Who was Vanda Scaravelli, you ask? My initial response is usually, "Brilliant." We all know the basics: she was a pianist, close friends with Jiddu Krishnamurti, and she started Yoga late in life. She studied with the great masters, B.K.S. Iyengar and Desicachar, and she is the author of the lovely book, "Awakening the Spine.
But Vanda was not a typical Hatha Yoga Teacher. In her later years, she would never be seen standing in the rigid Virabhadrasana II as she learned it from Iyengar. She realized her body longed for something more than what her teachers could offer her. She began to approach Asana in an entirely new way. She was a woman who knew what the body liked. To this day, her teachings are thought of as radical and not widely known or accepted. And I am honored to be able to share her work as a Yoga Teacher.
During my first few years of Yoga, I practiced Iyengar and Ashtanga Yoga. As any beginner, I was finding my way and didn't really understand what I could gain from the practice. Looking back, at the time my perspective had not began to shift, and it just felt like a bunch of exercises. After a few years of practice, I moved to the Dallas area and discovered a large Yoga community practicing and teaching Vanda's work. Her teachings were an eye opener for me. I won't deny that it took me a few years to really "get it." I had to retrain my body to work differently. I had to stop muscling my way into poses and learn the art of "undoing." I had to yield to gravity in order to feel buoyant. Once I moved past these challenges, I saw her teachings in a new light. Everything began to click. My practice deepened. And not by getting better at asana, necessarily, although that did happen. My practice deepened in a way I never knew was possible. I learned about gravity and being truly grounded in a pose. I gained a much better sense of body awareness. My mind broadened and my intuition blossomed. I learned how to slow down, surrender, and let go of ambition. I found physical freedom, lightness, and joy. And I learned the term "rebound energy" for the first time.
Again, the transition wasn't easy. During my first few years of practicing Vanda's teachings, I often found myself reverting back to the more rigid (and familiar) style that I first learned. This new approach I was learning seemed complicated. Of course, I didn't realize then that I was making it more difficult than it needed to be. If I had to use one word to describe this approach now, it would be simplicity.
Our bodies like softness and ease. Our spines like to play and move freely, and we should learn to let go of the "holding" in poses. These are some of the things that Vanda realized from this new approach. But with all of this softness and ease, can one's practice still be powerful? The answer is yes! I repeat, you can be soft in a pose and still have a powerful practice. You can find complete physical freedom and ease and still gain great flexibility and strength. In fact, learning to let go of the holding is what helped me to move deeper and become more mindful.
How is it possible to feel so free and loose in your practice and still get the benefits of Yoga? You see, there are three significant elements to this approach that make a world of difference in the way you FEEL in your body. These elements are: releasing the breath; yielding to gravity; and receiving the rebound energy and allowing that energy to move up through your body/spine (Vanda called this the "wave"). And the magical part about this approach is, these elements occur simultaneously and the pose emerges, effortlessly. There is no "doing," or "pushing, or "forcing." It's simple. By exhaling all of the breath and giving weight to the earth, this creates the perfect opportunity for your body to receive this new "rebound energy." The result is a wave moving through your body/spine and will deliver lightness, freedom, and ultimately, joy throughout your body.
I have been practicing this particular approach to Yoga for 13 years. It has given me a deeper understanding of my body, and it has helped me to love & respect it as well. If you don't know about the teachings of Vanda Scaravelli, I suggest you do everything within your power to find out. I'd like to close with a few of my favorite excerpts from Vanda's book, "Awakening the Spine."
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 it's needs, it's requests, and even have fun. Play with it as children do, sometimes it becomes very alert and swift.
To be sensitive is to be alive.
You will be amazed to discover that, if you are kind to your body, it will respond in an incredible way.
Over the past 15 years, Darlene has experienced many teaching styles that have allowed her rhythmic Yoga style to bloom! She teaches a playful and fluid approach to Yoga, emphasizing gravity, lightness, mindfulness, and freedom. She has been influenced by many teachers, yet she holds the teachings of Vanda Scaravelli closest to her heart. She teaches classes in Columbus, GA and workshops in the U.S. and internationally. Read more about Darlene: www.yogafromthegroundup.com.