for one reader may not work for another.
“Without too much thinking,” Hudson beckons the reader in one of the Drawing Boards, “write down five fears that came to mind after you read” the previous few pages on self-doubt, weight issues and challenges to self-esteem. Hudson then prompts readers to ponder what made them afraid, like letting a medicine slosh around in your mouth no matter how distasteful. “You may just discover that those fears are not as big and powerful as you thought,” she says. “You might also discover that they are left over from a much younger, less-wise you.”
And rather than headlining a section on fitness with a specific exercise, Hudson offers a Drawing Board on the more general topic of movement, encouraging readers to commit to one activity of their choice three times a week. She offers a menu of possibilities rooted in exploration (such as yoga, surfing and climbing), toning (Pilates, ballet-based classes), competition (swimming, tennis) and more.
In keeping with the customization theme of Pretty Happy, Hudson looks beyond Ayurveda and the mindfulness to which her mother subscribes by conceiving her own wellness guidelines, which she calls the “four pillars of self-care.” In Pillar One, you cultivate an intuitive relationship with your body; Pillar Two involves eating well; in Pillar Three you “awaken” your body through movement; and Pillar Four calls for meditation and mindfulness.
There’s plenty that’s familiar in Pretty Happy: her take on a simple “elimination cleanse” that involves removing gluten, sugar or dairy, or some combination of those, from the diet, for instance. But Hudson’s take on health and wellness, no matter how familiar the underlying details, remains fresh and charming.
Hudson took seriously her studies of a diverse array of wellness practices, evident in her choice not to spoon-feed what she learned to her readers but to highlight what has worked for her and create a way for readers to customize their own programs into a workable and meaningful holistic health plan. As a result, Pretty Happy is thought-provoking in a deep, meditative sense. Its Drawing Boards force reflection and, in turn, promote action. That bodes well for the broad audience that Hudson deserves to find with this practical and engaging guide to good health.
The Kitchari Cleanse
Kitchari is a light, cleansing dish that is easily digested. It can be eaten for breakfast,
lunch and dinner to give the digestive system a rest for a day and restore the digestive fire.
For this recipe, use a mortar and pestle to lightly crush the coriander seeds and if your digestion
is very sensitive, reduce the mung dal to 2 tablespoons.
1⁄4 cup mung dal, sorted and rinsed
2 tsp ghee
1 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 tsp fennel seeds
3/4 tsp coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1/4 cup basmati rice
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp Himalayan salt
1/4 tsp crushed black pepper
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1. Place mung dal in a bowl and add enough water to cover by 2 to 3 inches. Let soak at room temperature overnight. Drain.
2. In a medium saucepan, melt ghee over medium-low heat. Add cumin, fennel and coriander seeds. Cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds or until the seeds pop.
3. Stir in dal, rice, turmeric, ground cumin, bay leaf and 1 1⁄2 cups water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring. Reduce heat to low, cover, leaving lid ajar, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until dal is soft and the consistency of the kitchari is to your preference (from soupy to “dry”). Check the pan after 20 minutes, then every few minutes thereafter. You may need to add water if the dal doesn’t cook quickly; in that case, you may also want to add more turmeric and ground cumin. Remove from heat and stir in the salt, pepper and cilantro.
Courtesy of The Essential Ayurvedic Cookbook by Lois Leonhardi
(Robert Rose, robertrose.ca) © 2015 Reprinted with publisher permission.
Available where books are sold.