Judith Light first appeared in our living rooms on the shows One Life to Live and Who’s the Boss? Now she’s winning over a new generation of audiences as the effervescent, unsinkable mother of the Pfefferman brood on the Amazon series Transparent. At 67, Light seems just as energetic offscreen, though her taste runs more to quinoa than bagels.
A two-time Tony Award winner who has been nominated for a Golden Globe and two Primetime Emmys for her work in Transparent and Ugly Betty, Light starred in the one-woman-show All the Ways to Say I Love You this fall. She also teamed up with the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and Sanofi Pasteur’s Flu + You campaign to urge people to get a flu shot, especially those over 65. “The immune system gets weaker as we age, as we know, and there is a strain of the vaccine that is more potent for people who are over 65.” Light talked to the Cut about baths, quinoa, and Arianna Huffington.
How I start my day: I have some coffee and a banana, and I meditate. I usually have a list of things that have to be done for the day. I plan everything out so that I know what I’m doing to face the day and that I hold to the context of being as present as I can. It’s so easy to get distracted and run around and do a lot of different things and be scattered, and that is not helpful for me.
How I exercise my body and mind: I’ve done yoga and meditation for at least 20 years. I did kundalini yoga for a long time, and I started out with hatha yoga, and I’ve done Bikram. Kundalini was really good for me because there’s a thing called Breath of Fire that really gives you a tremendous amount of energy and helps you have great strength in your core. I do yoga at home because I know the things to do, and I also do it prior to going onstage. I’ll always do Breath of Fire before going onstage and a small meditation so that I’m present but not sort of spaced-out in any way.
What the food looks like on set: Craft service now is very different and very supportive of people’s allergies … they find out from you if you’re gluten-free or vegetarian or vegan. There’s always great, healthy stuff to be had. You can find your way to it.
On dinners with my husband: My husband, Robert, is a wonderful cook, and we always sit for dinner when I’m back in L.A. I’m primarily vegetarian, so it’s all kinds of great vegetables and salads and non-gluten grains like quinoa. I don’t have celiac or anything like that, I just have a high gluten sensitivity. Really good fresh, healthy things. He’s just a spectacular chef, but he wasn’t that way when we first met — I can tell you, I used to cook all the time. So I said, “I’m going to let you do that.”
My travel tip is: When I’m flying back and forth to L.A., one of the things that I do is put Neosporin in my nostrils. I have a holistic physician in L.A. and he says just a little bit of Neosporin in the nostrils is a really good protective barrier [from germs].
On the flu: I did get the flu shot for a while and then I didn’t and it was one of those things, you know, we get busy. Then one year I came down with the flu twice and I said, “Wait a minute, this is not worth it.” I just finished this solo show — and with theater you’re meeting a lot of people, you’re shaking hands, you’re taking photographs afterward, you’re signing autographs … you don’t want to give anything to anybody. Nobody can afford to be away from their job. We have to be really cognizant of the fact that there are some people who have more than one job. You don’t want to give it to a family member either. This is something that you want to handle and take care of.
How I end my day: I don’t have a set bedtime, but I always try to get seven or eight hours, and I almost always will take a bath before bed. I usually use Dr. Teal’s Lavender epsom salts. The bath calms me down from the day, changes my energy, and gets me into a sleep space. You’ve got to get enough sleep — you really, really do. Arianna Huffington has been writing about it and talking about it. I listen to what Arianna says, and I read her book.
On meditation: My manager of 36 years, Herb Hamsher, who passed away recently, he always used to talk about life being a living meditation: The way you move consciously through the world is extremely important and that can also be your meditation. I sit down and meditate, but if you don’t take the meditation out into the world, into the context of your everyday life, what’s the point? It isn’t just about going to a mountaintop. I have a life and a world and relationships, and I want to bring that kind of mindfulness to all of my relationships and to my work.
To me, wellness is: It’s like your mother always said, “If you have your health, you have everything.” That is the truth. The body is this incredible instrument; it is our way through the world; it is our transportation. I don’t mean that to sound weird or crazy, but if we’re not taking care of ourselves, if we’re not putting things like good food and water into our bodies, for me, I just don’t think that I’m living in respect of this gift that I’ve been given.
How wellness has changed for me: I just used to go, go, go. I mean, I still have to go, go, go because of my work and what’s happening in my career, for which I am extremely grateful. But I stop now and I experience the gratitude of what I have in my life. When you’re younger you don’t think about it. You just go, you have all your energy. Your adrenals are working at top speed, and everything’s fine. There comes a point as we age and the immune system begins to weaken and you don’t bounce back as fast. Your body will talk to you if you listen. It will tell you things about how to take care of it. Listening is a really important part of that. If you don’t listen, you can get sick. I’ve begun to start to pay attention. There is a kindness and a respect that we owe to the way we treat ourselves, and I didn’t always pay attention to that years ago.
On the benefits of looking within: In the ’70s, I did all the self-help trainings, I did EST [Erhard Seminars Training], and all of those sorts of things. The unexamined life, as it has been said, is not worth living. I wanted to understand myself and know myself better, hence the yoga and the mediation and seeking out a physician who was preventive in the way he was treating me. I want people to know that we don’t have to suffer — we really don’t. Things like therapy and all those trainings that I did, those were incredibly helpful for me. Then you gather them all together and you create yourself the way you want to be in the world, which is healthy and present and grateful.
If you know the ways in which you operate that don’t work and you can see them — that’s what enlightenment is to me. You bring something to the light to see what it is that is keeping you stuck or afraid and keeps you from having your full potential in life. That’s why having relationships where people give you input and tell you things about yourself that don’t work can be incredibly helpful.
If I’m doing a play and a director gives me a note, I don’t say, “I don’t like that. That doesn’t work for me.” They can see me in a way that I can’t see myself, and it’s the same thing in life. If somebody you love tells you something about yourself that isn’t working, you get a chance to look at it and change it. I believe that if we all did that in some way, the world would be a very different place. We would be operating at a much higher level. We would be operating at the level of the better angels of our nature.
This interview has been condensed and edited.