How I turned my mental health around and founded KAAIAA

Founder of KAAIAA Leah Simmons reveals the personal hurdles she overcame through meditation, and shares a taste of her transformational techniques you can do at home.

For Leah Simmons, hitting “breaking point” several years ago proved to be the catalyst that would lead her to create her wellness and fitness program KAAIAA.

The Pilates and Kundalini yoga teacher, personal trainer and former DJ tells Body+Soul that she had been “sucked down into the Instagram comparison hole. I was very connected to how I looked and with how others perceived me.”

It wasn’t until her husband gave her an ultimatum of sorts that Simmons realised she needed to prioritise her mental health.

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“He said, ‘We’re going to be over if you don’t take a look at what you’re doing to yourself,’” Simmons reveals.

“It was a huge wake-up call for me to be like, well, I’m going to lose everything if I don’t address… my mental state. No-one’s going to remember me as the person [with] the six-pack – I want to be remembered as the person who was compassionate and made a difference in the world. I almost had to write my own eulogy to understand who I wanted to be.”

From there, Simmons set to work, and quickly discovered the profound effect that meditation and breathwork had on her health and happiness.

As she delved deeper into the practice, Simmons began dreaming up what would later become KAAIAA – a way of sharing with others what she’d learnt through this journey.

“I came from a very physical-focused background,” she says. “And I spent a good chunk of my career in the fitness industry focusing very much just on the physical. We’re so much more than a body – I wanted to find something that trains the other parts of you as well.”

Each workout consists of four different modalities (breath work, body work, meditation and integration) across four pillars of health: mental, physical, emotional and spiritual.

It brings together the most powerful elements of yoga, Pilates, strength and conditioning work – all squeezed into one hour – as “a way for people to tick all the boxes; do a little bit of everything every day”.

Since it launched in Sydney in January, also with an online class offering, the response has been overwhelmingly positive – something Simmons believes is because “it’s what people were looking for, but didn’t know where to find.

I get messages daily, and I’m in floods of tears because of the impact it’s having – you’re getting a very good workout, but I rarely get people going, ‘Oh, my biceps have increased.’

People have found the courage to leave an abusive relationship or to go and ask for that promotion.”

Simmons says ultimately she’s grateful she came so close to losing it all those years ago.

“I’m 44 [and] for the first time in my life I feel like I’m really connected to my purpose – not just helping individuals but finding peace within myself, too. I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.”

For more information and to sign up for an On-Demand 7-day free trial or book a studio class, go to kaaiaa.com.

Leah’s poses for a whole-body workout

1. Breath work (for mental health)

Bear claw

  • Find a comfortable seated position; you can use a cushion to elevate your hips.
  • Lift your arms in front of you at chest height, your elbows slightly bent, as if you’re hugging a big ball, and your fingers gently curled into claws.
  • Inhale through your nose, open your arms out the side, projecting your heart forwards.
  • Exhale through your mouth and bring your arms around the front of your body, maintaining the slight bend in your elbows.
  • Repeat for 3 minutes.

2. Body work (for physical health)

Side plank

  • Lie on your left side, your legs out straight – with your top foot slightly in front of the bottom one – and your left hand planted firmly on the ground, your fingers facing away from your body. Lift up through your underneath-side waist into the plank position, making sure your wrist is directly underneath your shoulder.
  • Reach your right hand towards the sky, in a straight line with your left.
  • Ensure your whole body is facing forwards and engage your core.
  • Hold for 10 counts, then lower and lift your hips 5 times. Perform this sequence 3 times on your left side, then repeat it on the right.

3. Meditation (for emotional health)


  • Find a comfortable seated position; you can use a cushion to elevate your hips.
  • Rest your hands on your knees, your index fingers and thumb tips touching.
  • Take a deep breath in and sigh out any residual tension.
  • Allow your focus to be drawn towards your breath and follow the natural rhythm of your inhale and exhale.
  • You can use a guided meditation or mantra, or perform a simple body scan to bring you into the present moment.
  • Do this for 5-10 minutes.

4. Integration (for spiritual health)

Arms out to the side, palms facing away

  • Find a comfortable seated position; you can use a cushion to elevate your hips.
  • Extend your arms out to the sides, parallel to the floor, your palms flat and facing away.
  • Elongate your spine, keeping your elbows straight and shoulders drawn down your back.
  • Bring focus to your breath. Long inhale, long exhale, in and out through your nose.
  • Connect to your breath, stay in the present moment and silently repeat the mantra “I can do this. I am doing this” with every breath cycle.
  • Start with 3 minutes; build up to 9 minutes.