So What is this Scaravelli Yoga? By Marc Woolford

I wanted to share the below article because Marc is an awesome teacher I have had the privileged and pleasure of working with for a brief weekend.  I hope he returns to the states soon so that I may learn more from him.  He has a wonderful teaching style and way of expressing Vanda’s message and how yoga has inspired him.  Enjoy!

So What is this Scaravelli Yoga?

Vanda Scaravelli was an inspired and inspiring woman, who came to yoga relatively late in life. Through her own explorations she realized something so simple yet almost impossible to fully understand: that the force of gravity is the very thing that supports us upright, and that if we are balanced, the wave of our exhalation elongates the spine.

Is that Scaravelli yoga? Vanda would be horrified to hear of such a thing – because to define it is to miss the point entirely. Perhaps a little history and some of my current understanding of the work can shed some light.

Vanda Scaravelli
Vanda played host to her friend Sri J Krishnamurti during his stays in Italy, and subsequently in Switzerland. He was a student of Sri B.K.S. Iyengar, and it was Iyengar who introduced Vanda to yoga when she was in her forties. She also took to heart the teachings of T.K.V. Desikachar, whose methods became known as viniyoga. She went on to teach yoga herself for many years, and shared her wisdom in her insightful book Awakening the Spine.

There was a kindness to her teaching that has been translated into the concept of working with the body’s tendencies in order to unravel them, rather than against them. This is a method successfully employed by osteopaths and rolfers. The value of working with gravity instead of against it is obvious. It makes sense philosophically as well as intellectually, allowing us to move away from the no-pain-no-gain paradigm towards a more Taoist sensibility of going with the natural flow of things.

The beauty of Vanda’s teachings burns bright in everyone she has worked with and inspired, but the revolutionary aspect was that yoga ceased being the passing on of a tradition, and became the beginning of an open-ended, ever-expanding exploration of what is going on right now.

My story
One of my mother’s friends introduced me to yoga when I was 12. Enjoying the way it made me feel, I practiced quite obsessively for a few years, spending a couple of hours a day playing with the postures and even some of the breathing techniques. With my teenage years came a desire for approval and I abandoned my yoga for more worldly pursuits. I focused first on academia, and then in an about-face in my early twenties, I decided to make a career out of music. I returned to yoga about ten years ago for a very mundane reason: I was searching for relief from relentless back, neck and shoulder pain. Luckily, I found my way to osteopath and yoga teacher Pete Blackaby, who pointed out that it was simply because my spine was out of balance (diagnosed as scoliosis and lordosis) and that, as a result, I was having to make an effort to hold myself up. If I wanted it to change, I would need to do some yoga, ideally a kind that would help me discover what it was I was doing wrong, so that I could let it go. Something in my soul jumped for joy – the penny had finally dropped – and so I began.

It felt like a home-coming. At first I was mostly just lying down on my mat and feeling the force of gravity and the movement of the breath and yet it was a revelation. I couldn’t get enough of it, and by adding a soft shoulder stand and a supine twist I could give myself an osteopathic treatment, free of charge and as often as I wanted.

Venturing out to recommended classes, I felt very much at home with the people that both taught and attended them. I started learning about the principles of this work, and instinctively felt the truth in what was being expressed. I became fascinated with the anatomy of the breath, and it soon became obvious that posture, breathing habits and state of mind are so intimately related, that working on one will transform the others. I began to recognise the real source of my aches and pains, and with each joyous release I gained insight into the nature of movement that would later prove invaluable to my teaching.

To broaden my perspective I delved into other practices. From the Feldenkrais Method I learned that, by having the patience to go back to the very beginning, it becomes possible to re-educate the nervous system at the autonomic level. Qi gong helped me experience the value of whole-hearted engagement and abandoned release in movement. It all concurred with what felt like the truth in my yoga practice. From endeavoring always to arrive on my mat with a fresh mind, I found myself beginning to arrive in the world with a new openness to experience. Through acceptance of what is, change seemed to come easily and often.

I started sharing my discoveries with fellow students and teachers, and before long found myself being asked to teach. Initially I resisted the idea that this could be my vocation. I was finally commanding decent fees and royalties for my music production and writing work, and I was reluctant to start all over again. But as my sensitivity developed, deliberately immersing myself in stressful environments seemed ridiculous. I found myself neglecting the music and instead practising yoga for hours on end – for the love of it, just for the way my body would respond to it. It was becoming my creativity, my song.

Before long, whilst on a yoga retreat in Turkey, I simply knew it was time. So I came back to England, enrolled on the next available Scaravelli-inspired teacher training course, and with the support of my teachers, and backed by the AIYP (Association of Independent Yoga Practitioners), I began taking my own classes. Once I had made the decision, I felt no loss in leaving my music career behind. With hindsight, I can see that I had been trying to use my creativity to communicate something ‘other’ to people, to share a feeling of something universal. Now I could do that directly – I had found my path, and the world opened up.

Teaching came naturally to me. It was as if I had never done anything else: I could see what was going on in people’s bodies and I could help, if not with words then with touch. And those moments of transformation that occur in people when something becomes clear or when something is released are like nectar to me. Of course my journey continues – there is ever more to discover, ever more to let go of, both as a practitioner and as a teacher – but I now value every single thing that conspired to bring me here, and each new challenge that presents itself feels like a gift.

I think the point of telling you my story is to illustrate that yoga isn’t just for the fit, the beautiful and the extraordinary people – it can become a gift of transformation beyond measure for anyone that chooses to step on their mat and begin listening to their own song. Whatever kind of yoga you practise, be inspired. Read Vanda’s book, or re-read your own source with a fresh mind. Practice without preconception, open your mind and your heart and rediscover the true meaning of the word yoga – for yourself.

Marc Woolford for Yoga Magazine

35 Comments

  1. Kyndall Davis

    I think it is so interesting to think of Yoga as a creative expression. I have never thought of it that way, and i think that this idea will help me with my upcoming practices. I do like being creative, but do not express it enough. And like anything, creativity needs to be developed. I know i can develop my creativity with more intentional focus, and expressing myself creatively in yoga is a place to start.

  2. Lucy

    Hi Mrs. Phillips! You are such a wonderful yoga teacher and I am just dropping by — no need for extra credit =) You are also such a passionate and beautiful person and you aspire me to be a better citizen. I had so much fun taking yoga from you and hope to take more classes from you specifically. Do you teach anything else besides the intro class? If I wasn’t a student, I’d attend a private lesson but I don’t have that kind of money. I really like your blog/website a lot (it’s really cute and clever). I had a good summer class w/ you — thanks! Hope we keep in touch,

    Lucy

  3. Elizabeth Ehling

    After today’s class, watching the yoga video, really made me want to read this post. I found myself doing exactly what I signed up for the class for. I found myself for the first time in a long time just relaxing, listening to my body and just connecting with the world, my body and feeling the gravity. I also enjoyed hearing your story of how you reconnected with yoga after so many years. I recently gave up something that I had loved and was part of my life for almost 8 years. Volleyball used to be my life, I played all year round. I never really took the time to realize the tole it was taking on my body. My first semester in college I was playing volleyball on an academic and athletic scholarships. For some reason everything seemed to be sluggish, my body was falling apart right in front of my eyes. That semester I developed sever Achilles tendonitis, my back was giving more problems than usual and I finally realized that I could no longer do this anymore. I had to find a way to stop all the stress that was causing me so much pain. That is when I decided to take your class, so I could have a way to relieve my stress. I has been one of the best things I have done for my body and health in a long time.

  4. Megan smith

    What an awesome story! It is interesting how everyone sees the benefits of yoga differently. It is also interesting how you described gravity as something you have to work with. Physically and psychologically! I’ve never though of it that way! But it’s true, we have to work and use what we are given.
    Thanks!

    Megan smith MW 10:10-12:00

  5. Jane

    Thank you for sharing this article. After taking your class this summer, I have decided to order Vanda’s book, and am very much looking forward to reading it!

  6. Aris Fuller

    Yoga has helped me deal with the stress of school, family and work. I really appreciate your passion and dedication to yoga. You’ve inspired me to continue practicing yoga when I go off to school in order to feel at peace with myself and my body. The video we watched in class got me wanting to take yoga to another level because the flexibility that Vonda has within herself has also motivated me to practice yoga more. I’ve told all my friends about how I feel after your classes and how my days go by a lot easier. Also, my attititude is a lot calmer than usual!
    Thanks!

  7. Caitlin Geary

    I found this article very interesting and very similar to what i have experienced in cortney’s yoga class this summer. I never realized how out of tune i was with my body until i was laying on my mat, just listening and paying attention to my own breath and my connection with the ground below me. I’ve been able to introduce these simple practices to my every day routine, and it has helped me dramatically reduce back pain and also has helped me decompress at the end of the day and get a better night’s sleep. vanda’s style of yoga as taught through this class has also been better for me than previous yoga classes i’ve taken because scaravelli yoga asks you to listen to your own body and do the pose as it works best for your body. overall i found this article to be a very good read!

  8. Cathy Green

    This was an interesting article. I, too have found yoga, in my forties. I keep experiencing more, which I am loving. I first tried it to help my flexibility and even though I am still challenged with that, I am finding that each time I practice I feel more release. What has been a pleasant discovery for me is that I am also feeling less stressed and finding a peaceful relaxation I have had trouble finding in adulthood. I longed for that from my childhood. I find myself telling others about my experience and encouraging them to try yoga. When I realize this is something that will be a part of my life, the rest of my life, I am so thankful I tried it and thankful for an instructor that has helped me achieve the next level.

  9. Jordan holley

    Yes, I totally agree with Marc, and I can see why he was so easy influences by vondas teachings.. She seems to really influence and teach a lot of great people, I love vondas methods of breathing and reawakening the spine! Love it!

  10. William Gil

    Great article Ms. Phillips!!! I enjoyed our sessions this summer very much, and look forward to continuing my studies in yogic meditation. Prior to this class I had some meager experience with yoga with some friends and also the television program that came on the fit channel, and I enjoyed the feeling I experienced afterwards very much which made me sign-up for your class in the summer. Yoga this summer helped me alot, especially in loosening up my legs and my spine. I also have a better understanding of how breathing can be integral to my life.

  11. Lauren VInita

    Being a visual artist, with paintings and drawings, I had a hard time understanding how yoga could be used a form of creative expression. I always felt that in order for it to be any sort of expression, it needed to be something that had to be recorded, such as a painting or a song on the radio. Since starting yoga, I understand what this article is explaining. I was able to connect with my body more and more and with certain feelings, I was able to express them through certain poses. Yoga had a huge impact on how I understood my body and I absolutely love it. It is going to be something I continue on with for a very long while.

  12. Abbie Hammad

    I think this is very inspiring because Yoga can transform someones life. Yoga is a way out of reality but a way into the body. When you believe that you are destined to do something other than what you HAVE been striving to do your whole life, that is inspiring!

  13. Rebekah Connor

    Growing up I was a dancer, I could move and bend in ways that amazing me when looking back on that time. But due to disabling arthritis I lost those abilities at 16. It was not until Cortney’s yoga class that I began to get it all back. Having arthritis in my spine the Scaravelli yoga style matched exactly what I needed to begin to retrain my muscles and strengthen the spine. The restrictions I had because of damage to my spine was not an issue, as I was shown lesser variations of the poses my classmates were doing. Cortney Philips was a God send to me by simply showing me how to begin moving again. Y yoga journey will definitely never end. My love for it as even transferred to my family, who all desire for me to become an instructor when I am eligible. So who knows, my future may be similar to Marc Woolford’s…thank you Cortney for being such an amazing inspiration to me!

  14. Rockie Jo Hill

    Sometimes I have unexplainable back pain in the mornings and it ends up ruining my whole day. After being taught the Simple Supine Twist pose, I have been practicing it at least three times a week outside of class and i have found that my back has been painless for a while now. No more uncomfortable days anymore. Yoga has been a life changing experience for me. Thank you Cortney !!!

  15. Bethany Pruitt

    I really like the fact that he ventured away for awhile but then found yoga to be what he was missing in his life. I find yoga very relaxing and like that it helped soothe him with his back issues,

  16. Tess Mordecai

    I was so happy when I read this comment! At the beginning of the semester, I was excited because I had always wanted to try yoga. When I started the class, I was even more thrilled to find that it was just what I had wanted and thought it would be. Last semester I took a World Religions class and became interested in Daoism/Taoism. This seemed to fall in line with that way of thinking- the “go with the flow” mindset. As hard as it might get, I try to remind myself to take a deep breath and center myself, to not get distracted by the wrong things. Sometimes you just need to relax and be calm, just time to be, even only for a small moment.

  17. Ava Karimi

    It was a very interesting story , and I love the end that he says ” practice without perception, open your mind and your heart and rediscover the true meaning of the term yoga ” . Yoga is an unlimited world with a non ending path to discover . Thank you Cortney for introducing me to this world, I’m sure I’m gonna continue and discover more of the path for the rest of my life. 😉

  18. Lowell Malinis

    I remember watching the video in class and was just baffled by how painful this style of yoga initially looked. It’s art in a way where first people are just in total state of confusion but as one begins to analyze and further criqitue it’s purpose, it begins to grow and tacks on a deeper meaning: an understanding. It looked like gravity was killing her but it was just in turn helping her. I just love the aspect of yoga where it’s the breathe, combined with the mind and gravity to create fluidity in everyday life, making life just flow that much easier. Yoga has started to grow on my own personal life as how Vanda & yourself initially first found yoga but in the end yoga found you.

  19. Jacey

    This article is very interesting. It’s crazy how someone can be doing something they think is right for them and then all of the sudden what they are destined for shows up. I am so happy I got introduced to yoga through your class, I thought I would be horrible at it, turns out I’m not as bad as I thought. I am going to keep up with yoga for sure.

  20. Terry Penh

    This article is very inspiring to me because I can relate so much. I am also inspired by Vanda Scaravelli and the fact that she began practicing yoga in her forties and was still very active in her later years. I feel that I can really identify with Marc Woolford’s story because I have had so many issues with my body lately. Even prior to my accident, I was having back pain and had to go to the doctor to look for relief from the pain. Since my accident I now have back, neck and shoulder pain also. I could not walk for nearly 2 weeks and was given strong pain and muscle medication. It was difficult to walk without taking medication, but when I took the medication it made me very drowsy and dizzy. It was a vicious cycle, I couldn’t function normally without taking medication but couldn’t function normally with the medication. At one of my doctor appointments the doctor asked me why I kept holding my neck, he then explained that I was hanging my head because my neck was not strong enough to support it now. It makes me hopeful that someone was able to find relief from the same type of pain through yoga. I hope that if I can continue to hang in there and push through that can experience the same relief.

  21. Evelyn Weaver

    Wow, this was an awesome story. Yoga really is life changing and I realized this a few years ago. I was really introduced to the yoga practice while in rehab for issues with alcohol and drugs. I found that while doing yoga, for the small amount of time we did it, that I could escape and feel a peace inside that I had never felt before. For so long I had been searching for something to fill this emptiness I felt inside, and yoga gave me the tools to do that. Once I got out of rehab, I stopped doing any kind of yoga and just got back into it this semester. This past semester reminded me how important and helpful yoga can really be in my life.

  22. Ryana

    Cool, inspiring story!..I hope one day I can travel the world and experience similar things in my own path to self-discovery! (=

  23. Ryana

    I am also glad that I now have a better concept of what scaravelli yoga is, for it is a beautifully logical way of looking at yoga and yoga practices.

  24. Carly Gallegly

    This is a great article! I have really enjoyed taking your class this summer and can’t wait to continue on with yoga. I have enjoyed the Scaravelli yoga especially, due to the emphasis on breathing and connecting with the ground. It is very powerful and relaxing to make that connection with the ground and the three part breath has helped me enormously in finding comfort in each pose. It is very interesting that Vanda did not start practicing yoga until she was in her forties. I am only 20, and I feel like I can go a very long way in my practice. I also find it amazing that yoga can be used to relieve all types of aches and pains and to prevent future ones, and I am looking forward to being able to go back to my practice to do so.

  25. Amanda Karry

    I see the transformation that yoga has brought to my body and mind. It brings me peace needed at the beginning of the day and has relieved my extensive back and neck issues. I am inspired by each new pose I discover and enjoy practicing every. I know my yoga journey will continue for the rest of my life.

  26. Billie Nguyen

    I am very happy I was able to learn so much from taking yoga. It has opened my eyes so much to the bigger picture of my life. Thank you Cortney for being a great instructor! With yoga, I feel like I am becoming a calmer, much more forgiving person. I am a left brain, that is hard headed, introverted, impatient, and like to plan EVERYTHING. I truly feel that yoga has helped me recognize these traits and try to make them less significant. I never thought something so small could change me in such a big way. I love yoga now, and will not be quitting my practice. It not only helps my mentally, but also physically. I feel myself getting stronger, not by added muscle mass, but by strength in the core, body and soul. I love yoga because it is NATURAL! There is need for supplements to help you gain strength, there is no need for medication to help you fight diseases. Yoga can give you strength, and help you detox at the same time. Without anything else but water, and your being at every practice.

  27. Haley Curd

    This story is so powerful. I love that Marc’s love of Yoga was a journey, it was long, and it grew deeper as time went on. It’s so easy to want to rush through everything in life and not take a step back and see how far you have already come, and I feel like yoga helps everyone do that. Yoga opens doors in the head, body, and heart that may have seemed locked or out of reach.

    Since I’ve been practicing this semester, I’ve had less trials with anxiety and have been able to connect back to the foundation of myself. Through that, I have grown more aware of my thoughts and emotions and that I DO have the ability to control them with breath and connection to my inner self.

    Yoga is a lifestyle, and a journey, and Marc’s story puts it in such a wonderful perspective!

  28. Carly Payne

    It’s cool to hear your story and how yoga has always been apart of you. I had no idea of all the different styles and types of yoga. Very interesting…something I will be looking into.

  29. Domonique Harris

    This article is so inspiring! It is really enjoyable to be able to read about another’s experience and how yoga has worked for him. I also struggle with back issues and it is relieving to know that yoga is an alternative that is cheap and free compared to chiropractors and physical therapy. After reading about his experience it has really inspired me to continue my yoga practice in hopes that my body will respond positively.

  30. Anna Emmons

    I really enjoyed this read. I had always heard about yoga but never really understood nor appreciated it until class this semester. I always thought it was to challenging for me and that i was too weak to do it. I have really become in touch with my body. I am able to do things i never thought i would be able to do. And it has helped me to cope with day to day struggles in a calming manor. I am grateful for yoga now and plan to continue it on my own =]

  31. Gerald Dorsey

    I enjoyed this article especially since have recently read the book “Awakening the Spine, ” which has allowed me to release the self competitive tendency to always out do myself every time I perform an exercise. I enjoy yoga and weightlifting and cycling and I found myself feeling as though I was not doing well if I could reach a certain goal. I have since realized that some days my body doesn’t want to be pushed, and some days I feel stronger and want to extend my parameters. I too have shifted from the no-pain no-gain approach, I now listen to my body.. always.

  32. Angelica Russo

    This article is really motivational. i believe the more you practice yoga, the more and more you understand what yoga is for and what it really is. also the closer you get to your true self, you discover your self. I have never practiced yoga until this semester and i have gained a lot of knowledge on the benefits of it. I wish that you taught another class because i really enjoy starting my day off with yoga. yoga is a helpful guide towards inner peace, and i think thats what i appreciate about it most, (and the fact that i can hold my foot above my head now:) )

  33. Taylor Massie

    I’m very excited that yoga as made me branch out of my comfort zone and helped me deal with stress of our everyday lives. After taking your class I will definitely continue on with doing yoga because it is indeed very beneficial for the body and mind. I also love that yoga connects with every person differently.

  34. Riley Willems

    The thing that I love most about yoga that Cortney has taught me is the ability to really feel the force of gravity on the body. My mind is most at peace in the corpse pose, where I can completely let my body succumb to the force of gravity enabling me to be grounded in myself. I have such gratification in knowing that the natural force of gravity is taking care of my body on its own and that all I have to worry about is being present in my own body. I can see why Cortney turned to teaching; she has a real connection with her students and the practice of yoga, she has taught me to be present within myself and to ignore the wandering thoughts of the future and the past. I can see how the benefits of yoga have increased my relaxation in my life, even though I have only been in her class for a short period of time. Her love of yoga and letting the body get to know itself through practice is contagious enough as it is. It takes time to truly connect with yourself, and our bodies all connect differently. I love being able to push myself in certain poses and then turn around and be completely relaxed in other poses and let gravitation pull myself towards the movement of the earth. Great article… reading others thoughts about the benefits of yoga and relating them to my own experiences; it puts my thoughts into words better than I could ever explain.

  35. Cam Mazzone

    I never truly thought about the importance of gravity, and its effects, in my life. When you think about it’s amazing that this invisible force is constantly acting on us thoughout our lives. Every moment is dictated by such force and practicing yoga with this mindset grounds a person.

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