My parents were toddlers when Judi Olivetti began practicing yoga—okay maybe just my mom. But still, she’s been teaching and practicing yoga for a long time. Now that I’ve been going to her classes for over a year, I wanted to help others understand what yoga is all about, so I thought I’d ask her first.
Cam: Your relationship with yoga started when you were 12 years old when you mentored under your great aunt. How would your life be different if you hadn’t discovered this life-long passion?
Judi: I am unsure if yoga began as a lifelong passion, but it was my great aunt’s who shared her passion with me. Unknowingly it eventually became mine. I only practiced yoga sporadically thru my teens, twenties, etc. Yoga sort of came and went as I went through school, marriage, having children, etc. I started a steady yoga practice in the mid-late 90’s when my mother became ill with terminal cancer. I was totally beside myself, helpless, and lost. Yoga calmed me, kept me centered through her illness and while being with her when she passed, allowing me to experience her souls journey.
I think my life would probably be the same in ways without yoga. I have had many different jobs, I am a wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend. I love all the same things as I always have - art, plants, crafts, gardening, animals, being in nature. However, yoga practice brought a different experience to all the things I love, opened me up to what I deeply felt inside, it helped me become a calmer, reflective, receptive, and accepting person. Allowed me to breathe through the personal and universal changes occurring as I live my life, to find grace as I age.
Other than greater flexibility, what are the greatest gifts someone can receive from yoga?
Stress and pain relief, lowers blood pressure and cortisol level in the body. Improves strength, breathing, circulation, stamina, balance, calmness. Promotes concentration and focus, brings about a spiritual quiet within.
A few months ago I wrote about how life is full of necessary pain—like enduring a job interview or taking the ACT in high school—and that a fulfilling life involves some necessary pain. What role, if any, does yoga play in helping us embrace this process?
Actually, yoga should not be painful, it should be practiced with complete attention and awareness on what you are sensing in the body as you move. But the practice is a discipline, so in that sense it might be difficult in keeping to a practice as all disciplines are. Maybe that is the “pain” you speak of. The difficult moments in our lives that take energy, perseverance, attention, awareness, and strength to get through them.
Every time we come to the mat, to our practice, we awaken to where we are that moment, each breath, each movement, we sense and know we are different there is a change or a freshness, or a difference. We experience ourselves, maybe we see more clearly or rediscover aspects of ourselves that have been lost through social conditioning or life happenings. Through the practice of yoga we gain a freedom of mind and body, we awaken to who we are as an individual. We see our flaws, faults, differences, gifts, we see our self as a whole integrated self and we learn to honor that self as we are.
I see many more women in yoga classes than men—how do you explain this gap?
I believe this is changing. More and more men are starting to practice yoga. This is because they are seeing the benefits in other physical activities, sports, etc. College and professional football and basketball teams are adding yoga to their daily practices as they see a decrease in injuries, and an increase in flexibility and strength. Many professional businesses are offering daily yoga sessions at their offices over lunch to help with stress management. As all forms of exercise or movement there are shifts in what is popular from time to time. Mostly I believe many men don’t understand what yoga is, what the benefits might be for them, or they think it is not difficult enough for a man to do.
How do you live out your yoga practice in every day life?
Every day life can sometimes get in the way of a steady daily practice. I try my best to practice a few postures each day, if able a longer practice. I definitely try to meditate every day, or carve out time to just be still, breathe, and listen quietly. But that is part of the practice of yoga. Life happens and you learn to flow through it, breathe through the difficult things in your day, “the bumps in the road”. To try and maintain a state of equanimity, a balance within the body, mind, and heart so nothing ever really “knocks you off your feet”.
Yoga has shown me that the best way to get out of my head by getting into my body. Based on your experience, do you feel this is true?
Yes, yoga allows us to come into our body and shift our minds from all the outside worldly distractions to an inward direction. From this body/inward experience we become incredible listeners. Like Baron Baptiste says, “ You find that there is a time to push, a time to rest, and a time to relax.” Through this journey we discover our essential authentic self, we find our external and internal strength, we discover the true essence of who we are. It is an amazing journey.
When you were first starting out, did you know being a yoga instructor would be such an important theme in your life? If not, how did you know?
Starting out I had no idea what this journey was for me. I had a dear friend suggest getting certified through YogaKids International, a year long certification (310+ hours) in 2000 after my mother passed away. I quit my job and completed it in 6 months. During my training I started teaching at F Street Recreation Center. I thought if I can teach these kids, I can teach anyone. I was right, they were a tough audience! I love teaching kids ~ planting seeds of peace, hope, kindness, internal/external awareness, and health. From that certification I have received numerous other adult trainings of 400+, not for the certification really, but for the education of different styles and practices. It is a life-long learning practice for me. Unending practice, teaching, sharing, experiencing the vastness of a 5,000 year old science of moving, breathing, and being.