Awakening the Spine - Vanda Scaravelli

Updated: Apr 25

Book Review: A book on all aspects of yoga, how to approach it, how to correctly perform the postures and make it a way of life for a healthy lifestyle


Vanda Scaravelli was an Italian woman, who was a student of B.K.S. Iyengar. She regularly visited his retreats in Switzerland and for the last 25 years of her life she taught at her home in Italy and, with her unique insight, transformed many people's bodies' and lives.

Part of my yoga journey includes immersing myself in the literature of the discipline, of the ancient sages and discover all the different approaches of various teachers. Yoga is a very unique experience and as such no teacher is the same. It is important that each one of us develops their own practice based on the needs of our individual bodies. The main aspect of this is to learn to understand your body and mind, by practicing to pay attention to it.


Among all the literature out there, Vanda Scaravelli deserves some attention in my view.


The Spine is our first focal point


As the title suggest, Scaravelli emphasises the importance of the spine. The lengthening of the spine is the single most important thing when performing the asanas (postures). All movement originates from the spine, particularly the part of the spine that connects the bottom half of our body to the top. Creating space starts with the spine and from there, fans out into the rest of the body.

Gravity


She speaks about gravity as a force to be incorporated into the practice. Many teachers speak about grounding the body, rooting the body and standing firmly but in Scaravelli's book I first understood what that really means. When we become so aware of our body and can allow ourselves to really sink into the force of gravity we become rooted and strong in our postures. I have only become aware of this in the past 2 weeks and, wow, it has transformed my practice completely. The pull of gravity gives us lightness, is what Vanda Scaravelli says. While this might seem counterintuitive, it makes perfect sense in her descriptions, and I can attest to its effectiveness.


Yoga with Ease


One of the things I most love about her version of the practice of yoga is that when you apply her insight, your body really opens up and yoga becomes easy. When you apply the two aforementioned principles of gravity and the origin of all movement originating from the spine, then all postures have the perfect base to evolve naturally. She uses the word 'easy' while also depicting herself in seemingly impossible positions. But even the very first time I used her advice in a pose, I instantly felt the difference. There was no struggle, just ease. The body will intuitively follow the movements when they are performed correctly, with the use of existing forces and the proper mind attention.



Problems


One aspect I find problematic is the way she describes the various asanas. The way she speaks about them seems impossible for people who have only started their yoga practice and haven't been at it for years.


Many people believe 'yoga is just for the flexible' or for a specific body type. So many times I have heard people tell me 'oh no, I can't do yoga, I'm not flexible enough', or similar statements. Yoga in the western world has become synonym to flexible, skinny women in sexy postures when in fact yoga is a way of life and a way to a conscious mind-body alignment. Flexibility and strength are healthy by-products of the practice. They are a result of gradually opening up your body and returning to the subtleness of its original form.


Vanda Scaravelli speaks from the perspective of an experienced practitioner and naturally not everybody can perform the asanas based on the instructions presented in the book. But as an intermediate practitioner and teacher in training, I can understand the meaning behind the impossible sounding postures. But I think that for beginners or those with an initial interest in yoga, the descriptions might seem a little daunting and the claim that the postures are 'easy' when done properly, far fetched.


However, Scaravelli does emphasise that we are not meant to mimic the postures as we see them on others or as we think they are meant to look like. She says that each body has its own 'song' and that practicing yoga is learning how to listen to this song and allow our body to move and 'dance' to its rhythm.


Finally...


Vanda Scaravelli offers true insight into the beauty and true meaning of yoga. She makes it clear that yoga is indeed for everyone, that yoga is everything and that truly practicing means being present in each moment, seeing beauty in all things and relaxing the mind and body in the here and now, as well as tuning the body in the way it was naturally intended to. I love how she uses examples in nature to compare human body posture and movement to animals and plants. It makes it perfectly clear that, when it harmony with ourselves, we are the same as all living beings around us. We are made to root into the earth and rise into the sky. That is the essence of our mind, body and soul.