Rose Castillo-Komoda
Stefania Curto

Trusting her intuition and being at ease with the unknowns, Katie Grieco expands how she serves others as she teaches others to do the same.

Katie Grieco is someone who is familiar with following her intuition and going off the beaten path to pursue what calls to her. There’s an inner sense of calm and steadiness that radiates from her. She is a teacher of Vedic Meditation and founder of Simply Meditate. Read on for a conversation with Katie on how she found her way to meditation, how she starts anew after two decades in the hospitality industry as a partner in Tom Colicchio’s Crafted Hospitality, and the ease that comes in pursuing what brings her joy.
Rose: What words come to mind that captures the essence of where you are at this moment in your life? 

Katie: They almost seem contradictory when I think about them but I would say joy, ease, transition and anticipation. If you had told me years ago that I could hold joy and ease with transition and anticipation I would have said ‘oh no, absolutely not.’

Why do you think you are able to hold these dualities at once?

The way I experience most of my days and life at the moment is influenced by the fact that I practice Vedic Meditation. Over time it has allowed me to be less concerned about the future and instead be more in the moment. I don’t always love that phrase, be in the moment, because it feels a little overused, but it is the truth. What used to create angst was this sense of the unknown and as a result I became an ardent planner, organizer and a bit of a controller in my life. In practicing Vedic Meditation, I have found that I’m much more present and involved in what I’m doing. I realized that all I need to do is continue to follow my instincts day-to-day and moment-to-moment. The things in the future - that anticipation of what might be coming, the not knowing - doesn’t scare me the way it once did, which has been such a meaningful shift.

Has your meditation practice allowed you to form a deeper connection to your inner voice?

One hundred percent. I’m not somebody who does a lot of self-reflection but if I do look back I think that I’ve mostly followed my gut. When we practice Vedic Meditation, we release stress, and with it the cloud of junk - the things that have happened to us over the years, the difficult situations, the trauma - and we start to have a much greater capacity to read the cues from Nature. In Vedic Meditation we refer to it as being in touch with our fine level of feeling. It’s that inner voice subtly guiding us along. I never really thought much about an inner voice prior to learning to meditate, but mine has become louder (laughs) and clearer to me over the past 10 years. Sometimes you make a choice or go in a direction that ultimately doesn’t feel right, and that’s ok. Making a “wrong” step is a lot less scary to me; it’s just a step. You can easily pivot and get on another path that feels more frictionless.

What parts of your upbringing do you see as foundational to who you are today?

My mother was a full-time mom for most of my young childhood. As my sister and I got a bit older, she became involved in caring for others. She was a hospice volunteer, then moved into working for an organization that raised money for families with terminally ill children. After that, she was involved in the development of a new children’s hospital in the area, and then worked in the child life program. She seemed to do this work with such ease. Needless to say, improving people’s lives was something I saw firsthand. 

My dad worked very hard and traveled a lot for work. His career was in commercial real estate, but he was always interested in culture - art, food, and travel - which had an influence on my interests and ultimately my career. We shared a love of cooking. Once, I remember he came back from a business trip (to Houston) with a cookbook from a restaurant he had been to (Tex Mex) and we made nachos.  This sounds absurd now but this was 1978 or so and no one was eating Mexican food or knew what nachos were. When he turned forty (1977), he and my mom hosted a birthday party where they hired a sushi chef to prepare sushi at our house for their guests who were like ‘What am I eating? Raw fish, rice and seaweed?’ No one in our suburban New York world knew what sushi was in 1977. These experiences certainly impacted my love of food and interest in the restaurant business.

Both of my parents were hard workers, they never sat me down and said ‘You need to work hard,’ it was just implied. I think that in the back of my head I always knew that if I wanted to pursue something that was off the beaten path, that I could do it, that I would be supported in my endeavors.

Tell us about the journey that led you to become a Vedic meditator.

I was running a restaurant company that started with opening a single restaurant, Craft, in 2001 and expanded to about a dozen over a 13 year period. Within that same period of time I got married, had two children, and overall had a lot of responsibilities - quite common, especially for working mothers. I was working full time while doing most of the family care and home maintenance. We had a terrific nanny who helped with our children but I was probably doing ninety percent of the family-oriented stuff while my husband worked long hours building his own restaurant company. 

After all the years of working and parenting, I began to feel overwhelmed with the sheer volume of responsibility. It started to feel like I wasn’t really bringing my best self to any of the things I was responsible for. I tried a lot of things that people typically do when they’re not really feeling their best. I prioritized getting a good night's sleep, I exercised, I started to see a therapist, and each thing in its small way helped. However what I didn’t find with any of them was sustained improvement. I’d go to the therapist and at the end of the session I’d think ‘oh I feel so much better now’ and then two or three days later some of the same issues would start creeping back in. 

A friend from college, who arguably had the most interesting career of anyone I knew here in New York City, had been practicing Vedic Meditation for a number of years. When he decided to leave that career to become a teacher of Vedic Meditation, I remember thinking ‘there’s got to be something about this technique that compelled him to want to teach it himself’. When he became a teacher, I learned to meditate and that was in August of 2014. Since then I have meditated every day. Vedic Meditation is so easy to do and tends to show benefits quite quickly. In my case, I started to feel more calm and less anxious.

What ignited your curiosity to teach Vedic Meditation?

Eventually I became a regular twice a day mediator. People around me began to notice changes and would say ‘What are you doing? Something seems different’. About two and a half years into my practice, an email came into my inbox that announced a teacher training for Vedic Meditation and something clicked. I didn’t know what it entailed, I never met the person who sent the email, somehow I was in their database. I just knew that this is what I needed to be doing. It was so clear to me that it was a path I wanted to pursue, that it was my next step.

Either that day or the next day I said to my husband, ‘I think I want to become a teacher of Vedic Meditation which involves me going to India. There would be teacher training aspects I’d complete here in New York but after that I’ll head to India for three months. What do you think about that?’ And he immediately said ‘I think that’s great, you should do it.’ I don’t know that I had given a whole lot of thought to what his response might be but the fact that there was not a moment of ‘Wow that’s complicated’ or ‘Gee, I had no idea’ or ‘Three months is a long time’, literally none of that, took me by surprise. Just open hearted,“You should go, we'll figure it out on this end”. There was no question in my mind that it was the path I should be taking so to have it honored and encouraged by my husband felt great and shocked me a little bit to be honest. 

It really still warms my heart when I think about it. I think about how blessed I have been to have my family, my nuclear family, my parents, and my sister who all said ‘just go for it, we think it’s great, we’ll see you in three months, don't bother to call.’

How did you find a way for the courage and the fear that you felt to co-exist?

I don't think I felt fear at that point, maybe some reservations or feelings of uncertainty about what was to come. The lack of fear, I fully attribute to meditation. The improvements that came as a result of practicing this technique helped me feel less anxious about the unknown, and helped me take a step in a direction that was completely foreign to me. Choosing to be self-employed came with a certain set of new challenges. Losing basic things like health insurance, vacation time, and all of the things that we benefited from that had enhanced our quality of life over twenty years at my previous company concerned me a little. However they didn’t make me fearful for the future, or the unknown, they were just the realities that came with this new path. 

The practice itself is really what allowed me to be less fearful and more certain that it would all somehow be ok. Looking back and comparing my old self to where I am now, I would have described myself as anxious, risk averse, and a little fearful about a lot of things. Once I committed to this new path, what I felt was a conviction that this was where I wanted to go, physically I wanted to go to India, and I wanted to go down this path of pursuing this career, fully aware that there were risks. Although it may have seemed like it was a big step to take, a giant step is usually made up of a bunch of little ones. So it was not so much about taking this huge leap into the unknown, it was more about putting one foot in front of the other and taking it in smaller chunks—which don’t tend to be quite as intimidating or scary.

On the journey of becoming a Vedic Meditation teacher…

If anyone had ever said to me one day you’re going to be a teacher, I would have said no thank you. For my old self, it was a far stretch. The idea that I would be so passionate about something, and that I would be able to convey that in a way that was compelling to others, was not something I ever imagined for myself. 

When I began teacher training in India, I remember thinking ‘This is hard. Am I going to be good at it? When am I ever going to feel like an expert?’—I was nervous. I was being taught by people who had been teaching this technique for almost twenty years and I had to remind myself that they were once new teachers also, and that they’ve been doing this for a very long time. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to become a teacher, I almost felt like I needed to become a teacher. I shy away from using the word calling, because it sometimes has religious connotations, but in a lot of ways it felt like a calling. 

As a younger person, and even early on in my restaurant career, speaking in front of people was not something that came easily to me. One of the aspects of teaching Vedic Meditation is an Introductory Talk, which is an introduction of yourself, who you are, how you came to be a teacher, followed by an explanation of what this technique is, how we do it, what some of the benefits are, and what the course is about. During the teacher training, we had to do a mock intro talk in front of our teacher and our peers, and it was recorded. Recently, I was going through my phone cleaning up old videos and I randomly came across my recording. When I watched it, four years later, I thought ‘wow that was pretty good’. For somebody who hadn’t taught a soul yet, and was only halfway through her teacher training, I did alright. Now the intro talks are easy, conversational and I don’t worry about them. Having said that, I’m one of those people who, in anything I do, wants to be doing it better than I was the day before.


Do you think in wanting to become a teacher that there was also a desire to learn more about yourself?

I didn’t ever think about it that way but it has certainly allowed for that to happen. There’s no doubt that teaching has made me more of who I am at my essence. Teaching has given me the opportunity to be exactly who I am, and maybe who I was meant to be; that’s not to say that the other hats I’ve worn over the course of my life were not who I was meant to be at that time. Meditation allows people to become the best versions of themselves. It doesn’t inherently change who we are but it allows that inner light to shine in a way that it can’t when we are stressed out and tired. 

One of the things that we talk about in this practice is that we aren’t all the things we identify as. Who I am is not that I’m 53, blonde, a Princeton grad, have two sons, live in New York City, and have this much in my bank account. Who I am is a steady un-waveble internal experience of consciousness that is always the same. How it gets distorted over time as a result of outside forces is difficult and can be problematic. As we practice this technique, the distortions get removed and we start to remember and identify as one stable, balanced, joyful being. 

I’ve never actually articulated this statement before but meditating has made me a much more optimistic person than I used to be. I used to be sort of a naysayer and think the world was crazy and horrible in a lot of ways, but as a meditator I see the world through a very different lens now than I did prior to learning this technique. It doesn’t mean that when horrible things happen I don’t feel incredibly sad about them, I’m steady I guess is the difference—I think it’s this baseline level of joy that is always there. I have an equanimity and a steadiness that I didn’t have before and that makes everything better.


What inspired you to create Simply Meditate?

When people become teachers of Vedic Meditation there is no overarching organization or company that you work for. Everyone who decides to teach this technique hangs out their own shingle, picks a URL, builds a website, figures out where to teach and starts doing it. Most people name companies after themselves, but that didn’t feel comfortable for me. I chose the name Simply Meditate for a few reasons. I liked the word simple or simply. To me it’s a lot about what this technique is and we actually use the word simple a lot in the teaching, so there’s a reference there that’s important to me. I also liked the no nonsense-ness of saying ‘Simply Meditate’. It’s like ‘Just do it’, it’s a directive. We’re not creating some ceremony everytime we sit down, we don’t have to burn incense, we simply meditate and that’s it. 

I really like the idea of being a sole proprietor. I like being in business for myself, not having to be responsible for anyone else, and being able to make every decision. I wanted the ownership. I wanted the pride of knowing that whatever I was going to create, I was creating on my own and that it was going to be all about my decisions. That was something I had struggled with in the restaurant business because even though I was a partner in my company, my voice didn’t always carry the weight I wished it had. So to be in a situation where I get to design a logo and I get to pick the name (laughs) and I get to teach when and where I want to teach has been refreshing. It’s not without concern or risks, and it’s not always easy to be in business for one’s self, but I like that it’s all my vision. I like putting myself out there in the sense that I’m proud of what I do—it’s extraordinarily meaningful work. 


What is it about stepping into this space, this practice, that brings you joy?  

It’s pretty simple in the sense that it’s incredibly joyful to know that you are improving somebody else’s life. This technique itself is easy and will work for anyone that’s willing to create a new habit. Creating the habit is the difficult part. I feel joy every time I teach knowing that if this person is able to integrate this practice into their life, their life is going to be better, and there will be one more person leading a better life, period. In a way, I’m taking care of these people by giving them access to this knowledge, and that to me is the ultimate hospitality. 

People say this to me all the time about their experience as meditators and I certainly feel the same—it’s a game changer. Before I meditated, I had a great life, and I was happy. Sure, I was stressed, but I had a career that I loved, and a happy and healthy family, all the things you hope for. But then you learn to do this practice and you realize ‘oh my gosh, it gets even better’. To be able to share that with people, to know that I have the capacity to offer that to people is incredibly meaningful. Practicing Vedic meditation also improves the lives of those close to us. My kids are not regular meditators but their lives are better because I’m calmer, I’m more steady, and I'm more joyful. We’d be crazy to think that it doesn’t impact the lives of the people that we interact with, so its reach is really exponential. It’s so joyful. 

Was it difficult to leave a career you had spent so much time cultivating?

As much as I loved the restaurant business, and as much as I was proud of the work that I had done, I knew that I didn’t want to be doing it for the rest of my life. For a number of years, I was wondering what my next step would be. Once I realized what that step was, I did not look back and trusted that I was moving in a good direction and that everything was going to be ok. I finished up my restaurateur career of twenty years, tied a nice little bow on it, and went on my way. The loyalty I felt toward the company, and the loyalty that was shown to me was meaningful, and I will always be grateful for that, but it was time for me to go. Even good things come to an end.

Although my departure was surprising to some, it was not an acrimonious departure in any way. It was a friendly parting of ways with a lot of respect for the great things and important work we had accomplished together. I remember walking out the door and feeling so relieved, thinking ‘wow, take a deep breath, be proud of what you’ve accomplished here and know that you’re leaving it in good hands with a team of people who will take it to whatever’s next.’

“There’s no doubt that teaching has made me more of who I am at my essence. Teaching has given me the opportunity to be exactly who I am, and maybe who I was meant to be; that’s not to say that the other hats I’ve worn over the course of my life were not who I was meant to be at that time.”
What lessons have you taken with you from your time in the hospitality industry that enriches the work you now do?

Some people who are in the restaurant business, are “in the restaurant business”; I don’t mean this as a criticism in any way, but it’s all about the food. At Crafted Hospitality, it was as much about the hospitality component as it was about all the other things that go into making a great experience for guests and employees. Our mission was to ‘Make people happy’. It was in big letters on the walls of my office, on our stationery, and on our business cards. I feel like having that priority everyday informs what I do now. Which is why when people say ‘Oh my gosh, you were running restaurants and now you’re a meditation teacher, what a big turn around!’. I don’t actually see it as such a big turn around. The hospitality thread goes through all of it. 

When I was in the restaurant business I had the opportunity to make someone happy; they came in for dinner, we remembered their name, we wrote happy birthday on their dessert plate—you had the opportunity to take care of people. It was meaningful, great and important. What I do now is like hospitality on steroids, you have the opportunity to make them happy not just today, or tomorrow, but over the course of the rest of their lives. 

I grew up in the restaurant business and had never done anything like that before. I learned on the fly and even that has carried over to what I’m doing now. I knew I didn’t necessarily need to know exactly what I was doing if I asked the right questions, was smart and paid attention; that I’d figure it out. For a lot of my meditation colleagues, starting a new business is intimidating, but that part didn’t scare me at all. I had been running a multi-million dollar business, opening a new restaurant every year in a different city working with hundreds of different people, employees, contractors, you name it. Starting and building my business took slightly different skills, but was not intimidating for me. I’ve learned a lot from the hospitality business and I’m so grateful for all that it has taught me to get me to this place.

There’s an immense pride for that part of your life, and having an ownership of knowing that it was time for you to move on to something that was calling you, there’s a really wonderful closure.

My son's celebratory graduation dinner was at Craft recently and some of the staff that I hired twenty three years ago, who are still there, came up and gave me big hugs. I have this incredibly warm feeling about that place and when I walk in there it feels like home. It was such a great chapter of my life and it now lives on in whatever way it should be living on, and I get to now expand my life in a way that’s so different—I’m grateful for that. 

I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to make this choice for myself. It was like that conversation I had with Kim Holden, that she mentioned in her interview. To know that there are people out there, especially women in the middle of their life, that are making similar life choices about how they want to spend their time, reprioritizing their goals and figuring out what their next professional chapter might be—it’s nice to know there are other people out there doing the same thing as you.

Were there any principles or values that helped you build this next phase of your life?

Being in service of others was part of how I was raised, but why I do what I do extends beyond service—I do it because I love to do it. It’s mostly about the joy of helping people for me. It’s very direct, you do the work and you see the results. It’s not like other jobs where you do something, you’re not quite sure what part you played in it, and it takes years to know if it’s really making a difference or how it’s going to play out. In this case it’s so immediate both for the person who’s learning to meditate and for the experience of the teacher. I can sit there on day three of the course, look around the room, and people actually look different. They have a literal glow about them. Or I’ll hear something they say about how they are feeling and I know the meditation is working. It works for everyone who does it.

What does grace mean to you and how did it unfold as you were in this liminal space?

For me, grace is a state where things are how they are supposed to be, harmonious and connected. This notion of connectivity is something that I have found surprising through my experience as both a meditator and a teacher of meditation in the sense that the world seems less surprising to me now. I find myself more in tune with things which means I’m less likely to be caught off guard and that life happens in a more frictionless way. There’s a greater ease and flow and sweetness in my life. I have found that sense of being connected in a sort of universal way, incredibly powerful, spiritual even. There’s something about that to me that speaks to grace.

I’m inspired by the way you continue to explore what brings you joy. How does the work you do allow you to fully accept and embrace all of the different parts of you?

I have an ease with all of the different parts of myself now that I didn’t have before. They all make sense to me now, even though I’m not sure that they always did. If I look back at all of the things I've done that seemed sort of random and maybe a little bit off the beaten path, they are now an interesting path through life. It all seems a little more obvious in hindsight; looking at what I've done and the choices that I've made to get myself to this incredible place. I like having different parts of me. There are some people who do what I do, that in my mind on the surface sort of embody what a typical mediation teacher - if there is such a thing - should look like. They’re sort of softer in the way they dress and wear their hair, they look a little bit more flowy, easy, ephemeral. And then there’s me, all of the different parts of me that make me good at teaching and drawing people in; I’m a mother, I was in the restaurant business, I like to watch Premier League Soccer. It all makes me who I am and makes me interesting and relevant to some people, and maybe some people want something else and that’s great because there’s plenty of us out there. It’s easy for me to reconcile all of those different parts of me because they come from a genuine place. I'm not trying to put on any airs or pretend that I like this when I really want to be doing that.

How has your relationship with success, worth, and value evolved through the years? How do you choose what to give weight to?

I never really thought about success, worth, or value during the college phase of my life. If I were perfectly honest with you I was not somebody who envisioned myself actually having a career. I thought I would get married, have children, and probably be a stay at home mom, which to me sounded like a great life.  So I didn’t really have this idea that I needed to accomplish “x” and “y” in order to have value or consider myself successful. 

But then I found myself falling into this career that was incredibly meaningful to me and yet it was challenging to recognize my value on some level. As much as I knew that I was good at my job, I didn’t always get a lot of recognition for it. I did periodically get a pat on the back. Our restaurants received a lot of accolades and at the time I thought I was happy to be operating behind the scenes getting stuff done. Now, when I think about it, I would have liked to be more a part of the story of our success than I was. 

With Simply Meditate, it’s all about my ability to teach. I'm not out there craving stardom, that’s not really how I am, but the appreciation for what I do, from the people who I've taught, is what makes me feel successful. The testimonials about how their lives have been transformed are awesome. All I want is to be teaching more people.

Your metrics are different.

Very different. Stepping into one’s own success and power is really important. It's meaningful to be good at something and particularly to be good at something whose sole purpose is to improve the lives of others. To own that, knowing in my core that I’m good at this, and to be comfortable speaking about it, is something that I’m slowly getting better at. I still have room to grow in that area for sure.

How do you navigate through the feelings of exposure and vulnerability as you share your work?

This isn’t my first rodeo as far as being someone who has chosen paths that have been a little bit less traditional and being vulnerable to what other people are going to think about me. 

The two careers I have chosen have not been typical, and I have always been ok with that, even though sometimes people around me questioned my choices. I went to Princeton University for undergrad where I majored in religion, which was off the beaten path and I had to constantly explain why I chose that area of study. Then came graduation, where Princeton grads, well you can’t lump them all into one thing, but a lot of them go into serious business related jobs — there are investment bankers, consultants, lawyers, scientists, or academic types. Literally nobody I knew was going near the hospitality industry, especially the restaurant business. People would look at me a little bit cross eyed saying ‘Really, you just graduated from Princeton and you are going to do what?’ Even then, I had a conviction that what I was doing had value and I was making a choice that although wasn’t maybe expected or traditional, was the right choice for me.

In some ways I sort of embrace the exposure or the vulnerability. Part of what helps me feel less vulnerable is the level of success I’m having thus far. There will always be doubters and people who aren’t quite sure that they agree with your life choices or things of that ilk. I don’t feel all that exposed at the moment, which is nice.

Now when people look back at my path and how the nature of the restaurant business has changed, and they’ve seen what I’ve accomplished, I get a lot of “I have a lot of respect for the choices you’ve made and the fact that you’ve followed different paths and went your own route even though there’s been pressure to do something else”. That pressure really never occurred to me. I don’t know why I never sensed it, but I’m glad I didn’t.

To what do you attribute the clarity that allows you to see and hold this space of where you are now with gratitude?

I one hundred percent attribute it to meditation.

Has your meditation practice expanded how you view yourself or deepened your capacity?

Yes. I’m definitely less self-critical and less impatient overall. It has allowed me to feel more grace towards myself. Everyday starts with meditation; I wake up and I meditate which provides me with a certain level of ease, energy, creativity and adaptability that allows me to be my best self everyday. I don’t actually know that I’ve ever really thought about it until just now but this self-doubt or self criticism used to be an issue (laughs). It was really a challenge for me in a lot of ways. Early on, shortly after I started meditating, people who knew me the best, like my mother or my sister, would say things to me like “That’s not the way you would have responded before” or “it doesn’t even sound like you anymore”. It completely changed the way that I handled challenges or difficulties.

Wisdom to share with those who are in pursuit of chasing their sunshine or for living fully.

Be patient. Be open to change. If there’s something that seems charming to you on that subtle, fine level of feeling, take a step towards it. It doesn't have to be a huge leap—a little one is fine. Put one foot in front of the other and move forward - it could be the smallest seemingly inconsequential step toward something that’s calling you - and see what happens. Don’t let what other people think get in the way. Keep following the charm.