This way of practising yoga crept up on me somewhat when I began studying with Caroline Reid. I’d already been practising yoga for nearly 10 years but Caroline’s classes were totally different to anything I’d experienced before. She wasn’t asking me to carry out instructions in the way I was used to but rather to feel and be more attentive and sensitive to a much subtler language in the body. I stopped pushing so much and started to make friends with my body and feel the incredible intelligence and soft beauty contained in this piece of nature apportioned to me. Over time the teaching is becoming clearer and I have committed to this way of working. Caroline’s own teacher, Diane Long, was a direct student of Vanda Scaravelli for over 20 years and it is Vanda who opened the door on this fresh perspective.
Vanda herself came into contact with yoga in her 50s and for many years she received private yoga classes in Gstaad, Switzerland with BKS Iyengar y TKV Desikachar. When they stopped coming to Europe she continued to practice alone and developed her own approach to the practice, which she later shared with a handful of private students, all teachers themselves, who have since in turn continued to share their own findings within the exploration. In her now widely-known book, Awakening the Spine (Harper Collins 1991), she communicates her experiences and observations. “Working alone, I discovered a new world in this field, a world without rigid goals and without competition, a world where the body can start to function naturally and happily again, allowing expansion to take place in space.”
We explore the classic poses – on the floor, sitting, standing and balances – that allow the spine to bend forward, extend backwards and twist. With an attitude of not forcing the body in any moment, we use gentle and circular movements to release tension. This allows us to appreciate more subtle pathways in the body and become interested in how the body responds to this kind of exploration. We develop a capacity to feel how our body and the ground relate to one another and learn how to support the body’s weight better. Force or impulse can be conducted through the bones more efficiently, which helps bring more lightness. The extremities of the body are guided back to the spine as a place of rest. By allowing intuition to be present, new or forgotten pathways show up and what is discovered on the path is as important as, or sometimes more than, getting to the actual pose itself.
The body becomes a landscape rich in poetry and metaphors, teaching us a language we have forgotten but that is our own. Freeing and creating space for the spine and breath is a key focus of the practice and in that sense, the vitality of the body and bones are cared for.
A brain that knows all the answers is a dead brain: from an inquiring, questioning brain arises a healthy curiosity where there will be freedom to explore, freedom to understand, freedom to discover, and in which the looking will be the seeing.
Vanda Scaravelli, Awakening the Spine, p. 74