Melissa Scott explores how yoga can help us find our inner strength.
Written by Lindsey Lowe Osborne
Melissa Scott remembers the first yoga class she ever took. This was hundreds, maybe thousands of classes ago, when she was in college. At 20 years old, she was a dancer in the throes of an eating disorder. And one day, she did something that would ultimately change her life—she went to yoga. “I knew walking out the door after my first class that I would do it for the rest of my life,” she remembers. “It’s hard to explain why I was so sure at the age of 20, but I just knew. I got in my car and drove straight to TJ Maxx and bought a $5 yoga mat. (Then I) went next door to Books-a-Million to buy a book of yoga poses. I jumped right in and never looked back.”
That was a decade ago, and Scott not only still practices yoga, but she is passionate about sharing yoga and its many benefits, which reach far beyond those of exercise, she says. She describes yoga, traditionally a Hindu spiritual practice that has been adapted in the Western world for both physical and spiritual strengthening, this way: “Yoga is a system for living that includes breathing, physical postures, an ethical system, and a perspective on self that’s designed to help practitioners be the healthiest, most integrated version of themselves. It’s a flexible system that allows the yogi to decide what works best for them and apply that to everyday life. If practiced regularly, yoga can transform mind, body, and spirit.
“Of course, yoga can be wonderful exercise. But for me, if I think of it solely as exercise, I feel like I’m missing out on so much of the practice,” she continues. “It’s a powerful tool for mindfulness and self-discovery. It can impact every single area of your life, if you want it to. Plus, it can be tons of fun. And who doesn’t need a little more fun in their life?”
Scott, who’s also a counselor with Melissa Scott Counseling (melissascottcounseling.com), can point to specific examples of how yoga has changed the course of her life; it was yoga that helped her take the step into recovery from an eating disorder. “Yoga kickstarted what would eventually become my recovery process. It’s really not an exaggeration to say yoga saved my life,” Scott shares. “Yoga taught me that my body was OK exactly as it is. I remember an early class I took where I kept falling out of Tree pose. All of a sudden, it occurred to me that it didn’t matter if I fell in yoga class. No one was going to be mad at me or judge me or really care at all. I’d always been such a perfectionist, and the thought that I could screw something up and no one would care was mind-boggling. That revelation planted the seed that would eventually lead to my long-term recovery. Over the years, staying strong in my yoga practice has been a primary reason to continue to feed and care for my body, so I could keep doing what I love.”
From there, it was a natural progression for Scott to become a yoga teacher—and now, she leads yoga teacher trainings. “One day, I realized that I had been researching yoga teacher training programs all afternoon and that I was ready to make the leap,” she says. “I’m so grateful I did. I was early in my eating disorder recovery at that time and deciding to teach gave me a reason to stay healthy long-term.” Scott’s counseling services have an emphasis on eating disorder recovery as well. In the counseling realm, she works to “help clients move to overall health and wellness,” which is, incidentally, the same thing she’s doing on her yoga mat. “Both are about health and overall wellness,” she says. “There’s no difference between the two for me. Both are tools people can use to the best, healthiest version of themselves.”
For Scott, the joy of teaching yoga comes from both channeling her own strength that she discovers along the way and leading others to do the same within. “I had my own very powerful experiences of healing through counseling and therapy. Both yoga and working with a great counselor were integral to my eating disorder recovery. I wanted to share the power of both of those experiences with other people,” she says. “There’s no part of my life that yoga doesn’t touch. It makes literally every aspect of my life better. My body is stronger and healthier, my mind is clearer, I’m kinder to myself and others, I’m more connected to spirituality and a sense of purpose, and I handle everyday stresses better.”
At the helm of two businesses, she’s no stranger to the stresses that arise throughout the work week; her days are packed full of client sessions, and she says she usually gets her yoga practice in during the afternoon, which is, for her, a great representation of the flexibility of practicing yoga. “I usually practice (yoga) in the afternoon, which is a wonderful pause and reset near the end of my day,” she says. “I know some people believe yoga should be practiced in the morning, but that’s just never been a great fit for me. I believe yoga should fit in naturally with your life.”
One of Scott’s goals through her yoga teaching is to dispel the misconceptions surrounding yoga—specifically, that you have to be able to drop into a Downward Dog before you sign up for your first class (no worries, says Scott, if you don’t know what a Downward Dog is). Instead, she invites everyone to start where they are, she says, and go from there. “Yoga is for everyone. Anyone who has an interest in yoga can and should explore the practice,” she says. “There’s a growing interest in the yoga community in accessibility and diversity, which opens doors for folks who may have previously thought yoga wasn’t ‘for them.’ Yoga isn’t just for thin, able-bodied, straight, white, cisgender people. It’s for anyone who wants to feel the best they can.
“There are so many misconceptions,” she continues. “I think the most common ones are that there’s some kind of prerequisite around showing up for practice. Like that you have to be able to touch your toes, or you have to be able to clear your mind, or you have to get to a certain fitness level before you can practice. I will gladly spend the rest of my life trying to convince people that those things aren’t true. You can show up to a yoga class today, exactly as you are, no changes necessary, and experience the benefits of yoga. Period.”•