The arc of a life is not a perpetual upward trajectory. As director Baz Luhrmann said, “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind. The kind that blindside you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday.” Listening to Nicole Sciacca, Chief Yoga Officer of Playlist Yoga, unfurl her tale from the professional dance world to injury, divorce, and starting over, I witnessed a woman honestly narrate what it means to be human. Her story is one of struggle, gumption, and the grit propelling her to get back up again. Her wisdom sees the troubles that blindside us can teach us, and Nicole is living testament to lessons well earned.
In 2003, at the age of 24, Nicole was in living in Los Angeles immersed in a thriving professional dance career. During an 11pm rehearsal, she herniated three discs in her back, putting her on a month-long bedrest. “I couldn’t walk. I didn’t have family here. I was alone in an apartment in Santa Monica trying to crawl from my bedroom to the kitchen.” For a professional artist who requires a strong, healthy body for both passion and paycheck, an injury can upend identity and unsettle mental and emotional stability.
Around this time is when she found yoga. Nicole says that her first yoga class was simply a sweat and a workout while she was looking for a way to move again after the injury. It was a two hour level 2/3 music flow class at Harmony Yoga in Redondo Beach with Chappell (Chappy) Foote. Nicole says, “I had no clue what I was doing and I left with completely pruned fingers. I loved it because it felt familiar in a way that reminded me of dancing but foreign because I really had no understanding of the language, postures, or breath. One of my dancer girlfriends liked to go ‘for the workout and challenge’ and I figured if I can dance through bloody feet and missing toenails, how hard can yoga be?” She found out.
Eventually, Nicole’s back injury healed and she returned to her life and livelihood dancing in feature films, commercials, TV shows, and on stage in live performances. Some of her noteworthy credits include Glee, How I Met your Mother, Austin Powers in Goldmember, Rent, The Haunted Mansion, Walk Hard, Get Him to the Greek, and campaigns with the likes of Nike, Harley Davidson, Pepsi, and Nationwide Insurance with MC Hammer. Over time, her professional dance career intersected with fitness and yoga instruction. (Nicole still dances professionally, including a recent appearance on the Netflix show Disjointed). She got married and had a child (Beau) and then got divorced. She opened and then closed a business (Hustle & Flow Fitness on Abbot Kinney). She suffered injury again. “I was doing deadlifts and I did basically the same thing as before. I was on bedrest again for over a week. I don’t know where I went mentally but it was unhealthy.” Nicole relived some of the same fears, sense of isolation, and disappointment that she experienced in 2003, yet this time, her circumstances were different. “I am a single mom with a four-year-old. I can’t lie in bed for a week and cry to myself and watch Netflix. That wasn’t an option.” Years of making her practice a priority helped her see what is temporary and to walk toward the light at the end of the tunnel.
Throughout her challenges, Nicole asks herself, “What’s the lesson?” Her practice has taught her to sit in the unknown with curiosity rather than fear and she has discovered meaning in a quote she found that says, “Every obstacle introduces a person to themselves.” Nicole says, “As a dancer I spent a lot of time avoiding obstacles, trying to be perfect and being a people pleaser. You don’t learn without obstacles. You don’t learn without failure. My adult life has been a testament to that because I’ve failed at a lot of things but I’ve learned and made better choices the second go-around. I spent my young adult life trying not to fail, and then it was series of failure after failure.” According to Nicole, this particular tunnel led her to gratitude.
In reference to the first yoga class she took after her most recent injury, Nicole remarked, “I was in such a place of gratitude for coming around the injury. My sense of gratitude for my body and for the practice is overwhelming. I’m just thrilled to be here, to do a forward fold.” Injuries and failures stalling her forward momentum have become her most patient teachers. She’s been willing to look directly at the road closures and has rerouted destinations as a route to personal development, bolstered by the depth and wisdom honed through humility and practice.
Nicole’s formal yoga training emphasized discipline; she studied with luminaries such as James Brown, Alexandra Crow, Maria Villella, and Maty Ezraty. “James was my first yoga teacher; I completed his Yoga Poser teacher training at Equinox. In one two-hour practice, we only did down dog and child’s pose. All of our arms were shaking. He laid the foundation for me for hard work and authentic understanding of the practice. I fell in love with it and attribute that to his diligence. I understood the responsibility of what this was.”
As Chief Yoga Officer at Playlist, Nicole appreciates her teacher James’ words, “We have a responsibility to take care of the people that walk into our room and inform them, to give them space.” She’s doing this in the context of group vinyasa classes in a studio with concert-style sound systems blaring Tupac and Beyonce. “Music is so powerful. I’ve gone back and forth on what I like best [music and silence] and at this point I appreciate the value in both options. Breath becomes a soundtrack all its own and really helps settle and streamline the busy mind, however, I probably wouldn’t have been drawn to yoga without the ‘gateway’ of a music-based flow. As a dancer, that made sense to me. Now I specifically curate my playlists to create an arc, a musical ride that accompanies the movement.”
Playlist is “A doorway for folks who may have never stepped onto a yoga mat.” Nicole says, “There is value in what we are doing, and people are changed for the better. I try to be as responsible with their bodies and the yoga as I can be.”
For a woman who says her personal hashtag is “surrender in progress,” Nicole Sciacca embodies bravery, honesty, and compassion. She sees the lessons in all things and finds gratitude in the simplicity of moments like a soft savasana. “I feel so grateful to be able to make choices with a clearer vision and a more honest heart. I think all the things that got me to Playlist and that help me navigate being a single mom were all lessons that I needed. I’m a stubborn girl. Sometimes, it takes many, many times for me to hear the truth.”
Nicole’s arc might not look like perpetual upward trajectory but a life honestly narrated and boldly told seldom does. Her honesty is testimony to a practitioner living and breathing the journey. The light at the end of the tunnel is not the end of Nicole’s journey. She is in progress, under construction, and in transit, and for Nicole, her moment has just begun.
Marja Lankinen, founder and CEO of Yoga for Dancers, is a yoga therapist and commercial dancer in Los Angeles and travels the globe teaching yoga and meditation: yogafordancers.com