"Yoga is India's gift to the world and shouldn't be something you have to pay for."
May 18th, 2011

Scot Schwartz Yoga Instructor

Scot Schwartz is an instructor at the San Francisco branch of Yoga to the People, a multi-city and donation-based yoga studio. When he's not teaching or practicing yoga, Scot's likely out skateboarding, and we found his singular commitment to the two activities a charming sort of twenty-first century asceticism totally apropos of a yogi. We think you'll agree.

 

How did you first get involved in yoga?

Skateboarding was my life growing up, and sometimes I’d skate so much I’d get sore. This made it harder to skate, of course. I wanted to skate 24/7, but often I was so sore that I couldn’t skate at all.  During my first trip to California, I was walking on Venice Beach, when I saw this guy chilling in the grass with no shirt on. He was lean, sweaty and ripped as fuck, Bruce Lee-style. He was lowering himself into full straddle splits, sideways like Van Damme in Bloodsport. I was amazed. I thought, this is my solution. I went home determined to learn the splits that day. To begin, I stretched my body out in many different ways until feeling completely loose and calm. In a matter of hours, I had learned to do the splits. From that point on, I would stretch for hours everyday in the privacy of my room before I went skating. It became my ritual. Later, I began dating a girl who was taking classes at Yoga to the People in New York, and she asked me to come with her. Initially, I didn’t understand the class, with the loud breathing and poses that felt needlessly difficult rather than just stretchy. It didn’t go well, and I figured that was the first and last time I’d ever do yoga. My girlfriend kept going, she was asked to become a teacher and eventually ended up working for a few months at the studio’s sister space in Berkeley. One day while on phone with her, prior to visiting her in Berkeley, I said, “I’ll take your yoga class.” It came out of my mouth by accident. I didn’t want to; I was anti-going-to-yoga. I just figured I was going out Cali to skate and visit my girlfriend. But when I got out there, she showed me some basics and with that foundation, I took her class. Amazingly, after that class, I felt totally euphoric and light, almost stoned or in a daze. I went skating right after, and I didn’t feel sore and my tricks came effortlessly.

What led you to want to instruct classes?

I ended up taking every class the Berkeley studio offered. I was doing yoga three times a day and skating. Basically, I’d go skate, come back, and take a class. When I returned to New York, I’d take one or two classes a day at the New York studio. One day the owner tapped me on the shoulder in the middle of a pose and asked if I’d like to teach. He even offered to give me the training for free. I’ve always been the type of person that if something is put in my face, I’ll take it. So I did it. For a while, I was working at a skate shop in Brooklyn and teaching a couple of yoga classes a week. They eventually asked if I wanted to go back to California and open up a studio in San Francisco. I figured, yeah, I can skate and do more yoga. Two years down the line, I am still here and I’ve seen the studio grow into a wonderful community with wonderful teachers. I love teaching and leading classes. I learn so much from my students. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

What changed in your relationship to skateboarding when you became fully committed to yoga, as opposed to just stretching? Was there a physical difference, or was it mental and spiritual?

I felt more relaxed. My muscles were warmed up. My mind became calmer, and I wouldn’t stress out on tricks. There was a time where I’d stress out so hard if I couldn’t land a trick. I’d get depressed and beat myself up, and I wouldn’t stop until I landed the trick. I would yell and scream, bang the shit out of boards. I don’t do that anymore. It doesn’t matter if I land the trick or not. As I began to understand yoga more, I realized how similar it was to skating. When you land a trick, you’re very much in the immediate moment and your mind is clear. It’s a weightless, effortless feeling even though significant effort is involved. Like yoga, you try hard and one day things just open up when you’re ready for them. Now I enjoy everything — being outside, people — I just soak it all in. It’s a life of gratitude. Instead of always wishing I was out skating, I know that skating will be there.

What type of yoga do you teach?

I teach Vinyasa and Traditional Hot, or Bikram, yoga. Vinyasa is a free-flowing practice. There are fundamentals, but it’s obtainable for all. The breathing is great, and it gives you energy. It opens you up physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s a wonderful and natural way to purify the body and mind and emotions. Bikram is what I call an honest practice. The heat draws toxins out of the body. If you’re going to step into that room, know that what you put into your body will affect you there. Bikram forces you to look at your eating patterns and the choices you make outside of that room. Not a lot of yoga practices can do that in a short amount of time.

All yoga is good though, and I find it exciting to practice all kinds. But I generally like yoga where I get to find the edge. It can be a bit more challenging, as opposed to practicing a more restorative or gentle style. But if you can explore an edge in yoga, you can grow. If there is no edge, you’ll plateau and there you’ll stay — physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Do you have a favorite pose?

You’re gonna laugh, but my favorite pose is downward dog. It’s the ultimate stretch. Basically, it’s an upside down “V” shape on your hands and feet, which stretches out the backs of your legs and your spine. I also like the more advanced kapotasana, or full camel, pose. It’s a very intense pose that happens when everything is right. The room should be warm. Your body and spine have to be feeling good. You stand on your knees, and you bend your back backwards, putting your forehead in the soles of your feet. Then you grab your heels, and your elbows touch the ground. It’s a pose that draws out a lot of sensations and can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, but in a good way. Coming out of it, the sensations linger and resonate.

Can you tell me about the donation-based business model of Yoga to the People?

Yoga is India’s gift to the world and shouldn’t be something you have to pay for. Fortunately, Yoga to the People does make enough money, which is also why the classes are so big. We operate by volume, and there is a nice group energy that evolves from that. I understand that donation is a concept that is hard to understand in an American society driven by gain, but it seems to be working out for us. As long as I have a job, a place to stay, and a good meal, I am happy. It’s all gravy.