I started practicing yoga years ago after making a change from Wu style tai chi ch’uan, and eventually received training and certification in Iyengar yoga, while benefiting 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 of 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. Diane’s book, Notes on Yoga, is a more in-depth study of the mystery of Vanda’s teachings, but it is work that needs to be experienced in a real life setting — at least to start with.
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 trap the flesh in the hope of freeing it.
In the end, we don't think about what it might mean for the body to be free, and we seem to 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.
Join me in this exploration of the yoga inspired by Vanda Scaravelli as shown to me by Diane Long.