‘Yoga must not be practised to control the body: it is the opposite, it must bring freedom to the body, all the freedom it needs.’ – Vanda Scaravelli
What is a Scaravelli inspired approach to yoga?
This yoga is unique in not being about getting into a particular pose or position. In fact, the ambition to achieve a certain pose will be an obstacle to your practising yoga in the way in which Vanda Scaravelli intended. For Vanda, this revolutionary approach to the yoga she discovered and taught was in essence an exercise in freeing the body in order to ‘set the mind free’.
It is a single process, and one which can begin only when all pushing and pulling has stopped. Even understanding and acting in accordance with this idea is too much for most of us; so accustomed are we to pursuing our goals with grim determination. To get what we want we strain, contort and exhaust ourselves – often with disastrous results. So it seems almost counter-intuitive to do less, to strive less in order to get what it is that we really need from a yoga practice. But this is precisely what this way of working asks us to do, however difficult and frustrating that may be at first.
A ‘Scaravelli-inspired’ approach to yoga practice then, requires us to resist the temptation to force and coerce the body into various ‘yogic’ positions and poses. If we are wedded to ‘getting a good stretch’ or ‘going for the burn’ in our yoga then perhaps we need to ask ourselves why we think it a good idea to work in that way. What are the benefits? We might also ask ourselves why we often aren’t inclined to do our practise when we are on our own at home. Maybe we need at least to entertain the idea that there exists a more gratifying way of working with our body that requires us to listen carefully to it, to be attentive to its needs and to work with it in a harmonious and non-judgemental way.
Vanda Scaravelli’s truly revolutionary yoga demands a much more intelligent and subtle way of working with the body, a way that does not involve pain, punishment, aggression or a determined will; a way of working that does not cause stress and damage to the body, but that nevertheless requires a deep way of working that has the potential to satisfy both body and mind.
In one sense at least you don’t do anything rather you cultivate an ability to observe the body;, you wait, you don’t hold, you wait, you release tension;, you wait, you soften, you wait, you resist the temptation to brace the body and then see what happens. You must learn to be patient- very patient, you must learn to be quiet – very quiet, so that you can listen to what is within you – whatever that might be. You have to allow things to happen and to learn how to stop preventing things from happening. For example, you don’t do anything special to feel gravity: you let gravity affect you. And if you don’t have a clue what that means, then you become curious about what it might mean and look forward to a time when the words might resonate with you. To do that you need to have faith in the process in which you are engaged, for this way of working demands something different from, and of, you. You need also to become more imaginative, experimental and creative; approach your yoga practise as an artist or a musician might approach their art; in the knowledge that it is both basic and complex, profound and yet simple. You also have to allow yourself to stop caring about the judgements of others, and even your own judgements. You have to let yourself become a little eccentric, quirky, even mad.
You don’t need any props. You are already standing on the only prop you need. The ground is enough, just as it’s enough for all other animals, plants and trees. We’re not fundamentally different when it comes to the way our physicality reacts and interacts with the earth. Unlike animals, however, human beings have lost much of the contact with the earth that they used to have: – we sit for long hours in chairs hunched in front of a screen, we wear uncomfortable and constricting shoes and clothes, we don’t move around as much as we should and our breathing is often shallow and therefore does not benefit us as it might. As a result we have become used to holding our bodies in tension and with tension. It’s become so normal to us that we’re no longer aware of it; we’re not even aware that we are ‘doing’ it. So the task is to first become aware of what we’re doing with and to our bodies and then begin the long process of letting go of the tension and stop holding ourselves in ways that prevent a deeply satisfying contact with the earth, from the foot to and through the top of the spine and beyond.
In Vanda’s words
‘The adult spine is rigid and heavy and yoga, as intended here, consists in breaking bad habits and in re-educating the spine so as to bring it back to its original suppleness.’
So many of us have become accomplished jailers of our spines; we have been unwittingly complicit in the gradual imprisonment of our spines. The spine should be light, free, able to move. But so often it isn’t. The many muscles, ligaments and tendons that surround the spine are frequently jammed together, so knotted, tense, tight and rigid that they cannot help but prevent the spine from moving freely; from moving as it would were certain other conditions to obtain.
Our job is to reverse this state; to work in such a way as to undo and remove all the tension surrounding the spine. We need to give our spine as much space as it needs. We don’t have to move it about:, it’s perfectly capable of moving itself. We need to learn to let it do so.