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 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.
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