I started practicing yoga years ago, after making a change from tai chi, and originally received training and certification in Iyengar yoga, while benefitting from the guidance of local teachers. I taught yoga in the Iyengar tradition for many years.
However, for the past number of years I have been studying with Diane Long in Italy. Diane is a long-time devotee to the teachings and yoga of Vanda Scaravelli, and was her student for over 23 years, until Vanda's death at the age of 91. Scaravelli's influential book "Awakening the Spine", published in 1995, provided a precis for a new way of working through gravity and breath, and within the natural abilities and function of the body and spine. But the book only hints at the practice that comes.
The yoga practiced and taught by Scaravelli, and now by Diane Long, is one that begins, as noted by Diane Long's student Sophie Whiting, when all pushing and pulling has stopped. "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."
As very human yogis, we will often pursue goals in asanas with martial determination and fevered obsession. If our goals and our asanas are not met or achieved in short order they are often abandoned - our practice dies, and we move on to the next fitness fad, or we continue to strain, push, contort, yank, wrench, and do yet more violence in order to reach the ever-elusive goal.
Strain, contortion, and exhaustion are things we impose on our bodies; they are not what our bodies would choose for themselves. Indeed, to bring stress and to structurally defy is not necessarily yoga; it is merely defiance and the undermining of the body's authority. We ultimately enslave the flesh in the hope of freeing it.
We don't think about what it might mean for the body to be free, and we never ask the body itself. If the body has a language of its own, then we need to let it speak, and (for once) listen to what it says.
A Scaravelli-inspired approach to yoga helps us resist the urge to force and intimidate the body into textbook 'yogic' asanas. We need the mind and ego to get out of the way - we must observe and be aware, while releasing expectations, and discarding old and unhealthy habits. We instead explore what the body itself can do when we free it to function and move as it has evolved, or was created to do.
Vanda's way was to strive less, in order to get what is really needed from a yoga practice. Her approach to working asks us to do only less. It sounds gratifying, and it really is.
I am thankful that Sophie Whiting is my close friend and yoga co-conspirator - our long discussions of the work in progress and the work ahead have been always helpful -- though we can argue like cats. I can recommend to all her website vandascaravelliyoga.com, both for its insight and its reasoned reflection. Any similarities and parallels between her words and mine mean that I owe her a vegetarian dinner (usually involving avocados), and much credit as always. Much credit is due also to Diane Long, whose often-stern guidance and unrelenting kindness have kept me, more or less, on a crazy path.
Join me in this exploration of yoga inspired by Vanda Scaravelli and Diane Long.