I have been practising yoga for 20 years. After years of dance classes, followed by aerobics, I was recommended yoga. I began classes with Heather Robinson, a teacher with the Krishnmacharya Yoga Healing Foundation. It was a revelation. The classes were gentle and peaceful, a real contrast to the pounding beats that had accompanied the exercise classes I was used to.
It was through a discovery of the power of the breath combined with exercise that I learnt to control the anxiety and stress I experienced daily in my job as a journalist. It also sparked my interest in yoga as a means to combat stress, anxiety and panic attacks, something that I remain committed to.
Scaravelli began to teach others when she was in her sixties and urged them to teach her methods, too, and so her approach is being passed on todayhough, in the spirit of her beliefs about the harm in organisations, there is no formal Scaravelli school of yoga, simply teachers passing on her approach.
For inspiration, see Awakening the Spine, by Vanda Scaravelli, published by Pinter & Martin, which contains beautiful observations about yoga and life and wonderful pictures of Vanda practising demanding postures with ease in her eighties.
Later I trained as a teacher with the British Wheel of Yoga and after a while began to want to explore more intuitive ways of practising. I began working with Marc Woolford, who teaches Scaravelli-inspired yoga, and suddenly found that there was so much I had to unlearn about the way I was using my body. My dance training and previous experience had taught me to push my body to the limits. Letting go of that has been a huge learning curve. I went on to join Marc's inaugural teacher-training course with the AcquaViva School of Yoga in order to find out more and learn how to pass on the benefits I was gaining from this yoga. The experience of practising in this way produces a feeling of wholeness in the body and a sensation of expansiveness or spaciousness that is deeply calming. The feeling of wholeness promotes a sense of harmony and by exploring how to find a posture in such a way that tension is released because we have structural support, we avoid discomfort and instead find an ease that is not just in the body but also in the mind.
It is by losing old habits of pushing and pulling ourselves into postures in a manner that produces a disconnect between the limbs and the spine that we also find a harmony between the body and mind. It is interesting to reflect that this pushing and pulling in the body replicates what may be going on in the chatter of our minds and in our everyday lives. The result is varying degrees of stress and anxiety. While exercise in general has a beneficial effect on the autonomic nervous system, it makes sense that if we stop doing violent things to our bodies under the guise of exercising, then we are likely to feel even better.
Using our bodies with more intelligence and kindness promotes a general sense of ease and wellbeing. If we are more comfortable in our bodies and with our bodies, then are we not likely to be more comfortable in our minds? Coupled with this, the Scaravelli approach also discourages practising in a competitive or judgmental way, encouraging us instead to take on board the yama of ahimsa, or non-violence. This non-violence translates on the mat into treating our bodies with respect, losing the ambition to reach the posture in favour of an enquiry into the process and, in the words of osteopath and Scaravelli-inspired yoga teacher Pete Blackaby, “taking out the drama” from movement. This, too, will inevitably make some imprint on the mind and begin to have an effect off the yoga mat.