Shaun Kerr is a 30-year old, first generation Kiwi-American with Maori ancestry. He grew up in East Coast Tiverton, Rhode Island, U.S.A., and moved to New Zealand at 23 years old. With a Bluff-born father from Ngai Tahu, and an Irish-Catholic mother, Shaun is the middle of 3 brothers, and has a history as a wooden boat-builder. Since arriving in New Zealand, Shaun has lived in Auckland, where he now works as an artist and yoga teacher.

I live a healthy life, with healthy choices. That's not only physically, but socially and mentally too.

Being free from alcohol and drugs is the biggest thing that benefits my mental state. I’ve been sobre since the age of 20. It was a very obvious choice, although not easy to do. When first starting out I did slip up from time to time, but once I reached the stage of totally cutting out the intoxicants going to my body and mind, I was able to start really working on myself. It meant that I could no longer hide from the underlying issues. I had to face them and work through them. Now, rather than seeking happiness from substances, I’ve learnt to create my own happiness from within.

I put a lot of attention into listening to my body and my health. This attentiveness, combined with avoiding toxins and foods I know aren’t good, helps me feel energetic, clean and well. I’ve worked with my diet over the years and have experimented with different foods. My conclusion? Eating more vegetables and healthy foods assists in keeping me well and mentally stable. This is a great shift from times in the past, when I was loading my body with unhealthy substances. Being caffeine-free and tobacco-free also gives me more clarity, I see a shift in my mental state when I eat healthily and fuel my body with foods that work with me, not against me.

Learning to be deliberate and selective about my surroundings - which includes people - has been a big learning. Purposely building a positive set of influences around me, and saying goodbye to the not-so-helpful ones, makes it so much easier for me to maintain a day-to-day life filled with constructive choices and constructive thoughts. Removing myself from environments and friends that don’t serve my health has been a big betterment.

My first move after leaving my parents home was to Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was a conscious choice, and a really good environment to be in. Another really good move was choosing to come to New Zealand. As a Maori-American, I’d always had a connection with New Zealand, but wasn’t that familiar with it. Moving here gave me the opportunity to start fresh, and reinvent myself. I had the freedom to ask; who am I? Who do I want to be? Choosing to change my environment let me make that mental shift. I stopped living the story of the past. It gave me a chance to take action and become who I really am.

Physical exercise is my foundation. A few years ago, a friend took me to a Bikram yoga class. This was back when it seemed frowned-upon for males to do that sort of thing. Once I started though, I was completely hooked! This first class made me feel horrible and outlined how unhealthy I was, but I fed off the challenge it provided. That challenge is what I first loved about it. I’m drawn to intensity. It’s addictive, and addiction is what I’d previously kept using to deal with the various issues I faced. Yoga began to provide that same feeling for me. Yoga is now my healthy addiction.

Before finding Bikram, I’d use external things to distract myself and keep myself busy. I would work 3 jobs, study part-time, and build boats in my spare time. Bikram has taught me to slow down. In Bikram we move and breathe in the present moment. We also face a mirror which gives that constant physical self-reflection and focus. It also inspires me to look internally. Yoga helps me take small steps to address the deep-down causes of all my feelings, and doing that, they become easier to understand and deal with.

Yoga makes me take care of my body, and as a result, my mind follows. It’s as though my physical health is the ground layer to my wellness and when that’s in check the rest seems to come naturally. Through practicing yoga, I feel so connected to my body and can understand the messages it tells me. Bikram yoga resonated with me the most. The Gurus taught me that yoga is the honing and training of the physical body to allow the mind the ability to open. My mind was basically suffocated inside an unhealthy body. Cleaning it up and choosing to live a healthy life allowed my mind to become open and more settled. There’s always work to do on the mind though, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning.

I follow my passions to keep myself well and keep myself engaged. I really enjoy being creative, from boat building and rock climbing, to yoga, and writing, dancing and art. I find that creative self-expression through my passions is really beneficial for my mental health. Not only do I find pleasure in my passions, but they also occupy my time and keep me from wandering into other less constructive pastimes. I love getting out amongst nature too. Mountaineering and rock climbing missions are my favourite, as generally they involve sharing the adventure with close friends.

If I'm having a tough day I believe it can be a sign to learn from. Even a bad day is more-or-less an opportunity for growth, with underlying lessons to look for. I’ve learnt to not take setbacks so personally, and to also take care of myself through diet and exercise. If I am mindful of these things, generally my days are good.

Walks in nature are another ‘go-to’ for me. I walk for anywhere from 10 mins up to an hour; basically however long it takes to get myself out of my head, and separated from any negative thoughts. The further I remove myself from any bad situation, the more I realise the world is actually a good place.

I also allow myself to enjoy ice-cream too. I pay a heap of attention to my how I’m feeling, to wellness tools and to my surroundings, but sometimes ice-cream is all I need.

Scheduling my weeks is a tool I use to help me feel good and in control. When I’m more prepared, I feel my days become easier. The less prepared I am the less enjoyment I seem to get out of what I’m doing. I schedule my weeks day by day and on the busy days I plan down to the hour.

I notice that scheduling time for myself is important too, it helps me create balance. It’s something I’m still in the process of learning, and trying to do more consistently.

Living here in New Zealand, surrounding myself with a friend group that values time with people and creating good feelings from within regardless of what possessions we have; that's happiness for me.

I try to find pleasure in simple things, and actively try to avoid a materialistic attitude. I’ve seen in the past happiness being measured by buying and owning things. I found it extremely superficial. I understand now, that that’s not what does it for me. The real factors that keep my head-space peaceful are simplicity and gratitude for all the things I have.

One of the best things for me, which makes me the happiest, is to dance. I embrace dancing wholeheartedly and can do it without the fear of judgement from myself and others. I like to be expressive and silly and move in a way that solely feels good to me. The freedom I experience from dancing at concerts and DJs makes me feel amazing. It’s a physical liberation. Throughout my childhood, dancing was smothered by various influences and so it got bottled up. Thankfully, I confronted all of those walls and busted through them so I can now express myself freely. When I began dancing, it was mostly on nights out, but I’ve become so comfortable with it that I now love doing it sober too. Dancing is my best outlet and form of expression.

Self-expression is the biggest thing that I’ve worked on. In the past my expression was through the form of drug abuse and reckless behaviour. Looking back, it stumped my growth toward truly being able to express and love myself. Thankfully, I have a friend group here in New Zealand who are awesome at self-expression, and are living happy lifestyles. These people will always be my inspiration. I can't choose my family but I can choose who I surround myself with. When I’m with my friends, I’m not scared to be myself and express my true colours, mistakes and all.

Writing poetry is another really healthy form of expression that I enjoy. I write to myself, for myself. Poems and free-writing help clear my head. When I discovered that creative writing has no ‘box’ to fit into, I truly allowed myself to write without restraint. This mind frame is awesome for self-expression, as when I write I’m not trying to fit into any moulds, appease someone, or do it for anyone else. I can fully trust myself and write with utter freedom of expression.

I’m glad to have converted my old, destructive means of self-expression into something more meaningful. Self-expression in whatever modality makes me feel more human and distances me from those feelings of worthlessness.

Another one of my main wellness tools is connecting with others. When I engage with others I aim to be fully aware, present, and listen attentively to them. Connecting on an authentic level makes me feel very human, very close and connected to the people I’m with.

Kiwi Burn - New Zealand’s regional Burning Man event - is a great experience for building connection. Attending Kiwi Burn introduced me to an open-minded, sharing community, involving lots of events and lectures on all different subjects. Kiwi Burn deals with topics that I find ‘normal’ communities on a ‘normal’ day seem to repress, like mental health for instance. The level of connection I experienced attending Kiwi Burn made me feel like I undoubtedly belonged.

Helping others brings me connection and joy, so I love to do it. When it comes to giving though, I find I need to be full within myself first. I’ve learnt that I need to overfill my cup with love first, to let it spill over into my saucer and then fill other people’s cups from there. Giving makes me happy, but it’s important that I do it from a place of abundance rather than a place of emptiness. Giving when I am more than full; that's when I'm most effective. Helping others in this way means that I really look after myself too.

I like to use music to relax and calm myself down after a tough day, especially if I’m carrying tension. Good music has the power to release me from any unhelpful states of mind. I find instrumental music particularly good at helping me unwind and let go - especially if I’ve had a lot of interaction with people that day. ‘Explosions in the Sky’ is a musical band that have been with me for a number of years, which I love to listen to.

To provide inspiration and help me feel really good, I often draw motivation from people on YouTube who are living their dream. Tony Robbins and Alan Watts are my personal favourites. There’s a lot of information, and a lot of phenomenal people, out there, so I hone into whatever and whoever resonates with me at the time. Listening is a great tool that creates inspiration to go forth within myself.

If it was possible to send a note back to yourself when you needed the most help, what would it look like?

Shaun experienced depression between the ages of 14-22 years old. His school environment, social circles and family life added to an already unhealthy lifestyle of partying and heavy substance abuse.

How did it make you feel?

Did you take prescribed medication?

Were there any triggers that exacerbated your feelings?
Bullying at school
Stress of leaving school and what I was going to do with my life.
Mischievous friend group.
Negative outlook on life.
Family life.
Alcohol, drugs, smoking, partying lifestyle.

Was there a turning point when things started to get better?
Changing my mindset
Stopping all drug abuse
Quitting alcohol.
Following a passion.
Finding yoga.

With thanks to


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