The Yoga Therapist Is In: Meet Openfit Trainer Donna ScroOct 6, 2021
Despite the incredible before-and-after photos that you see in the world of fitness, most of the progress that people make isn’t always glamorous, or even tangible.
There are plenty of physical benefits of movement, but it’s tough to beat the improvements in mental health that come with it, says Openfit Trainer Donna Scro, who teaches yoga and meditation.
One year away from getting her master’s in social work and becoming a therapist, Donna has been teaching yoga, and the benefits of combining it with meditation, for over 15 years.
“Being able to approach a practice like yoga with more sensitivity to how you’re living in the world — and the challenges you’re facing — is so valuable,” she says. “The mind-body connection is real, and it’s incredibly powerful.”
From her first yoga class experience to what she does on bad days, here’s your chance to get to know Donna.
Openfit: What got you interested in yoga?
Donna: I’ve loved movement since I was a little girl, and as a result, I was always doing something like gymnastics or other sports. When I was about 18, I discovered dance and fell in love with the technique and structure. But a few years later, I moved out of New York City to New Jersey and suddenly I didn’t have ballet classes nearby.
So, I tried a yoga class and I remember a woman in her seventies floating up into a headstand in the middle of the room — I was mesmerized. I couldn’t do that, even in my twenties. That got me hooked, and when I became pregnant with my second daughter, I decided to do yoga teacher training. I’ve been teaching ever since.
What about meditation?
For me, yoga and meditation go hand in hand, whether it’s at the beginning of the yoga class where you’re getting settled and centered, or at the end when you’re lying down and focusing on your breath. At one point, I did a yearlong course with a teacher who taught yoga philosophy, and that deepened my meditation practice.
During that year, we meditated for 30 minutes twice a day. But I recognized that’s not always sustainable. People are busy. Fortunately, I mentioned my concern to my original yoga teacher and how I couldn’t keep that schedule and she said, “You don’t have to. You can do a two-minute meditation anywhere, you don’t have to be so strict.”
That freed me up to incorporate many different ways to meditate, and that’s what I teach, too. Even just a few minutes of being mindful can make a big difference.
What are some challenges you’ve had to overcome as a yoga teacher?
I got to the point in my yoga teaching where I felt like I could help people get centered in their bodies, but I felt limited when they would come to me for advice after class. Yoga tends to bring things up for people, so they’d approach me with relationship concerns, for example, or emotional struggles they were having. I thought, I’d love to know more about mental health to help them through these challenges in a way that’s informed.
So, I went back to school to become a therapist and I’m in my last year of grad school to get my master’s in social work. There’s a lot of overlap between what I’m learning and what yoga provides. For example, being non-judgmental, meeting people where they are, understanding complexity, and more. I’m now working with people from more of a mental health perspective and I feel much better prepared to talk about anxiety, depression, interrelationships, and everything else.
Basically, I have more knowledge about the way humans work, and that is absolutely influencing my classes and what I’m saying. That’s been a big deal for me.
What do you say to people who claim they’re “bad at meditation,” or nervous about spending that time alone with their thoughts?
The way I was taught, meditation is being curious about the way your mind works and being in relationship with your mind. In the same way that yoga is about being curious about your body and learning how your body works, meditation allows you to learn more about how you operate.
Instead of trying to still your mind or disconnect, or expecting you’re going to achieve a Zen-like state, it’s about staying present and curious. I think people believe they’re “bad” at it because they say, “I can’t be still, I can’t be quiet,” and that’s OK. Just keep coming back to it and stay open to what today brings.
I think part of the difficulty is the way we’ve depicted meditation in media as someone sitting peacefully. That may or may not happen. The point is just to notice what’s happening.
How can meditation help improve mental health?
I think breath work and meditation can be amazing tools for mental health. And it starts with awareness: How are you feeling? Does it seem like something’s not right? You might begin to recognize different signs and symptoms of mental or emotional distress. From there, you have the ability to consciously take some action, find some tools, and keep doing those check-ins.
What’s something that people would be surprised to know about you?
People sometimes say, “You’re a yoga teacher, you must be so peaceful,” but I have bad days, too. I get stressed. I’m working on my mental health and physical health like everyone. Yoga teachers have the same struggles other people have, but the difference is we may be more familiar with the tools that are available to us. If I’m having a bad day, I get on my mat and do a yoga practice or a meditation. We all need a reset sometimes.