How did you first come to Yoga?
In 1992 I was lucky enough to come across a Monday evening yoga class just round the corner from where I worked. The teacher was Anne-Marie Zulkahari whose Pilates & Yoga practice is now resident at Clerkenwellbeing. I experienced a profound sense of physical and mental wellbeing after Anne-Marie’s classes, which were the perfect antidote to my very cerebral, busy job. Contrary to my preconceptions it was not necessary to tie yourself in knots and get your leg behind your ear to do yoga. For the next two years I re-discovered my body, my flexibility and my strength but I discovered something new as well – awareness. This new-found awareness of my potential led me to leave the job, set up my own company and for the next ten years I led the life of a successful PR in the entertainment industry.
Where did you study?
I worked with several experienced and inspirational teachers who led me to train on the LYTTC (London Yoga Teacher Training Course) run by founding directors, Chloe Fremantle and Anne-Marie Zulkahari.
Who is ‘Scaravelli?’
Vanda Scaravelli was born in Florence in 1908 into an intellectual and musical family. Krisnamurti was a regular summer visitor to her chalet in Gstaad and he introduced her to B.K.S. Iyengar who taught them yoga every morning. Then in her 40s, Vanda Scaravelli began to practise and study yoga with Iyengar and subsequently with T.K.V. Desikachar from whom she learnt about the importance of the breath. She developed her own independent practice and found a way to re-interpret the classical yoga postures as taught by Iyengar, through her discovery of the profound relationship between gravity, breath and the spine. She died in 1999 at the age of 91.
I never met Vanda Scaravelli but from what I know of her, having worked with several distinguished yoga teachers who follow in her lineage, she would be appalled at the idea of “Scaravelli” yoga. In her book, Awakening the Spine, she states: “Be careful, very careful about organisations. Yoga cannot be organised, must not be organised.” And yet, in the modern world of branding and marketing coupled with highly sophisticated social networks between groups of people, it has become necessary to organise our yoga teaching into different styles in order to differentiate between them.
Scaravelli-inspired yoga is the term I prefer to describe the way I practise and teach.
What is it that makes this form of yoga different from the plethora of styles out there in the Western world? To begin with, the postures are adapted to each individual physique rather than being a set sequence performed by the teacher and followed by the students. The yoga becomes an exploration of each individual’s movement patterns and through the hands-on guidance of an experienced teacher it is possible to achieve profound change, not just in the body but also in attitude – awareness again. The basic principle that Vanda Scaravelli articulated was that the spine can move in two directions and that if we work with gravity and the breath to become grounded we can then also find an upward release in the postures. Yoga can teach us how to inhabit the body more intelligently, to develop greater awareness of ourselves and others which can then be translated into our daily lives.
This way of doing yoga is constantly evolving, being re-interpreted and brought up to date in the light of contemporary movement research. The practice has resonance with the key movement disciplines of the 20th century including Feldenkrais, Alexander, Rolfing and Somatic Movement because it is a biomechanically effective, functional way of using the body. It has moved on since Scaravelli’s death, constantly seeking ways to make yoga applicable and appropriate for living in the modern world.
Make no mistake, this way of practising yoga is not a soft option – it can be hard work: the fact that Scaravelli-inspired teachers often work slowly does not mean that the practice is easy. In my experience it is a very deep way of connecting with your body, which over time can bring about profound change. It is also a very safe way of doing yoga – classes are small, allowing the teacher to give individual attention to each student and to make sure that they are fully grounded, non-competitive and non-ambitious in their approach to yoga.
What health benefits can be derived?
The classes work through a variety of postures combining forward and backward bending, twists, spirals and rotations to develop strength, flexibility and balance. Yoga engenders stillness and calm in the body, from which stillness of the mind follows. Many students have found that this quiet, safe way of doing yoga has been of great benefit for a range of physical problems including back pain, frozen shoulder, hypermobility, chronic knee pain and general stiffness brought about by desk-bound occupations. It is also a perfect antidote to the high muscle density developed through other forms of physical exercise such as running and cycling. And it can teach you how to lie on the floor with complete ease.
Ultimately Scaravelli-inspired yoga is about relationship – the relationship between student and teacher, between students in the class and perhaps most importantly, about your relationship with your own body and mind.