I grew up in the 90s. It was the era of Disney Channel original movies (shout out Brink!), butterfly clips, and Squeezeit bottles. It was also the era with killer music like Britney Spears, The Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and, of course, Jewel.
I vividly remember dancing around with friends in our platform sandals singing along to “You Were Meant for Me” while we giggled over our latest crush. We had colorful scrunchies in our hair, and our inflatable furniture moved out of the way to make room. Those were the days.
What my childhood didn’t include is the emphasis we see now on mindfulness, mental wellness, and self-care. I wish that growing up there had been a bigger focus on mental wellbeing the way there is now—new-age and old-age alike. It would’ve saved a lot of hard days while we grew up trying to figure out what was “okay” to feel.
Singer/songwriter Jewel, on the other hand, was able to teach herself mindfulness techniques long before the term was popularized. Mindfulness was a tool Jewel used to get through her childhood and become the woman (and artist) she is today. Through good times and bad, these mindful techniques helped Jewel come back to her center.
As a child of the 90s, I cannot begin to express how excited I was to get the chance to interview Jewel on what mindfulness has meant for her. Now, as a woman who has discovered the true value of mindfulness in her late 20s, I hope Jewel’s story will inspire more people to find the wellness techniques that work for them.
Where does your story first begin?
My story began on our family homestead in Alaska. It is a land of extremes—highs and lows, beauty and death all existing together in a symbiotic relationship. My life often mirrored the extremities of my environment. Growing up in a hard land forged me into the woman I am today. It gave me a sense of resilience and fortitude that I have always kept a hold of.
My family life wasn’t the best, my mom left us when I was eight and my dad turned to alcohol as a way to cope with his PTSD from Vietnam and his abusive childhood. Life was difficult and beautiful all at once. I see now that all of these experiences were put in my life as a way for me to develop myself and the skill set I needed in order to survive. Now, I have the ability to share these same skills that allowed me to go from surviving to thriving with people all around the world.
When did you first start exploring mindfulness?
I started exploring mindfulness roughly thirty years ago, long before I even knew what it was, or had ever heard of the term. I developed different mindfulness techniques as a child as a survival mechanism. When things started to get really bad at home, I looked to nature as my teacher. The trees and the meadows and the animals became the loving parental figure that I didn’t have.
One of the most profound lessons I learned from nature is that hardwood grows slowly. I would watch soft wooded trees shoot up in the spring only to rot a few years later. If I wanted to grow strong and last, and not be brittle or broken easily, I had a duty to make decisions that were not just good in the moment but good for long-term growth. These lessons in mindful living were taught to me so effortlessly early on in life, and it’s one of the mottos I try to live by.
What challenges has mindfulness helped you overcome?
Mindfulness has in many ways saved my life. When I was a homeless kid living out of my car and on the streets of San Diego, I knew that I would either end up in jail or dead if I didn’t change the way I was living. I was having anxiety attacks and struggling with depression. So I began watching my hands. I figured my hands were the servants of my thoughts, so if I wanted to know what my thoughts were telling me, all I had to do was watch my hands. I wrote down everything my hands were doing, and after a while I started to see my habitual patterns in action.
And a while after that, I was in a place where I could change those conditioned patterns. This basic mindfulness practice was born out of necessity and changed the course of my life. After many months of observation, I was able to begin practicing new ways of living. A few months later, I got a gig at a local coffee shop, built up quite a following, and was signed a year later.
How have your mindfulness practices changed over the years?
They started out as very basic principles to help me overcome childhood trauma, anxiety, and agoraphobia. Recently, I have gotten more into the science behind mindfulness and the incredible results now being documented on how different practices can reduce grey matter in the brain, shrink the amygdala, and rewire our habit loops. Many of these practices have been around for thousands of years and science is just now starting to catch on. I think it’s incredible to see this kind of work moving into the mainstream and the lives that are being impacted because of it.
Do you ever veer off the path or get unbalanced? If yes, how do you bring yourself back to center?
Definitely, it’s part of the human experience. We ebb and flow to the rhythms of life. I don’t really like the term “unbalanced”—it’s too binary. Life is so complex that it’s sort of impossible to think we’d be at homeostasis all the time. Many of my daily practices and rituals are put in place so that if one part is lacking, I have the awareness to notice it, be still and come back to myself. And when I find myself out of alignment, I focus on what areas are lacking. Nutrition, physical fitness, meditation, and time spent with my son are things I do that bring me back to my center.
What is your “WHOLE HUMAN” philosophy?
My “whole human” philosophy is really a culmination of everything I’ve learned and the tools I’ve gained over the years. If you just work out your biceps and nothing else, you’ll have strong arms but the rest of your body won’t have proper tone. It’s the same with mindfulness—you have to have emotional fitness in every area of your life so that things can remain “balanced.”
The Whole Human philosophy is designed to help people gain tone and strength in all areas of their lives. Its focus is on emotional intelligence, physical and fiscal health, relationships, and nutrition. Most importantly, I just want to give people the proper tools to become positive contributors to the world we live in. The content emphasizes giving every-day-people a psychology for life, so they can do what I have done—be the architect of their own life, rather than a passenger in a life they’ve inherited.
What role has your music played along this journey that most people don’t know?
I was raised in a musical family. My grandmother was a classically trained opera singer from Switzerland. She gave the gift of music to all of her kids, who in turn passed it onto the next generation. Music is everything to me—it gave me a voice. I was five when I first joined my parents onstage, mostly at old bars and honkey tonks. I learned so much about people up on those stages. I saw people in those barrooms all trying to outrun something—their pain, regrets, and past mistakes. Sometimes that pain would pile up into insurmountable mountains—and one thing I knew for certain, nobody was ever able to escape it.
I decided then that instead of trying to escape my pain, I would turn towards it and learn how to heal. That’s when I turned to my journal as an outlet, an expression of the deepest parts of me. And eventually those journal entries turned into poems, poems into songs, and songs into a thriving career. Our suffering can be transformed into our greatest strength, if we just turn around and face it.
I read that you mentioned, “authenticity is the hallmark of each piece” of music. What does living authentically mean to you?
Authenticity is one of the most important characteristics we as humans have, especially musicians. There’s so many talented musicians but I think what really makes you stand out amongst the millions of other artists out there trying to “make it” is having a unique message to share. I was adopted by Native American elders when I was younger and the most valuable piece of advice they ever gave me was that I needed to “speak from my heart.” That always stuck with me and I think that’s exactly what I’ve done throughout my career.
If you could, what would you say to a younger version of yourself?
There’s so much I wish my younger self could have known. I would tell her that everyone really is doing the best they can with the tools they’ve been given. I can’t rely on others to be my source of love or happiness, only I can do that. There is nothing outside of myself that I need in order to be fulfilled.
In the simplest of terms, I would just want my younger self to know that everything is going to be ok, that I will never be broken. That’s why I started the Wellness Your Way Festival. I want to share the tools that I’ve learned intuitively and through my experiences with everyone else.
Where can people get a taste of your mindfulness techniques?
I created a website and non profit program called Jewel Never Broken with the Inspiring Children Foundation and co-founded the Wellness Your Way Festival with Kroger.
On my site, I’ve created videos and shared my personal mindfulness techniques and created a community where people can come together and help each other heal. The instructional videos are meant to help people to be mindful of their thoughts, and learn to stop engaging in negative habit loops while building ones that lead to fulfillment.
I truly believe no person can keep us unhappy, abused, or poor if we are willing to take accountability, look in the mirror, and say the shape of my life is up to me. This is what I also want to share at my festival. These tools will help take you from a victim who merely reacts to a life you inherited, to an architect who creates it.
What would you say to someone skeptical about the mindful movement?
The proof is in the pudding. There is irrefutable evidence that mindfulness and meditation have incredible healing powers both emotionally and physically. Right now we have more mental illness, disease, and suicide than ever before. And from this, a revolution is being born, and the revolution is marrying science with ancient healing modalities. These are things I have known about for decades and it’s inspiring to see this work at the forefront of scientific studies.
We just had some incredible panelists at Wellness Your Way Festival including a Harvard doctor who has seen incredible results with suicidal patients rewiring their brains with mindfulness and meditation. But don’t take my word for it, go try it out for yourself and see what you discover.
What are some mindfulness practices or tools someone could incorporate into their lives right now after reading this article?
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?
Sit up in a comfortable position.
Follow your breathing.
When you breathe in, count 1.
When you breathe out, count 2.
Going up to 10 and the back down to 0.
If you drift off into thought that is great and normal. 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! This is a simple practice that will calm your nervous system and drop you into the present moment. So much of this work is experiential and once you see the effects mindfulness can have on your emotional well being, it’s nearly impossible to go back to any other way of being. These mindfulness techniques will give you the opportunity to become the conscious creator of your life, rather than a bystander.
At the end of the day, I hope you follow your heart and your intuition when it comes to finding the best wellness techniques for your lifestyle. Always know that mindfulness is accessible to you, and I encourage you to give yourself permission to explore what works for you.