Tuesday, August 3, 2010

So Many Levels: Alison Scola interview pt. 1

After the Sunday morning yoga class at Camp Hollywood 2010, I sat by the pool at the LAX Marriott with yoga therapist and internationally famous sassy lady Alison Scola for a brief discussion of Yoga and Lindy Hop.

LindyGroove Technique: Which did you get involved in first, Yoga or Lindy Hop?

Alison Scola: Yoga.

LGT: How did you get started in Yoga?

AS: About 16 years ago, I had crippling lower back pain that stopped my entire life. I couldn't work. I couldn't dress myself. I was literally bed-ridden from the back pain and found nothing made it better. It was at that point somebody said "hey, you should try Yoga," and I went to a yoga class and for the first time I found something that made me feel like I didn't mind living inside my body for a little while.

LGT: How long did it take for you to get to a point where you were no longer in pain?

AS: Pain free? Well, the body is a tricky thing. It's not just structural. It's way more than physical mechanics. The working through the emotional stuff that was tied to the low back issue in addition to the structural stuff... I think it was probably close to a year before I was completely pain-free.

That's what brought me to yoga. That's what taught incredible healing aspect of what a yoga practice could be.

LGT: So then, how did you get to Lindy Hop?

AS: Ha haha! So, what yoga opened up for me was the fact that life was supposed to be joyful and that we were supposed to be happy inside these physical bodies, rather than imprisoned. I had always wanted to try swing dancing. Maybe a year or two after I started my yoga practice there was this free swing lesson at the Spy Bar in Cleveland. I found that night, the most fun thing I had ever done in my life.

LGT: Now was that an East Coast lesson?

AS: Oh yeah, 6-count East Coast, baby! My first Lindy Hop lesson was taking a six-week session with Valerie Salstrom.

I found that swing dance was something that absolutely brought me into the Present Moment like nothing else. Because there was no place else I could be inside my head or physically other than right there. And I discovered the most amazing joy that I have ever found in my life.

LGT: Getting back to yoga - there are a couple of ways people view yoga. Some people might view it as a fitness regimen and some folks view it more deeply. What was your experience with that?

AS: What yoga taught me was that it was about much more than what was going on physically. Yoga has been a holistic experience for me from the beginning of my journey. It has been about realizing that as I function as a being in the world that there is an energetic level to who I am. There is an emotional level to who I am. There is a physical level to who I am. There is a spiritual level to who I am. And that all of that lives inside of this body.

So when I have emotions that I'm not expressing or feeling in other ways, they get trapped inside of my body. I've literally had yoga practices where I opened my quadricep and ended up sobbing my face off or opened my hamstring and can't stop laughing. Because it's emotions lingering and all it wants to do is get moved out.

I'm a yoga therapist, which means I use yoga as a means to help people heal on all of those levels. So when I work with somebody, when they come to see me, I take a look at what's going on with them, the initial thing that's aggravating them and I observe it on all of those levels of their being and figure out ways to address how to heal that on all of those levels. That's been my internal process and that's what yoga has taught me. The deepest thing that a yoga practice has taught me has not been how to have long hamstrings. It's been how to learn to love myself in an attitude of acceptance of all that is and just be present with myself.

LGT: How does that apply to Lindy Hop? Or does it?

AS: Hahaha! It absolutely applies to Lindy Hop on so many levels! So when I am connected to another human being and when I'm connected with that other human being to the music, all that's there is energy. So there's all of this energy that we're tapping into, that we're sharing with each other, that we're exchanging and that we're adding to. And all of that's working on that level of emotion, so we're in that joy, or if I'm in competition, then I'm in my nerves, or if an entire room full of people is watching me, maybe I'm in my self-consciousness. Whatever that aspect is and being able to be with that fully and wholly in that experience... and of course there's what's happening physically, which is the "duh" part of that answer. "Duh really, we're physically dancing?" And now brain just blew out of the back of my skull.

LGT: What advice do you have for someone who might not know a lot about yoga and is interested in exploring?

AS: My advice is to listen to their own inner guidance above and beyond anything and everything. And explore! 'Cause there's many different types of yoga out there and each of them have their benefits. Because every person is different and every person has different characteristics and qualities.

Right now, the most popular forms of yoga in the United States are Vinyasa practices and hot yoga - yoga in a heated room, core power, Bikram. Not to digress into a cultural statement, but the fact that those forms of yoga are the most popular here in the west makes a lot of sense. These forms of yoga are about pushing your limits and being in intensity, vs. a more Eastern way of existing, of just being at peace. But there are so many benefits to those forms of yoga as well. Hot yoga, for my constitution is great. Because when I'm in a hot room my body says "oh, thank you! I will stretch and be open!"

LGT: (chuckles)

AS: But there's other types of people with different constitutions. The heat aggravates them and literally makes them physically ill. So it all just depends on who you are and listening to who your are rather than trying to force yourself into where you think you should be. It's just about observing and seeing what feels good. I think the biggest takeaway is that yoga is supposed to feel good and make you feel good. So if you're finding that you feel bad in whatever type of practice it is you're doing, it's probably not right. Try a restorative class instead. See what happens, y'know?

LGT: What lessons can someone take from the yoga practice into the Lindy Hop world? And maybe even vice versa?

AS: I'm gonna tell you what the biggest lessons I've taken away are. I've already said them before, so to reiterate, for me it's about being present with myself and the energy that is there, in full acceptance and appreciation. The other things I've taken away are how to be grounded. Well, I guess that's the same answer.

End of part 1. Check back for part 2 soon!

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