Yogi, not only
In conversation with Yancy Scot Schwartz
Studio™ campaign yogi, Yancy Scot Schwartz, talked to us about love, the fruits of countercultural rebellion, and how a skate mission got him into yoga.
Can you give us a short bio?
Hey, my name is Yancy Scot Schwartz, and I currently live in Los Angeles, California. I was born and raised in New York City and I’ve been skating my whole life. I do yoga, got into yoga and teach yoga for a living. And I play guitar for fun.
A skate tour in the Dominican Republic brought you to your first yoga class—the rest, as they say, was history. Can you tell us about this experience?
How I got into yoga? Well, I skated for a couple skateboard companies and one company in particular for some reason flew me out to the Dominican Republic on a skate mission. They put us up in this hippie hotel and on the roof of the hotel there was a yoga room. So I said, “Okay I’ll do yoga every morning!” And I did. It was kind of weird, like chanting and a couple poses. But I don’t know, it was just weird in a good way. So I did that every morning for about two weeks, jumping into the ocean after yoga, then went to the city and skated… and I guess that’s what I do now.
How do these two seemingly disparate activities (skateboarding and yoga) inform your life now? Are there points of contact between them for you?
Well, yoga just gives me a lot of clarity and helps me be super calm and super precise and clear, which is something you have to be in skateboarding. But I guess yoga gives me the tools to do that so that when I’m skating it’s less hectic because there get to be a lot of mental battles and wars when trying to do tricks and stuff like that. It just gets frustrating and a lot of times you can get really mad. My yoga practice helps me to keep my composure and know when to dial it back so I don’t get hurt.
The work ethic of skateboarding really translates into my yoga. The kind of work that goes into landing a trick and improving your yoga… it’s the same thing: practice, practice, practice. Skateboarding helped me prepare for my yoga life in that way. So that’s where they intersect. In both activities, you have to be very present—they’re mental practices. They come together and balance the mental, physical, and spiritual.
On your website, it says that you believe through yoga practices and techniques we can “free ourselves from the constraints of the body and the mind.” This sounds a lot like what we describe as “The High.” While we initially found this through running, we believe it is just as salient and achievable in yoga and meditation, hence the STUDIO line. Can you tell us how yoga practices and techniques allow you to reach this state?
I believe yoga can help free you from the identifications of the body and the mind… ego, I guess. For instance, that high you get from running: your body is doing something for awhile and then eventually you feel free of it. Your body—after you’ve been running and running—gets so used to it, it’s like nothing. And then all the breathing… the heart pumping… all the oxygen going to your blood and brain… it definitely does something to you.
Similarly, through yoga techniques like asana or physical practice, you get to master your body. The poses aren’t very pleasant in the beginning. But after awhile, once you get past the physical boundaries of the poses with constant practice, what you receive is much more fascinating: you’ve mastered your body in a way that it isn’t agitating your mind. Then through breathing exercises and techniques like mantra, you can work on the fluctuations of the mind and everything becomes clear and floaty. It’s almost like when you’re running or in the studio doing yoga, you make magic.
Can you describe what the environment and energy was like at Woodshed Recording Studio while recording "The High"? What was it like performing alongside Guy Blakeslee?
So the shoot for this project was definitely a surreal and magical experience. It was, in so many words, serendipitous. First off, I knew the photographer there—this wonderful woman named Magda, who I'd already known from my earlier years of skating and being crazy in New York City. She had taken a photo of me for the French skateboard magazine, SuGaR. So that was like, "woah!" And then meeting Guy! He's like a cross between something out of Andy Warhol and David Bowie in one person—the best of both worlds. His music puts you in a trance. The studio in and of itself felt sacred but with his music added I felt like I was in a holy place. It felt natural and like it was meant to be, there was no question about it. It was really nice practicing to that kind of music... it was like what you want but you don't get under normal circumstances. Everything came together perfectly and magically.
The studio also had a 1957 American Telly [Fender Telecaster], which is my dream guitar and I got to touch and play it. And you know how I was saying all of this came together serendipitously? Well, after we finished the shoot I had to rush to go teach a class. One of my students—this older gentleman I always speak with about guitars and music and stuff—and I got to talking and I told him about how I got to play my dream guitar right before class and he was like, "Hey, I got this Mexican Telecaster collecting dust. Do you want it?" So lo and behold, now I have this sick Nashville Fender Telecaster, all black like my STUDIO outfit, it's perfect!
In a sport like running, goals and milestones seem much clearer and objective to set. How do you frame growth in your yoga practice? What kinds of goals are you setting, whether it be performance-based or personal?
I don’t really have any goals in yoga. You just commit to constant practice and then you see growth, not only physically but mental growth and growth in your understanding of things. Things become a little more clear. It’s the poses, the asanas, the breathing… they help to purify the body and then the mind follows. Eventually, it trickles down into your diet and health because with all this rigorous practice the body starts to crave different things. So there aren’t any goals but you can definitely see, in the frame of your practice, growth. Even as you get older and maybe the poses fade away, you’re still left with that ability to make magic.
You quote Khalil Gibran: “Work is love made visible.” How are you showing your love? Any words of advice on how we can make our love visible in these trying times?I love my work. That’s how I show my love—I do my practice, I do my work because it has to be done. It’s just like brushing your teeth, it has to be done. It helps when you enjoy your work. I love sharing what I’ve discovered through my yoga practice with everyone so they can suffer less. I just want to be able to help out in some degree, whether it be physically, mentally or spiritually.
I think in these times the best thing you can do to show that love is to help each other out and see yourself in others—be compassionate.
Being immersed in both skateboarding and yoga culture, how do you think the scenes are similar? How do you think they could evolve and learn from each other?
Skateboarding and yoga are very similar in that they’re both countercultures. Yoga is not like something that is taught in school. It’s definitely like skateboarding in that it’s rebellious and not mainstream. Well, maybe in this bubble in Los Angeles it’s a bit mainstream—everybody’s like, skater, surfer, yogi, actor [laughs]. But in the rest of America and the world, I’d say it’s pretty counterculture-ish and a rebellious thing: it’s a different way of thinking, seeing and doing things. In that way I’d say both activities are similar.
On the other hand, they’re super complementary in their differences. Skating is pretty damaging to the body and yoga can help fix, or heal, or be a remedy. I think the last generation of pros in skating that were partying a lot are growing up and realizing they have to take care of themselves and are falling more into things like yoga. I think the next generation of skateboarders will look up to this older generation and their consciousness will evolve. It won’t be like “I’m gonna go pro and party!” Yeah, you might party a little bit, everybody is human, but you might find this new generation becoming more health-conscious, as it’s already being put out there. Now with so many social media outlets, you can see everything that’s going on and the younger generation has more available to them. So yeah, yoga is happening with skating and it’s a beautiful combination.