I am… Athletics is on a mission to inspire, motivate and empower others to overcome obstacles through a positive shift in mindset. Our message is simple, yet powerful: let go of your limiting beliefs and redefine who you are. Create your own Story.
It was during my regular yoga practice that I came up with the concept for I am… Athletics, and the reason our first product release was the All Natural Jute Exercise/Yoga Mat. While yoga is only one part of my fitness routine, it is a powerful one. When I am on my mat, I feel grounded.
Julie Wilkes is an author, a life coach, a motivational speaker, a corporate wellness expert and owner of Seven Studios in Columbus, Ohio. She overcame a congenital heart condition, which doctors thought would significantly limit her life expectancy. Julie embodies the I am… Athletics philosophy in every sense. I recently had the chance to sit down with Julie at Seven Studios. We sat on our mats, and talked about life and yoga.
Q: Why is it so important for you to inspire others?
A: I’m a heart disease survivor and was truly given a second chance at life. The messages of my life, overcoming trials and tribulations and sharing that with others is my purpose. I think about, “Who did I impact today?” and “Whose life did I make a difference in?” I believe this is what life is really about. When I’m doing this work, it has an impact that is very rewarding to me.
Q: When did you discover yoga?
A: I found Yoga 15 years ago; at first, I didn’t connect with it. I had been used to the more high intensity fitness classes. But, after giving it a few chances, I finally found how a mind/body class could compliment my other workouts, and slowly, began to find more benefit to my yoga practice. Today, yoga is an essential part of my mind/body fitness program and it has become my primary fitness practice.
Q: You are a certified yoga instructor, as well as creator and owner of Seven Studios. Why do you think yoga has had such a profound impact on your life?
A: My life’s work is to inspire people to be the best version of themselves. Yoga gives me a channel to reach people in a way I couldn’t in a regular fitness class. Yoga can be done by almost anyone. It helps someone wherever they are to move forward. Meets them where they are, and helps them progress over time. Yoga does not alienate, discriminate or isolate. Yoga really lends to the opportunity to bend motivational and inspirational messages. Not as effective in a different type of fitness format.
Q: Yoga is not just stretching and meditating on a mat. There are some seriously challenging poses. What is it about yoga that makes it such an amazing workout?
A: There are more than 400 different types of yoga. The cool thing is, if you try it and don’t love it, there may be another type more suited to you. Yoga incorporates strength, balance endurance and breath together, and asks those mechanics to work in sync. It challenges the body in a way that a traditional work out doesn’t. When someone takes a yoga class for the first time, they are surprised at how difficult it is. Some parts may really fire the muscles to “hang on and hold on,” a metaphor for lessons in life, to hang on when it’s tough.
Q: Why should people incorporate yoga into their fitness program?
A: Whether you use it as your primary workout or part of cross-training, it can complement any goal. Many people are looking for strong bodies that are injury proof. Some people are looking to improve their everyday lives and want their body to be strong and functional. Yoga is a complementary workout for anyone with any fitness goal.
Q: Do you have a favorite yoga pose?
A: I love doing poses when I travel, and the pose depends on what is behind me. I love handstands. They are a challenging pose, and beautiful. You are turning yourself upside down to see the world in a different way. No two handstands are just the same.
Q: How would you describe Seven Studios?
A: Seven Studios is a community center disguised as a fitness and yoga studio. We want each person to have a positive experience from the moment they walk in the door. Everyone is gets a warm greeting, is introduced to other people and made to feel accepted. Most people seek good health and fitness as a means to have a good external outcome. I hope that when people come to Seven, they leave feeling good internally. Yoga is the easiest way to help people to move forward in their lives just by getting on their mat.
I remember before I opened Seven Studios, I was experiencing a rough day, and it was everything I could do to get to the studio where I practiced. I sat in the car and didn’t want to go in, but I made myself do it. The first 10 minutes on my mat I was just so frustrated, then at some point during my practice I let it go. That was the day I realized yoga is more than a workout. And I hope that’s what we offer to each person when they come in.
Q: Being a business owner is both rewarding and scary. Have you ever found yourself doubting your work or your direction? And if so, how did you overcome it?
A: In my book, The 7 Life Miracles — which Seven Studios is based upon — there is a chapter called Climb, where I talk about failure after failure I experienced while growing my business. I had been scammed and had doors closed over and over again. That was the ONLY time I asked myself if I should continue to be doing this. I only thought about it for a day, and I knew it would be far worse to give up, than to not keep working toward my dream. When you are working within your purpose and your passion, never give up on the dream.
Q: You have so many roles you play — yoga instructor, life coach, corporate wellness expert, motivation speaker, dog rescuer — how do you keep a sense of balance in your life?
A: When you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. I don’t feel like I’m imbalanced. I only find myself wanting more time to do what I do. I have a very good radar for when I need some down time. I listen to it right away and ask someone to step in. I am very aware of my own health and how I feel, and I know when and how to step back. Balance is unique to each person. As I continue to grow I’ve learned to delegate some things to others. I think balance is about understanding what you need and always honoring yourself.
Q: Who inspires you, and why?
A: My mother because she has had struggles throughout her life but stayed positive. My 5th grade gym teacher, who I still keep in contact with, and encouraged me to be an athlete. I’m inspired by Richard Branson, because he makes incredibly bold decisions and impacts the world for the better and seems to have a good time doing it. I hope I have the confidence to make bold decisions and make the world a better place while doing it.
Q: In your work as a life coach, have you found a theme or pattern that people often deal with?
A: My role as a life coach is to bridge the gap between where they are and where they want to be. I help people discover what it is that makes them want to come alive. But some people need to find out what it is that makes them come alive. People become very set in their ways. My goal is to help them develop a new way of looking at things. Sometimes we need someone else. Some people know their purpose and passion but don’t know how to incorporate it into their life. So I create a plan to help them reach their goals. All they need is a plan and someone to help keep them accountable and they can move mountains.
Q: What projects or plans are next on the horizon?
A: I’m working on opening a speaking academy. People are hungry for good speaking skills, especially millennials coming into the business world. Many of them are inept at the art of communication. We will teach people to speak powerfully and with more confidence in public. I am in the process of developing signature formats based on the seven signature formats we teach here at Seven Studios, that would enable us to teach the seven method around the country. We also recently launched our own certified yoga teacher training program, and graduated our first class of instructors.
Q: Any parting words of wisdom?
A: The most important thing people can do is enjoy their life. You have to have things in your life that make you laugh and feel supported. The studio is one way to have that support structure. I want to be a part of the movement in the world that builds people up. It’s not about the size of pants they wear, but to feel confident in the skin they are in.
Learn more about Julie Wilkes, and the positive work she does, on her website.