Kayla Itsines talks motherhood, staying motivated and why 'movement is mindfulness'

Erin Donnelly
·6-min read
Fitness pro Kayla Itsines talks being a single mom, practicing self-care and the role workouts play in her overall well-being. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Fitness pro Kayla Itsines talks being a single mom, practicing self-care and the role workouts play in her overall well-being. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

If you've done a burpee or extended plank recently, Kayla Itsines was probably involved. With 12.8 million Instagram followers, the Australian fitness guru and co-founder of the workout and meal-planning app Sweat has built a global audience of devotees glued to, and inspired by, her steady stream of videos showing how to execute, say, the perfect lunge or bent-leg sit-up. That fanbase is only bound to expand thanks to her latest release: a more accessible low-impact workout series inspired by Itsines's own mother, who found her daughter's HIIT-heavy workouts too intense and bouncy for her problem knees. 

Away from the gym, Itsines keeps busy chasing her daughter, Arna, who turns 2 next month. Here, the single mom — who split from longtime partner Tobi Pearce last year — opens up to The Unwind about motherhood, motivation and the pleasure of quiet moment alone. 

When did your interest in fitness begin?

When I was 5, I picked up a basketball for the first time and that is where my love for sport began. I played basketball throughout school and started coaching a team in my high school years, which further ignited my love for fitness, coaching and eventually personal training.

How do you prioritize your mental health? Therapy, meditation, journaling... ?

As a busy working mum, at times it can be challenging to find the time to put my health first. Movement is mindfulness, and I always feel my strongest and most confident after training hard so setting time aside to work out is really important for me.

Something I’ve started to do more recently is sit outside to stretch after my workouts and listen to a meditation track. I mostly listen to mindfulness or gratitude tracks as I find they support me to be present and feel more connected to my body.

Do you have any small self-care rituals that brighten your day or help you reset?

I’m a believer that self-care rituals don’t need to be big events. After a busy day and when Arna is in bed, I will often sit on the couch with herbal tea and a few pieces of dark, peppermint chocolate to reset and slow my mind before going to bed. Having this moment of stillness helps me to sleep better and clear my mind.

What’s your mantra?

"You got this!" There are so many moments throughout the day where I tell myself this. It's a way to remind myself that I am capable of doing everything that I have planned and want to accomplish. It motivates me to keep going and reminds me that nothing can get in the way of me achieving my goals.

Itsines has created a low-impact workout inspired by her mom. (Photo: Courtesy of Kayla Itsines/SWEAT)
Itsines has created a low-impact workout inspired by her mom. (Photo: Courtesy of Kayla Itsines/SWEAT)

What role does staying physically fit play in your overall mental well-being?

Fitness plays a huge role in my life and my overall mental and emotional health. As a personal trainer, I know the holistic benefits of exercise and this is why no matter how much I'm trying to juggle, I do my best to make my health a priority every single day.

When I am training consistently and eating well, I sleep better and have more mental clarity and more energy to keep up with my active toddler.

What have you learned about yourself since becoming a single mother?

It's shown me how strong and capable I am. Life is busy and the juggle of being a mum, running a business and setting time aside for me can be challenging, but this time has given me an opportunity to reflect on what's important to me and make sure that I am spending time doing the things I love.

How do you find a work-life balance now that you have a toddler?

As I’m sure many women can relate, being a mum has certainly taught me to be more flexible in my routine. At times it is really challenging to have balance but I strive to do the best I can. I feel really grateful to be surrounded by my family who provide me with so much love and support. I couldn’t do what I do without them.

What stresses you out?

I’m a planner and very organized by nature so a messy house or workspace really stresses me out. I love going to bed at night knowing the house chores are done, and everything is back in its place — or as much as is possible with a toddler!

Do you have days when it’s hard to be motivated to work out? How do you push through that?

Like everyone, I experience days of low motivation or low energy. It’s different for everyone but for me on days where I'm not feeling motivated, putting on my favorite music playlist is a great way to lift my mood and energy levels to get me in the right headspace to train. If I'm feeling tired, I’ll have coffee to give me the caffeine boost and energy I need to give my workout 100 percent.

You’ve been open about your struggle with endometriosis. How did that impact your mental health, and what would you say to other women battling it?

As a personal trainer, my body supported me in so many ways but living with endometriosis over the last 10 years, there have been moments where I felt like my body was failing me. Although the symptoms of the disease are physical, it took a huge toll on me mentally. The inability to do everything I wanted to or had planned would leave me feeling a sense of guilt and frustration and I really struggled not having control over my body.

Millions of women are affected by endometriosis and so many women live undiagnosed because they think their symptoms are normal. I really want to encourage women to share their experiences and be open with the challenges you face because sharing your story and experiences might help someone else who is going through the same thing. My top piece of advice for women is: If something doesn't feel right, speak to your doctor. Get support, get help and look after your body because no one knows your body better than you.

Read more from Yahoo Life:

Want lifestyle and wellness news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Life’s newsletter.