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Former power plant technician is now holistic health healer

Don Scott, left, a massage therapist and Qigong instructor, pictured Nancy Weil, founder of the Holistic Alliance of Western New York, used to be an instrumentation specialist at the AES Somerset power plant. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

When the Scotts, of Middleport, experienced a series of deaths in their family about a dozen years ago, Cindy Scott started looking into the “metaphysical side of life,” said her husband, Don.

Don Scott, who grew up in Wilson, was in the midst of a 28-year career as an instrumentation technician at the coal-fired AES power plant in Somerset.

The Scotts embarked upon a journey of self-discovery, and Don Scott learned through the process that he had “empathetic tendencies” that made him feel the pain of others. Instead of avoiding those tendencies by withdrawing from people as he had in the past, he said he decided to steer into them, and learn how to channel them to help others.

 “Somewhere along the line, people starting asking what it was I did, what my personal practices were,” he said. “I was more outgoing, more at peace, more content. Pretty soon, groups of people were asking, and I started to become comfortable with it. Now I teach to rooms I wouldn’t have been comfortable being in at one point.”

Scott, 57, retired early, two years ago, from AES Somerset, to focus more completely on his passions. He is a certified yoga instructor, and teaches Qigong – movement exercises similar to tai chi – as well as “spiritual insight training.” He’s on the faculty at Fellowships of the Spirit, a school that once rented space at Lily Dale and now has its own spot just outside that community’s gate.

As he went through the transformation, he also learned about manipulation of pressure points. Turning that into a business in New York requires a message therapy license, so he spent two years getting one, while working at his old job, and is a graduate of the New York Institute of Message, near the Eastern Hills Mall.

He does workshops on his Middleport farmstead – where he and his wife have raised beaver and ostriches in the past – and practices other parts of his new trade at Harisa Ayurvedic Wellness Center on Sweet Home Road in Amherst, and in Cassadaga.

Scott has been a godsend to Nancy Weil, subject of today’s In the Field feature in WNY Refresh, who was in a car crash 18 months ago.

Weil, founder of the Holistic Alliance of Western New York, said she continues to deal with some nagging injuries as a result of the crash. She looks to Scott and other members of the alliance for well-being.

“When I had my car accident, the nurse practitioner kept trying to give me drugs and I kept saying, ‘I don’t want a muscle relaxant.’ I had these wonderful (holistic) practitioners and I just went, ‘Help,’ and they responded. I went to the acupuncturist and Don was doing massage, helping me.

“The nurse practitioner looked at me on the second visit and said, ‘I honor you, because you’re willing to give your body the time it needs to heal. Most of my patients just want the prescription.’ If that’s what they want, that’s OK. That’s the right choice for them. It’s their body, it’s their choices. It wasn’t the right choice for me. I was willing to give my body the time and support it needed, and continues to need.”

I asked Scott how his journey of self-discovery and a new profession reshaped his religious philosophy.

“I was brought up Episcopalian and, as soon as I was able to make my own life, I didn’t have anything to do with church,” he said. “What I do is spiritual, it’s not religious. We are all inclusive. A lot of religions aren’t so all inclusive. My belief is that everybody is on their own path but we are all on the same path eventually.”

Weil said many of the folks who attend monthly holistic alliance gatherings are there to learn how to better care for their needs, and that many are devout Christians and followers of other religions.

“This has nothing to do with religion. It’s about education,” said Weil, who teaches therapeutic laughter and laughter yoga, and has an unrelated job as grief coordinator with the Diocese of Buffalo Catholic Cemeteries. (Find grief support groups here.) 

“The beauty of the holistic approach is the mind, body and spirit,” Scott added. “However that works for you is fine.”

Weil also answered several questions earlier this week about her work as owner of The Laugh Academy. Below are excerpts:

How does laughter fit into the grief counseling?

What we find is, because laughter is therapeutic – it helps to balance emotions, reduce stress, helps with memory retention, helps with the immune system – all these things, when you’re grieving, need support.

I say at the times we least feel like laughing is when we need to do it the most. When I do the grief work, they don’t want to laugh, but in using therapeutic laughter or laughing for no reason, you will still get those benefits.

I’m leading you in this, just like it’s an exercise class. ‘We’re going to do this now. It’s not, ‘I’m going tell jokes now.’ That’s not going to work when you’re grieving. It’s ‘I’m going to produce the sound of laughter because the brain’s not going to differentiate and it’s going to start to release those chemicals to start to make us feel better. I may not feel like going for a walk, but I’m going anyway, and my body’s going to react. It’s the same sort of thing with these exercises.

You don’t have to be born with a sense of humor, you can develop it. The more you start doing laughter exercises, the more you start looking for opportunities to laugh, the more it begins to come. Then you begin to develop what I call an HPOA, a humor plan of action. I teach people how to develop an HPOA, because we’re desperate for it.

Is this what you do on the grief side?

It’s a very small part. I’m doing comprehensive grief support. We have a Heavenly Hearts Choir and we sing. We do a drum circle. We have potluck dinners if there’s a fifth Tuesday; we meet first and third Tuesday. We do inspired Western New York day trips. We’ve gone to plays and we’ve gone to movies, and we have those on a Sunday afternoon. Why? That’s a really hard day for people who are grieving.

How did you fall into laughter?

I was working at one of those county dining sites for seniors and doing adult education at the Jewish Community Center and I saw in the Parade section in The Buffalo News something about Steve Wilson and the World Laughter Tour. I thought, ‘I could take my seniors and we could do laughter exercises and that could be really fun.’ So I drove to Columbus, Ohio 11 years ago and I signed up to become a laughter leader. I began to run these laughter classes. It’s therapeutic laughter. It’s laughter for no reason. And we began to do these exercises, so you waddle around like penguins and you’re laughing. You’re pretending you're on a cellphone and you’re laughing.

It’s using your whole brain. The reason they call it laughter yoga is it’s using sound, movement and breath. It was created by this gentleman, Madan Kataria, in India. He was a cardiologist and his wife was a yoga teacher. He began to see that his patients who laughed a lot were getting better faster. He began to look into this and develop this entire process. He connected with Steve Wilson, who’s in Columbus, Ohio, and Steve began to formalize the training. I’m teaching there in the advanced laughter workshop in November.

I started doing more reading and I got sucked into this research that’s showing why laughter is the best medicine. The more you look at what the research continues to show, the more you continue to realize why laughter needs to be as much for our daily health regime as going to the gym, as taking our vitamins. We have to laugh. We are hard wired for it. Babies laugh. Research shows that it reduces stress, it boosts the immune system; you breathe deeply, so you have fewer upper respiratory illnesses. You begin to use whole brain thinking. It helps with circulation, pain reduction; all of these things because I go hahahahaha.

Very little humor and laughter is because of somebody telling a joke; 80 percent of our laughter is because we’re interacting, because we’re very social beings. So being with other people gets you relax.

It’s also a way that people let go.

Exactly. I call it our pressure relief valve. When you look at emergency room nurses and doctors, when you look at first responders, when you look at these people who work in a very intense environment, the humor they use away from patients may seem odd to those of us on the outside but it’s understood among them as their pressure relief valve. I can’t go up and use humor like that, because I’m not part of that dynamic, but they can with each other. It’s understood humor.

Humor is very difficult. Laughter is a sound, a burst of air that repeats. No matter where you travel in this world, if you laugh or smile, people will understand. It’s a social cue of, ‘I’m here to be friends.’

What makes you laugh?

My pug, Simone, because pugs are hilarious. I was a dog groomer for 20 years, so animals bring a presence and a joy. I love going online and watching “Bored Shorts.” This father tapes his kids and other kids, starting with, ‘Tell me about … a driving lesson or a job interview.’ It’s silly humor. I also love “Modern Family.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh

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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

@BNRefresh |