Yoga instructor Melissa Scott admits that when it comes to yoga, she’s a bit of an evangelist. Yoga has changed her life in every way, and she wants the practice to do the same for other Birmingham residents. That’s why she not only teaches at The Yoga Circle, but also leads instructor training workshops at Villager Yoga. And she’s taken her crusade beyond the mat and to social media with her #NoShirtNoShoesNoShame campaign, a body positive movement that encourages people to conquer body shame in part by baring their bellies in yoga class. It’s no wonder Melissa was once named Birmingham’s best yoga instructor by readers of Birmingham Magazine. We consider it a privilege to welcome today’s FACE of Birmingham, Melissa Scott.
How did you get interested in yoga?
I grew up dancing. I was a ballet kid for about 18 years and danced through college. When I was 20, I started doing yoga as part of my dance training. During my senior year of college I had a really bad dance injury in my left ankle, and I couldn’t dance after that. Yoga became my primary source of movement.
I started teaching yoga eight years ago. Teaching wasn’t even a choice for me. It was just something I had to do. Yoga changed my life so profoundly, and I couldn’t keep that to myself. I had to share what I loved with other people.
How has yoga changed your life?
In every single way! And it continues to change my life on a daily basis. Coming from a background of having an eating disorder and confidence issues and anxiety and depression, it has given me a space to work through all those issues, a space that is really safe but also really confrontational. Yoga reminds me that I’m strong. Yoga reminds me that I am flexible. Yoga reminds me to rest when I need to and to take better care of myself. It’s my constant.
What is one of the most common misconceptions about yoga?
The biggest one is that you have to be flexible to do yoga. As a yoga teacher, it is so frustrating to hear people say, “I can’t even touch my toes! I can’t do yoga!” That’s like saying, “I can’t drink water. I’m too thirsty.”
I think the others are that you have to be fit to be able to do yoga or that you have to be young or a certain size or a certain color or that it’s only for women. There truly is a type of yoga for every single person out there.
What inspired you to start your #NoShirtNoShoesNoShame social media campaign?
I had an eating disorder for 10 years and I had a lot of shame around my body, especially my stomach. That was always my “problem area” in my head. So when I got on Instagram, the very first picture I posted was me in a yoga pose with no shirt and just a sports bra. That was such a huge moment for me, to expose my stomach to the world. It was incredibly freeing; it was so liberating for me to be like, “Yep! Here it is! No more shame around it.” And so the more I used social media to talk about yoga and talk about body image, the more it made sense to me.
I see a lot of yogis of all different sizes and all different body types and colors and backgrounds who I know deal with similar things to what I’ve struggled with, so I started this hashtag campaign of #NoShirtNoShoesNoShame. We yogis, we’re going to be barefoot so there are no shoes, so let’s take the shirt off and show our bellies and show how incredibly beautiful and strong and miraculous our bodies are no matter what your body looks like. Every body is incredible and is unique and has its own strengths.
Why do you think Birmingham residents are becoming more interested in yoga?
I think yoga is popular in Birmingham right now because it supports the lifestyles that are energizing Birmingham. Birmingham right now is in the midst of this renaissance. People are getting outdoors and going to all the great restaurants downtown and going to all the great events, and yoga helps support a healthy, active lifestyle so people can feel good and go do the things that they love to do. And I think Birmingham has always had a yoga community that’s very friendly, that’s very heartfelt, that’s not competitive the way it is in other markets. So I think people are drawn to that. It’s a place where you can go and meet really wonderful people and be accepted.
What do you love most about teaching yoga?
The thing that I love most hands down is the people that I get to meet and work with. The people who are attracted to yoga tend to be very genuine, very authentic, very kind, caring, intentional people. And they also tend to be people who are seeking to improve their lives which is just incredibly inspiring for me. Every day I get to talk to people who are working through stuff or who have overcome stuff or are trying to get to that next level in their lives, and I get to help support them in that.
What’s the most challenging thing about teaching yoga?
As much as we have a great yoga community in Birmingham, it is still a little bit of a tough sell in some parts of the Southeast. Working through those misconceptions that we talked about can definitely be a challenge. But it seems like every year that gets easier and easier.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Birmingham?
My favorite one right now is probably Bamboo on 2nd. I’m a sushi junkie.
What are your favorite hidden gems in Birmingham?
Birmingham has the most amazing improv comedy scene, and people don’t know about it. There are three major improv troupes in Birmingham and all three of them are excellent. There’s Positively Funny Improv or PFI. There’s Ugly Baby. And there’s the Extemporaneous Theatre Company, or ETC.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I think a lot of people who know me through yoga are surprised to find out what a huge college football fan I am. But I’m an Alabama girl. I can’t help it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given came from my yoga teacher, which was, “Own your truth, and your tribe will surround you.” And it’s proven to be very true for me. The more authentic you become, the more you attract the people who are supposed to be around you and support you.
Aside from friends, family and faith, what are three things you can’t live without?
My cats because they’re my little gurus. Dark chocolate because, obviously. And my journal. I process everything through writing.
Thank you, Melissa! To learn more about Melissa’s yoga schedule, to book a private lesson or to read her blog, visit melissascottyoga.com.
And thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for the gorgeous photos of Melissa at Villager Yoga.