As beginners attending yoga classes at a yoga studio, we find classes that are close to us, affordable, and that fit with our schedule. We don’t often consider the ‘style’ of yoga or what the implications of any yoga style might be. Maybe a teacher was recommended, or a friend takes us along. Eventually we may become more curious about why we are doing poses a particular way or try different classes or talk to others about yoga they have done.
Multiple creative and innovative ways of teaching yoga have emerged from our wonderfully diverse population with diverse needs and offerings. This is especially true in the West, where we are always looking for something ‘new’.
No one kind of yoga works for all of us,
which is part of the beauty.
Some yoga teachers or schools focus on rigorous strength, deep stretching for flexibility, alignment cues, stillness, fitness, or sequencing and all of these styles speak to students in different ways. When choosing a style of yoga to practice you might research testimonials and teacher’s stories to find out more about a particular practice. You can consider the quality different methods by reading studies and statistics on injury rates or the longevity of a practice.
Yet, even with this information at our fingertips, many people don’t have the interest, time, or patience to do a deep dive into yoga. We choose a class that ‘feels right’ and makes sense for us.
It is tempting to want structure, clear outcomes, and a collective understanding of what a practice is. Yet, yoga works best in the undefined areas of experience. Being on the mat and exploring yoga yourself is more valuable than any theory. Choose a practice that enlivens places in your body that feel dull and loosens unhelpful tension habits.
There is also an unfortunate modern trend of becoming bogged down in details or a specific practice that draw us down a rabbit hole of a seemingly new and interesting theory. What is lost in this process is the relationship of the whole body working in concert.
We are not made of separate parts; we are complex organic ecosystems working toward homeostasis.
While functional information about anatomy is fascinating and engaging, it is only one piece of the whole picture. Any study of anatomy should support our movement, we shouldn’t be practicing movement to perfect our study of anatomy. By focusing on only one thing, we lose sight of the bidirectional global relationships throughout our body, mind, and environment.
We have a very sensitive and responsive inner ecosystem that cannot be deconstructed. Lack of integration makes profound long lasting change less likely.
It is imperative that we continually question how any practice is inviting freedom into our body and mind. Consider carefully whether a movement or instruction is relevant in discovering ease. Vanda Scaravelli encouraged this kind of inquisitiveness in yoga and modeled deep respect for each student and their individual experience by resisting comparisons and expectations.
It is the absence of structure that defines
Vanda Scaravelli was an Italian teacher who studied with many influential yoga gurus including Iyengar, Krishnamurti, and Desikachar. When she practiced on her own, Vanda used self-awareness and curiosity as her guide. She worked at loosening rigid yoga forms from her mind and prioritized listening to her body. Although she used traditional poses and sequences, she developed a radical perspective that was expressed through her graceful effortless movement.
Scaravelli Yoga, sometimes called ‘Scaravelli inspired yoga’, does not imply a certain sequence or structure, rather it implies engagement and interest in our movement, gravity, and breathing. There are a number of reasons her ideas were revolutionary and why her influence is important. The core intention of this approach to yoga is to allow our body to sing while fulfilling the unique needs of each student
Vanda wrote about the profound beauty that exists in letting go of structure in her book Awakening the Spine (1991). Intentionally turning away from systems or structure of practice means that a Scaravelli inspired yoga practice can look disorganized from the outside. However, Vanda demanded inner discipline and commitment from her students. The lack of structural organization can be disconcerting or frustrating at first, but sitting with discomfort and cultivating patience alleviates striving to do yoga ‘the right way’.
Loosening our grip on idealized yoga poses allows the framework of the yoga tradition to become an anchor for exploration and creativity of movement. We can invite fluidity, breath, and oppositional forces to be alive inside our body as we negotiate gravity and space. Inherent in these forces is a continual ‘wave’ of give and take, an ascending spiral along the spine, which carries us into asana (poses) with ease.
Everything we do is in the field of collaboration
Vanda described yoga as a collaboration with the body. Our thoughts, emotions, actions, responses, and sensations are unified experiences in our mind and body, not divisible parts. Her approach emphasizes intelligence and congruency of practitioners inner and outer experiences, not their ability to perform difficult asana.
While all teachings and knowledge are important, none are more important than the truth of our own physical experience. There is no room for pain, judgement, or aggression in this practice. Instead, we look for a harmonious meeting of intention and the reality of our body. Pre-conceived ideas about a pose detract from our curiosity and our ability to listen to what makes our body happy.
Effort vs. non-effort
Using nature as a muse, Vanda understood that our body is not something ‘wrong’ that needs to be fixed. She taught a logical method where we don’t manipulate and force our body into yoga poses, instead we adapt yoga to work with our body.
Endeavoring to let go and find a state of non-effort and non-resistance actually magnifies our strength and potential. Sometimes misinterpreted as too gentle, Vanda is instead referring to intelligent strength. At first this may require a lot of time relaxing to let go of our habits of pushing and tensing. Sometimes strength is needed, sometimes relaxation is needed, always compassion is required. We avoid inefficient work and become graceful as we get stronger.
We work to understand gravity, physics, and space through direct experience. It is an ethical, ecological, and philosophical approach towards our body. We can use yoga to discover our partnership with gravity and the strength of the earth thereby easing our need to ‘force’.
What does Scaravelli yoga look like on the mat?
Appropriately, every yoga teacher interprets Vanda’s method differently in their practice. The common framework underpinning all of them is the use of effortlessness, breath, gravity, and fluid spinal movement. The nature of this approach makes it accessible for students of any level, beginners to advanced practitioners. There is no need for ‘specialized’ classes because every practice embraces individual adaptations.
Experiencing this method can be described as creative, luxurious, and thoughtful. The poses and sequences are familiar to many other forms of yoga, but Scaravelli teachers will encourage each student to use reasonableness and logic. Alignment cues are used as suggestions to explore.
Establishing safety and trust with our body through mindfulness is a central theme, interwoven with non-resistance and acceptance. We reject the adversarial approach of exerting will over our body attain a pose.
Some unique methods of Scaravelli classes are the ‘wave’ of movement in spinal elongation, standing poses with a shorter stance, intense focus on oppositional movement, grounding and rebounding, and lack of focus on ‘correct alignment’.
You can incorporate Vanda Scaravelli’s ideas into any practice by using logical reflection.
Does it make sense to me?
Is my body happy with what I am doing?
Do my expectations of progress or ‘doing it right’ detract from my ability to be present and curious about my immediate experience in practice?
Is my effort enhancing my practice and energizing me, or draining me?
Is it helpful to think about energy, anatomy, or tradition during my practice?