Skin Story: Olive Walton

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Olive Walton, known on Instagram as @yogawitholive, has been making waves in the online movement and yoga community for some time now. Her commitment to movement for joy and strength has created a positive space and influence for her followers, and has led to her being chosen to work with notable brands like Lululemon and Vivobarefoot. To find out what makes Olive tick, we spoke with her about her life, work, and sick tattoo collection. 

You grew up in Dubai, and have both Indian and English heritage. Was it confusing to you as a child trying to understand who you are? 

Completely. I always felt too brown to be English and too white to be Indian, and having grown up in neither of those cultures only fed into my confusion. However, I am incredibly grateful that I grew up in Dubai because it is such a melting pot of individuals from around the world and as a result I was exposed to so many other cultural traits and traditions. Despite this, I spent the vast majority of my life feeling ashamed to be Indian because of a comment I got from a class mate in primary school (when I was about 8 years old, when my brain was a damn sponge). The brief synopsis of their comment was that I was less than human because I was Indian due to the class differences between Asian and Western expats in Dubai. So I would subconsciously try to hide my Indian heritage and felt detached from it for years. Until I went to India for the first time in 2018 to do my yoga teacher training and all these thoughts and emotions I had around half of my heritage seemed to subside and I found myself finally fully embracing my Indian heritage. It was a fucking beautiful experience and now I unapologetically embrace both sides of my identity. 

There are times however where I do feel displaced and not really know where home is or where I belong. This is sometimes unconsciously reaffirmed by others when they ask me if I'm from: Iran, Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Egypt. My accent can also be a bit misleading sometimes - whilst it is predominantly English, I have certain twangs of Australian, American, South African and Arabic. It does make for an interesting conversation. Microaggressions in regards to race is also a bit of a wild card because I can pass as Caucasian in winter because I go so pale (rip me) but look very Indian in summer as I tan super easily. My heritage does matter to me, but what also matters is other people being able to empathise with my experiences of displacement and identity. 

How did you begin exploring the world of movement as a career option and form of self-expression?

For as long as I can remember, I've always done some form of movement - whether it was swimming, netball, horse riding, track and field, gymnastics or ballet. Some I did for years, others were shorter stints. I always enjoyed moving and challenging my body with different modalities of training and this core value system has stuck with me over the years. This, alongside my curiosity to try out different practices, has inevitably influenced the position I am in today with my career as a movement coach.

After I finished university, I went to India to do my yoga teacher training in order to have some formal education on the practice, as I had taught myself asana (postural yoga) for the past four years but felt that there were big gaps in my understanding of it. When I finished the course, a friend of mine said to me "Olive, if you wanted to, you could really run with and make something special as a teacher". At the time I didn't realise how strongly her words of affirmation would influence me, to the extent that as soon as I got back to Brighton, I handed in my month's notice at my old job and started emailing yoga studios round the city to set up some of my first classes.

Over the years I've done more trainings and continued my own research to expand my movement offerings beyond the scope of just yoga, where I now also teach animal flow, mobility training, skill training (like handstands and other inversions) and have most recently started doing personal training focussing predominantly on building strength. My personal movement practices orientate around olympic lifting, climbing, handstands, floor work (rolling around on the floor and creating shapes and flows), parkour and pole dance. Again, some I dip in and out of, others I have a more consistent practice with. But all feed into my various forms of self expression - the feminine and masculine energies (or yin and yang), my different interests, emotions, and personality traits that can be highlighted in a certain movement practice.

What does a day in the life as a movement coach look like?

Honestly, every day and every week is slightly different. Right now, the majority of my coaching work occurs in the morning and evening meaning I have a couple of hours in the middle of the day to do laptop admin (emails, write programs, plan classes), have meetings, film for my youtube channel, train at the gym, create content or meet a friend for a coffee. But sometimes, I need to do none of that and just take a moment for me, to fill up my cup. So I'll have a 23 minute power nap (23 isn't just a random number I've plucked from thin air - this is the result of years of research to find the optimal time where I feel rested but not groggy af after - a real nap connoisseur you may call me tbh). I find it hard to just sit still and watch tv, especially in the middle of the day, because it doesn't feel like rest so I prefer a nap where I almost have no choice but to rest. The nature of being a movement coach is incredibly giving, so I need to make sure I have enough in my cups so I can give to all my clients. 

Have you always wanted to get tattoos, or did you gain an interest in them later on?

I've always wanted them, and always been interested in them. But having grown up in Dubai, it was a real rarity to see people with tattoos so I think the desire to get them only got stronger once I moved to England for university. 

You mentioned that your tattoos have helped you to find confidence and deal with body image issues that you have struggled with in the past. Do you find that getting tattoos can help you to see your body in a different light?

110%. I've experienced body dysmorphia for as long as I can remember and struggled for years to find self acceptance. I'm now in a place where those days are less frequent, but nonetheless still occur. As I've built up my artwork over the years I have found more and more confidence in my skin and I know this because I can now look in mirrors. Sounds mundane, but I used to avoid looking in mirrors as if I was about to see Bloody Mary herself, because I was so afraid of what my reflection was going to show me and the inevitable negative spiral it would've sent me on.

Now when I look in the mirror, I'm looking at my tattoos and seeing how they perfectly just exist on the shapes of my body. It's been a real subtle difference to my life, being able to look in the mirror, but has had profound effects on me. As well as this, because my tattoos are bold, black lines with heavy shading, people tend to comment on them quite a lot which is re-affirming for me because I grew up with a belief system that I wasn't memorable or worthy of anyone's recognition. So they have also helped me to build my confidence and self esteem in more ways than one. 

Out of your collection, what are your favourite and most meaningful tattoos?

The most meaningful tattoo I have is the Japanese maple leaf on my back, but savagely it's my least favorite tattoo (it was my first one, which is perhaps part of the explanation). The leaf represents a year of being in the depths of an eating disorder to recovery from autumn 2018 to autumn 2019. There are three runes in the middle of the leaf which mean "in autumn I started healing my physical and mental health". 

I have "last hope" written on each thumb, and I really like the meaning behind this one. Early this year I was going through a really awful three months in my personal life where my mental health and physical health suffered tremendously. On the way back from teaching one day, Paramore's song "Last Hope" came on shuffle and I remember just looking at the song title and feeling like "damn, the only person I can rely on to really pull me through the mud, is myself", that's why last hope is on my thumbs, because the 'last hope' is all in my hands. 

My current favourite tattoo is the scorpion on my thigh because of the story behind it: I was in Toronto in September of this year and an Instagram friend of mine (Greg) who lives in Vancouver told me his tattoo artist Kurt (@kurtvongetz) was doing a guest spot whilst I was there. Kurt had space at 5:30pm on the Sunday and I was flying out the following day at 11am, so it obviously seemed like fate. Next up was deciding what to get. Greg (who I haven't met, we've just followed each other for about 6 years) said that he was going to be getting a piece from Kurt and we jokingly said how funny it would be if we got matching pieces. So we did, and now we have the same scorpion on our right thighs, despite having never met one another irl. Groovy.

Do you have any upcoming tattoo plans?

Yes! I'm getting a matching one with my friend Jas from a lovely artist in brighton called Karen (@insacioustattoo) and I'm getting my whole back done by the incredible Loz (@loz_tattooer). I think that will be me for a while because I am pretty nervous about getting my back done and will probably be low key traumatised for a while 🤠

Photos by Abbie Merritt