Kundalini Splendor

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Scaravelli Yoga 

(picture of Vanda Scaravelli from site named below.)

Recently, I ran across this interesting article on a site named "Yoga with Anne." (See http://www.yogawithanne.co.uk/yoga/resources/my-yoga.html (Anne Vincent is a yoga teacher in England.)

Although I do not do hatha yoga myself (as much as I would like to), I found the article quite interesting, first, because it describes the life of a very interesting woman (Vanda Scaravelli), and, even more, because it advises following the advice of the "inner teacher" for yoga, rather than trying to follow a prescribed model or text. Of course, I endorse this method as well for the serious student of the spirit. Only the inner guide can lead you to your own appropriate destination. Only your own inner voice can direct you to the "home" which is yours.

As for me, I think of my own practice as a form of subtle yoga--it does not involve lying on the floor (or standing) and performing the traditional asanas. It is a form of what might be termed "inner yoga"--yoga with only delicate movement leading to subtle energy (bliss) flows within. "Yoga" means union, and bliss is one of its traditional goals. So, perhaps what I have discovered and practice is a highly advanced form of "yoga" (a term which refers to much more than the asanas of hatha yoga.) There are many kinds of yoga--it is an ancient and complex philosophy, taking as one of its aims the union of body and spirit with the divine essence.

The following is what appeared on Anne Vincent's website:

"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."

Vanda Scaravelli, her legacy and my yoga

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

Vanda Scaravelli

Vanda ScaravelliVanda 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 LongThe 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 gomukhasanaSo, 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.

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