"There is no path to truth. Truth must be discovered, but there is no formula for its discovery. What is formulated is not true. You must set out on the uncharted sea, and the uncharted sea is yourself. You must set out to discover yourself, but not according to any plan or pattern, for then there is no discovery. Discovery brings joy – not the remembered, comparative joy, but joy that is ever new. Self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom in whose tranquillity and silence there is the immeasurable."
Krishnamurti

Vanda Scaravelli, her legacy and my yoga

(or "Why I won't be calling my yoga 'Scaravelli Yoga'")

Vanda Scaravelli

Vanda Scaravelli Vanda Scaravelli was born into a musical and intellectual family in Florence, Italy in 1908. She trained as a classical pianist and married the philosopher Luigi Scaravelli. When Vanda was suddenly widowed in her late 40's Jiddhu Krishnamurti, her lifelong friend and mentor, encouraged her to practise yoga. Krishnamurti and the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, another friend of Vanda's, were both pupils of BKS Iyengar and Menuhin regularly invited Iyengar to London, Switzerland and Paris. Vanda, Krishnamurti and Menuhin spent their summers in Gstaad, Switzerland (Krishnamurti gave a series of talks in Saanen each year) and while they were there Iyengar gave them private lessons. Later Krishnamurti invited Desikachar to Gstaad and he too gave Vanda lessons. Vanda said that it was from Desikachar that she came to understand the importance of the breath. Eventually the lessons with Iyengar and Desikachar in Gstaad came to an end. Krishnamurti was still doing yoga but found that it left him exhausted. So Vanda was stimulated to find a way of working with the body to do the posture as opposed to using muscular effort and will-power.

The influence of Vanda Scaravelli and Diane Long on my yoga

Diane Long The work and teachings of Vanda Scaravelli have had a big influence on my yoga. I never met Vanda herself but since 2004 I have had the good fortune to work regularly with Diane Long. Diane was a student of Vanda's for over 23 years.

Prior to meeting Diane I had 'done' a variety of styles of yoga. Each style is someone's method and is based on their ideas, thoughts and experiences. Following a style imposes that person's habits on you and may not be intelligent or helpful to you. It could be viewed as second hand or counterfeit yoga! In reality you have to understand for yourself and make it your yoga.

"You have to become your own teacher and your own disciple (These are Krishnamurti's words)." Vanda Scaravelli in "Awakening the Spine" page 41

When I first started working with Diane I didn't 'get' it at all (now I realise that there is nothing to 'get'). I was used to being given instructions of where your hand or foot should be and of trying to conform to an idea of what the pose should look like. Looking back I think that my subconscious recognised the wholeness in what Diane was doing and influenced me to continue to work with her while my conscious mind went along with this as another challenge and something else to be mastered.

"In our education we are trained to become. You try to become. You have examples, and the examples kill all possibility of being, because you have a model, and you want to copy that model. This is all imitation, and this takes you away from the possibility of being." Vanda Scaravelli

There is no such thing as Scaravelli Yoga

Vanda Scaravelli described her philosophy and experiences in the book "Awakening the Spine". Her words struck a chord with many and the book has become a classic. Unfortunately this has lead people to talk about 'Scaravelli Yoga' as people try to turn her words into a system of how to 'do' yoga postures. Vanda did not create a style or system of yoga. That would have been an anathema to her.

"BE CAREFUL, VERY CAREFUL about organisations. Yoga cannot be organised, must not be organised. Organisations kill work. Love is everywhere, in every thing, is everything. But if you confine it, enclose it in a box or in a definite place, it disappears." Vanda Scaravelli in "Awakening the Spine" page 110

There is no 'Scaravelli Yoga'. There is no 'Scaravelli' way of doing a posture. In fact the process is more like an undoing! In this work there is no set of instructions to follow, no 'ideal', no formula, no system, no right or wrong. This isn't the same as performing the postures any old how but rather performing them with "interest, attention and sensitivity". My own teacher, Diane Long, often says that the only person who could say that they were doing Scaravelli Yoga was Vanda. In reality we can only do our own yoga not someone else's. Vanda's direct pupils do not describe their yoga as Scaravelli Yoga. It is their yoga which they refine as, through their explorations, they come to new understanding. They teach from what they know which is not accumulated information but their understanding based on their own practice and explorations during their time with Vanda and since. I have done workshops with other teachers who were students of Vanda Scaravelli and they are all VERY different and express their yoga differently. There is no 'fixed' way of doing things.

Vanda in gomukhasana So, what about phrases such as 'Scaravelli approach', 'Scaravelli inspired' and 'Scaravelli tradition' used to describe yoga classes? These terms are typically used by teachers mindful of Vanda's wish not to create a 'style' of yoga who believe that by not using the words Scaravelli and Yoga together that they are somehow indicating that this is not a separate type of yoga. In the past I have used such terms myself. But when we do this we are deceiving ourselves. Our thinking has created a distinction between these terms and 'Scaravelli Yoga'. Such subtle differences in wording would only be understood by those familiar with Vanda's teachings (i.e. the converted). To most people all these terms just sound like another method/style/type of yoga. By using such terms we are, in fact, re-inforcing the notion of a type of yoga – we are the problem!

Whatever words we use, by including another's name we are labelling ourselves and identifying with an authority. When challenged we may defend ourselves by saying that we need a term to provide prospective students with some idea as to what to expect in our classes (as if Joe Public would know what to expect in a 'Scaravelli Inspired' class! Again, it will only mean something to the converted). Why do we need to use the Scaravelli name at all? Why can we not describe what goes on in our classes? We need to understand that by bandying the name of Vanda Scaravelli around in this way we are actually endorsing the idea of a separate 'style'. Using the term Scaravelli Yoga or implying that we are working as she did could also be considered to be against the Trade Descriptions Act! We are not Vanda Scaravelli and we are not doing her yoga but our own. And that is enough. Why it is that we need to identify with an authority, with someone "bigger" than ourselves? Is it to give ourselves credibility, to distinguish ourselves from others, to cash in on the name and to attract more business? This is a malaise of our society. It is like sticking a designer label on our yoga. Better to be an authentic Joe Bloggs than a rip off Vanda Scaravelli! Vanda Scaravelli was 83 when she wrote her book – she had no need to promote herself! She wrote it to help others and in her own words "I decided to communicate my experiences, and even if only one or two people should benefit by a clearer picture it will be enough." We need to be big enough to stand by our own yoga and not use yoga as a means to an end whether that is to have lots of students, a livelihood, reputation, fame or whatever because when we do that we kill the yoga.

Identifying oneself with a particular grouping is divisive, fragmentary, separatist, violent and a source of conflict whether it is a religion, country – or yoga style. And yoga is not divisive. We are all the same – uniquely individual. Be who you truly are – don't try to be someone else.

My yoga

Understanding all this I can no longer describe my yoga as 'Scaravelli approach', 'Scaravelli inspired' or 'Scaravelli tradition'. All that I can say is that my practice has been influenced by the teachings of Vanda Scaravelli and my studies with Diane Long and, realising that words are inadequate, try to describe my yoga.

Before I started to work with Diane, my focus was on doing the postures and making them look the same as what I thought the teacher was doing or some picture in a book; using muscle and will-power to get there and trying to twist or go that bit further than I did before. To me success meant achieving a form or going further into it. In my breathing practice my focus was on ratios, retentions and mastering techniques. My ideas of how the body and breath should be were formed by my interpretation of what I had been told or read i.e. based on thought and not reality.

Diane Long helps Anne in urdhva dhanurasana Starting to work with Diane was a real eye opener. Diane doesn't give 'step by step' instructions or tell you how something should be done. When working with her, her hands guide you to somewhere new allowing the body to experience more freedom and a more wholesome, intelligent way of moving. I am not talking here about what are commonly called 'adjustments' – pulling and pushing the body to conform to some desired shape – but, what I can only rather inadequately describe as, a guiding of the direction in which the body (and the specific body she's working with not some average body) needs to move. I have found myself, and seen others, doing 'impossible' things or things that usually involve the expenditure of a lot of effort easily with Diane's hands giving a sense of direction or a diversion away from a habitual route. Later, when working in my own practice it's often impossible, initially, to replicate the movement but, having felt the beauty of it, it is also impossible to go back to the old way. To begin with there may be feelings of despair but when you can say something like "Well, it seems that I don't know what shoulderstand is after all. Let's start again. Let's find out." the yoga becomes interesting, liberating and alive. When you can say to yourself that you don't understand a thing then you can begin to learn about it. You can't understand a thing if you already have ideas about it.

The problem with thought is that, no matter how hard we may try not to let it, it influences our actions. Now, when I come to my daily practice it is without preconceived ideas so that I am free to explore, to discover, to find out and really understand. Well, mostly I do. It isn't easy! At such times, you just have to smile to yourself and say "You and your ideas!" and let it be.

When I come to the posture work without thoughts about what the posture is or should be, the practice becomes about noticing and undoing the tension, the habits, the pushing, the pulling, the forcing and all the effort. The breathing practice is about how the lungs and the body breathe and understanding the obstacles and tension that prevent the freedom of the lungs. As a result my practice has become an endless journey of discovery – always new, fresh and wonderful. Being attentive to it, the body reveals more and more. I find that what I understand from my practice, because it is real, permeates my everyday activities transforming them too. And it is endless. As understanding develops the body begins to change and reveal more. Understanding is constantly being refined. And I have found that when understanding comes to me the thing is quite often the opposite to that which I had thought it to be.

The postures that you find easy are the more difficult to understand because you think that you know all about them. We are more ready to try different things and accept that there are better ways of doing postures when it comes to those that we find difficult or impossible to do (when we get over our disinclination to do them at all!). But what we come to understand from what we find difficult can inform our understanding of what we find easy and may show us that actually we aren't doing these 'easy' poses very intelligently after all and that we could move in a more wholesome way. Paradoxically, when you understand (viscerally rather than intellectually), the poses become easier and you go further. But you cannot approach this yoga as a means to achieving poses easily. That won't work because you are still focused on the result rather than the work itself.

The Art of Teaching

When you are working this way is so transformational that you want to tell anyone who will listen.

"It is imperative to communicate to others what you see and feel. To teach is an urge and a necessity. When you see someone in a cage or a dark room, you cannot help but open the door of the prison." Vanda Scaravelli in "Awakening the Spine" page 27

Through the work I have become more attentive which feeds into my teaching. I see how a student is moving and, using the understanding gained from my own practice, it is possible to suggest to the student a more useful way of doing the movement. The student's attention develops and through their own practice they begin to understand for themselves. I feel that this is what my teaching is all about – encouraging others to become their own teacher and their own pupil; to find out for themselves and really understand and not just accumulate knowledge; to develop a practice; to wake up and be free. It's been a while since I studied Patanjali's Yoga Sutras but I feel in my bones that this is his Ishwara, the supreme teacher, unconditioned by time. The purpose of my teaching, therefore, is not to try to make you like me, or anyone else for that matter, but to encourage you to wake up, drop the conditioning and understand yourself so that you can be you truly you with the freedom and ease of being that is your natural state.

It will be apparent to you that that this way of working most definitely isn't "Yoga by numbers". It does not transfer well into classes with large numbers of students but is best communicated in small groups or individually – the way yoga was originally studied. So this is how I prefer to teach.

Working this way isn't easy. It takes you out of your comfort zone. While the teacher can open the door you have to walk through yourself. No one can make you go through or go through it for you. You have to do it yourself.

"Understanding leads to independence and to freedom." Vanda Scaravelli in "Awakening the Spine" page 46

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