By Nancy Brinton
I am grateful that in the course of my yoga journey I have worked with a number of teachers who themselves worked directly with Vanda Scaravelli, each for different lengths of time. Even though ‘the core’ has always been very similar, each of them has given me something different to think about.
My most recent guide and teacher was Diane Long who studied with Scaravelli for 23 years. Almost her first comment was ‘there is no such thing as Scaravelli yoga’. Discuss. Yoga, and its component eight limbs is an ancient collection of practices, disciplines and beliefs that offers a guide to how to live life. Asana is only one part of it, but is the one that we in the West know most about and practice most frequently. So, no, Scaravelli cannot be credited with a wondrously complex and large belief system that offers a structure for living.
But what Diane did demonstrate with warmth and playfulness and humour was her assimilation of a ‘Scaravelli influenced’ approach to asana and yoga. We started with ‘dog’. For Diane that meant, on that particular Saturday, starting in a sort of asymmetric child pose, with one arm stretched out across the floor. Slowly, talking to us all the while, and with arm and hand movements that at first reminded me of seaweed moving through water, she got in touch with and moved each of the parts of her body that would ultimately bring her into the shape of the well known pose. It didn’t take long, but it did emphasise the interconnectedness of each movement within her body. It was light, it was flowing, it was round rather than linear. It was also creative and brave.
At times rubbing her fingers together as though trying to define something very slight and almost indefineable, Diane used some key words: lightness, rhythm, imagination, music, breaking out (as in not towing the accepted line, not being ‘good’), body intelligence, hard work, art. I think these are key to understanding what Vanda Scaravelli, her teacher, gave her (and through her, us) in our Western practice of an ancient art.
It is easy to forget that, as well as being dedicated to yoga, Scaravelli was a concert level musician with years of hard work, study, practice and performance behind her. As she would have done in her music, Scaravelli brought to the practice of yoga the same dedication and application of her intelligence and knowledge, the same striving for a result or interpretation that felt right, as she might have done working on, say, a concerto. Like other forms of art, music has essential structures and rules, but it is in a composer’s and performer’s interpretations, in their willingness to dedicate time, imagination and gradual understandings, in their repeated efforts to make clear their visions, that it comes to life.
So perhaps we can say that in practicing asanas and yoga, each of us is trying to work on a part of our own music and art. What I think Diane Long was saying on Saturday was that in our very Western search for certainty and ease we should not limit our yoga practice to obediently staying within the known structures and rules. Her invitation to each of us was to allow ourselves to think more widely, to try, to fail and then regroup, to experiment, to go beyond ……
In her book Awakening the Spine, Vanda Scaravelli has a chapter called ‘About Organisations’. The first couple of sentences read:
BE CAREFUL, VERY CAREFUL, about organisations. Yoga cannot be organised. Organisations kill work. Love is everywhere, in everything, is everything. But if you confine it, enclose it in a box or in a definite place, it disappears ………
Thank you to IYT and especially Diane Long for inspiration and new paths to explore.