I have talked about Vanda Scaravelli before on this blog. I never met her, I have never taken a class taught in her style. I have looked online at videos of Vanda Scaravelli inspired teachings and they don’t resonate with me at all. However her one and only book “Awakening the Spine” really moved me. It changed the way I think about yoga (and my body) completely. I used to be a competitive athlete. My focus was always on going beyond what my body could do. It was about pushing my body to the limits so I could win the race. I overdeveloped some muscles, underdeveloped others. Despite being in amazingly good shape I was in pain and out of balance. This mindset of pushing the body was ingrained to me when I was a teen and it has been very hard to shake. This is not uncommon with athletes.
Vanda’s book encourages the practitioner to work with the body. She says it is important to get away from the mindset of pushing and pulling ourselves into postures. She compares the body to a tree with roots and leaves. One energy reaches deep into the earth, gaining stability and nourishment, the other energy reaches upwards, lengthening, growing and having a sense of lightness. In her system these two energies meet at around the fourth or fifth lumbar vertabrae. Her approach is very feminine. She relates back to examples of the natural world continually. Everything is loose. There is no pain. Breath flows naturally, elongating the spine with each exhale. Movement initiates from the center. Reaching and striving are let go. Instead the body is approached with curiosity and exploration. There is no teacher. The body shows us what to do. We just need to be quiet and listen. She says “Do not kill the instinct of the body for the glory of the pose.”
I have now read her book over and over again. What she says is so simple and yet has such depth. Often her words come to me during my own yoga practice or when I am teaching. How lovely that a woman in her 80’s wrote a book that keeps reminding me to approach yoga with a sense of play.