What is Scaravelli Inspired Yoga?

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You may have heard me mention Scaravelli yoga before, or you have looked at the Retreat Yoga & Wellness Studio’s timetable and wondered what this type of yoga is.  To answer your questions I have dedicated a blog post explaining my interpretation of this incredible woman’s teachings.

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Vanda Scaravelli was a concert standard pianist who had two children and tragically lost her husband shortly after World War II while she was in her late 40s. It was around this time that she was introduced to the teaching of BKS Iyengar (a man that helped introduce the practice of yoga to the Western world) and Desikachar (a recognised teacher of breathing (pranayama)). She studied with Iyengar and Desikachar for many years as she developed her approach towards the breath, gravity and the spine.

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Sadly I never had the opportunity to meet Scaravelli because she died in 1999 at the age of 91, however I have been very fortunate to receive some teaching from Diane Long, who trained with Scaravelli for 23 years, as well as Marc Woolford and my very dear friend Dot Bowen, who have both been profoundly influenced by Scaravelli’s approach to yoga.

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After I qualified as a yoga teacher in 2006 through the Sivananda ashram in India, I returned to Brighton, UK in search of yoga classes to deepen my knowledge. I was fortunate to discover Marc Woolford’s classes and was immediately blown away by this very gentle and empowering approach to yoga.  It felt like I was learning a whole new language and the process of undoing began (and it is still very much continuing).

One of Scaravelli’s greatest gifts to our yoga practice is freedom.  She gave us permission to follow our own inner teacher, the wisdom within our bodies to move that liberates yoga practice from the restriction of rules and traditions.  She encouraged students to understand that, ultimately, we are our own best teachers – all we have to do is listen deeply and increase our awareness.

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Do not kill the instinct of the body for the glory of the pose. Do not look at your body like a stranger, but adopt a friendly approach towards it. Watch it, listen to it, observe its needs, its requests, and even have fun. To be sensitive is to be alive.

It has given me permission to not strive for the ‘perfect looking’ pose, but rather to find a way of moving that ultimately makes my body feel alive, full of breath and deeply open from the inside out.  It doesn’t matter that my heels don’t yet touch the ground in Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), I’m more interested in the feeling of lightness in my whole body in the pose and expansion between the vertebrae in the spine.

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It was never Scaravelli’s wish to create a school of “Scaravelli inspired yoga”, rather she encouraged her students to research the work for themselves, and to develop their own individual approach to the yoga. I have found this particular aspect of my understanding of her work the most challenging because there is no ‘right’ way of doing any particular pose.  I was used to a yoga class where the teacher tells the student what to do – where to put a foot or a hand or when to breath. The nature of Scaravelli’s legacy is not what to do, but rather how to listen to ourselves, so that we can practice yoga in a way that makes sense for our bodies and ultimately in a way that liberates our bodies, making them feel really good. There is no ultimate pose that we are trying to achieve. Rather that the journey we take along the way to going somewhere uses the breath and gravity to allow the spine to unfold like a wave, allowing the uninhibited opening and energising of the whole body.

When we practice, we have to approach each moment as if it is completely new, something never previously experienced.  So when a student shows up to a class that is completely new to yoga I get excited because I know that they don’t come with any preconceived ideas of what a pose should look or feel like. There is a tendency to step onto the yoga mat with expectations that today will feel like yesterday, that this or that position was easy then, and so it will be today. However this is not necessarily the case. Sometimes a plow pose (halasana) will feel incredibly open and liberating in the spine and other times it will feel rigid and uncomfortable. Keeping our minds open, allowing ourselves to feel everything as if for the first time, will allow us time to deepen our awareness, to notice shifts and to find new ways of moving with ease and fluidity.

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One of the biggest gifts that I have gained from Scaravelli’s work is learning to allow myself time to work with a pose. It allows an opportunity to discover the wonderful release of unnecessary tension that occurs when gravity and breath unite in the body.

Scaravelli inspired classes are suitable for all ages and levels of yoga experience. It is particularly useful for those that have postural issues, lower back pain, stiff necks and shoulders and for those who are stressed, and need some space to learn how to deeply relax. From my early 20s I have experienced lower back pain and by working in this integrated way I have learnt how to move in order to release pain from my body. The integration within my body that I find on the mat very much carries into my daily life.

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The point of yoga practice has always been to help us understand ourselves, so that we can become more authentic, fulfilled and, ultimately, happier people.  Thanks to this practice of yoga I have discovered so many aspects of myself and it is such a privilege to now have this opportunity to share what I have learnt with others.  I teach a 90 minute Scaravelli inspired yoga class at Retreat Yoga & Wellness Studio in Providenciales, Turks & Caicos on Wednesdays from 10:15 – 11:45am.  I aim to work hands on as much as possible with students to help direct their awareness to the subtler flow of movement within their bodies.  I look forward to sharing and learning with you :-)

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