Jewel never wanted to be famous.
In the early ’90s, Jewel Kilcher from Alaska almost turned down the multi-million-dollar contract that would jumpstart her music career, enabling her to sell more than 30 million albums worldwide. She was only 19, and she’d already experienced trauma, abuse, neglect, severe health issues, panic attacks, and homelessness. So why didn’t she jump at the chance for a different life?
“I was afraid it would take away my newfound happiness,” Jewel, now 45, says.
Something had started changing in her life, even before record execs came knocking. When she was homeless and in survival mode, she says, “I began to discipline my mind and create exercises for myself that would allow me to get back on my feet.”
Today, through her Jewel Never Broken Foundation, the powerhouse artist is freely sharing those mindfulness exercises with anyone willing to do the work.
Mindfulness before it was a thing
Before there were dedicated meditation apps and apparel companies courted yoga influencers on Instagram, Jewel learned that simple observations could lead to significant changes.
“I didn’t know what mindfulness was. Nobody did back then that I was aware of,” says Jewel. Yet during that troubling time in her life, she intuitively began to be more present.
“Each day, I began noticing my thoughts,” she says. “I doubled down on observing where my mind and hands* were leading me, creating gaps in my thinking, breaking up my habit loops, and curating healthier thoughts.”
It worked. Jewel says her anxiety decreased one thought at a time, and the newfound clarity seemed to create space for more profound realizations.
“I developed these exercises out of necessity,” she says. “I needed solutions that worked so I could have a better experience in life because I was really unhappy and tremendously uncomfortable most of the time.
“The big breakthrough was when I realized that my happiness begins and ends with me,” she adds. “If I’m present and in the moment, I am capable of maintaining my happiness even when life is throwing darts at me.”
Mindfulness as muse
Most of us know Jewel as a successful musician, actor, author, and poet who has seemingly reinvented herself many times. From her folk superstar roots during her Pieces of You and Spirit days to the edgier pop star who recorded 0304 to the horseback-riding girl with rope skills who released Perfectly Clear, Jewel has been a little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll, and perhaps a little bit of everything in between.
She credits mindfulness for her ability to find success across many genres and mediums.
“I became famous during the height of grunge, singing about being sensitive,” she says. “I began to see a gap—a gap between what I was hearing on the radio and what I was seeing around me. The tide was beginning to shift, and kids wanted solutions.
“They needed to hear a new truth: That no one will save your soul if you aren’t willing to save your own. That no one is coming for you—you are coming for you,” she continues. “We are going to be okay. Kindness matters. … I discovered all of that through my mindfulness practices.”
Jewel’s favorite mindfulness exercise (you can do it right now!)
“The 10-second breathing meditation is a personal favorite of mine. You have no excuse not to do it because who doesn’t have 10 seconds? You can even do it on the toilet,” says the star.
She says you just need to:
- Sit up in a comfortable position.
- Follow your breathing.
- When you breathe in, count one.
- When you breathe out, count two.
- Go up to 10 and then back down to zero.
“If you drift off into thought, that is great and normal,” advises Jewel. “Simply notice the thought and lovingly bring your attention back to your breath. If you forget the number you were at, you can just pick any number and continue the exercise. That’s it!”
Pieces of Jewel
The “Foolish Games” singer takes a wise approach to whole-body wellness.
She’s a self-professed health fanatic
“I’m a health nut and take lots of vitamins. Exercise, getting eight to nine hours of sleep, drinking a gallon of water a day, and only eating the healthiest of foods can mean the difference between unhappiness and being at peace.”
She’s all about NON-GMO foods
“I try to follow a ‘biblical diet,’ which has nothing to do with religion, but with eating things as they originally came out of the ground, before there was genetic altering of food. I think we out-clever ourselves with food. We have become more obsessed with having a shiny apple than with having an apple that doesn’t give us cancer. We need to realize that nature really got it right.”
She does the workouts her body asks for
“If I need a big boost, extreme cardio gives me energy. If I’m anxious and feeling drained, I’ll do yoga because it is really calming, and it gives me a nice, peaceful energy.”
She doesn’t believe wellness has to be complicated (or pricey)
“I had to get real curious about how sleep and exercise and nutrition could help me overcome energy and mood swings …
all while trying to have the clarity to be an entrepreneur and single mom and run a multi-million-dollar business. What’s amazing is how simple things made such a huge difference. It doesn’t take tons of money to find health, wellness, and happiness.”
She meditates every morning
“I start my day with meditation and I still write a lot, but I don’t have to write down all of my thoughts that come to me … I try to live each part of my day mindfully and in the moment, not worrying about the past or thinking to the future.”
She gets a lot of mindfulness inspo from her son
“I love to read to my son before he goes to bed. We check in on if he lived his values that day [and talk about] how we can make amends and start over if we don’t. During the day, we do fun mindfulness exercises to see what he sees or what he hears. The beauty of children is they are very simple, and it inspires me to come up with great, easy exercises.”
Mindfulness isn’t just for adults!
Jewel has partnered closely with the Inspiring Children Foundation, a Las Vegas-based nonprofit accelerator program that educates children from underserved communities. In addition to mindfulness and emotional intelligence tools, the children learn entrepreneurial skills, have academic support, receive nutrition guidance, play tennis, and make music. Many of the kids earn scholarships to some of the top colleges and universities in the world (think Brown, Dartmouth, Stanford, and more!). “They are healing children in the exact same way I healed myself,” says Jewel of the Inspiring Children Foundation. The partnership is twofold: The children helped create and currently run jewelneverbroken.com as one of their projects, and the free Never Broken program on that website is part of the Inspiring Children Foundation’s curriculum.
Mindfulness for the masses
In 2015, Jewel’s memoir, Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story, was published. The book revealed how mindfulness played a vital role in her overcoming the odds. Never Broken became a New York Times Best Seller, and as more people learned intimate details about Jewel’s life, they wanted to know how to overcome their own struggles. They weren’t interested in platitudes; they craved specifics.
So Jewel created her Jewel Never Broken Foundation (jewelneverbroken.com) to provide details about the mindfulness exercises in her book.
The response has been overwhelming. “We get so many emails from people telling us it ‘saved their life.’ I was shocked,” she says.
The website’s tagline is “Make Happiness a Habit.” The foundation assists people in their journey by giving them the tools to succeed. There aren’t any quick fixes. The section of the website dedicated to mindfulness activities is aptly named “The Work.”
The Work includes 11 modules—everything from Paying Attention (learning about stillness and curiosity) to Create a Home for Happiness (living a purposeful life). There are videos, exercises, and audio files. The content is extensive. Those who sign on and commit to the free program will spend one month on the first foundational module alone.
“Once I realized there are simple things anyone can do to feel better, I wanted to get this information out there,” says Jewel. “Getting curious and understanding my mental health has allowed me to survive, strive, and thrive.”
Mindfulness and wholeness
At the beginning of her music career, Jewel once performed more than 500 shows in a single year, doing as many as three shows per day. This breakneck schedule, combined with nearly nonstop bus travel and hotel living, is the sort of detail that gets forgotten when envisioning the glitz and glamour of being a celebrity.
“I knew I had to commit to putting a healthy, happy life before fame, which is why I took several years off in between records,” says Jewel. “The way I see it, my first job is to be a happy human and a good mother to my son, Kase, and my second job is to be an artist and entrepreneur.”
Her true passion, says Jewel, is “becoming a whole human—to have tone in all areas, not just music or business or fitness, but in every aspect of life.”
While she never claims to have figured it all out or to have a perfect mindfulness practice, Jewel has spent years doing the work—and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“One of the best pieces of advice I got was that ‘hardwood grows slowly,’” she says. “Things that last take time.”
Karli Petrovic is a writer, editor, and yoga instructor living in Portland, Oregon. She lives with her husband, Randy, and two pups, Frodo and Ollie. Find her on Instagram: @kpflows.
*Jewel wrote about one of her mindfulness exercises—watching her hands—in her hit song “Hands.”