Amid the hustle of a Yoga-saturated London, I had heard of an approach known as Scaravelli. I was initially skeptical as I assumed it to be yet another form of physical acrobatics devoid of any deep somatic awareness.
When I encountered a vivacious Italian lady who described the methodology as something of an epiphany, I was intrigued. A former Pilates instructor who grew disillusioned with an industry that she felt was prioritising aesthetics over health, she started a holistic postural rehabilitation clinic to help people reconnect with their bodies' innate intelligence. Her chance discovery of Scaravelli seemed to be the very thing I had been seeking all this while.
Vanda Scaravelli came from a musical family. She was an Italian concert pianist who picked up Yoga late in her life during her 40s after the tragic death of her husband. She studied under the founding fathers of modern Yoga: namely, BKS Iyengar and Desikachar who were instrumental in her developing her approach concerning the breath, the spine and the reconciliation of the body with gravity.
"The pull of gravity under our feet makes it possible for us to extend the upper part of the spine, and this extension allows us also to release between the vertebrae. Gravity is like a magnet attracting us to the earth, but this attraction is not limited to pulling us down, it also allows us to stretch in the opposite direction towards the sky."
Iyengar had taught classes to philosopher Krishnamurti who then became close friends with Scaravelli. They shared a common belief in the freedom from dogma. What you will find in the Scaravelli-inspired approach is a beautiful open-ended, heart-felt exploration of the bodily experience in a practice that is free from rules, fixed positions, techniques and tradition. It encourages one not to look outward for set cues but inward for understanding and empathy.
"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 its needs, its requests, and even have fun. To be sensitive is to be alive."
The objective is not to contort oneself to an ideal shape but rather, to become acquainted with what makes sense personally, and let that inform one's practice which in itself can vary from breath to breath, and day to day.
The evening I took the class, the teacher focused on a specific yet almost unnoticeable area of the body - the front crease of the hips. It was an entire 75 minute session comprised of about 7-8 simple postures devoted to this one physical minutiae. I found clarity in the waxing and waning of their folds and in the slowness of the movement. I became acutely aware of my body's every kink and gap, every muscular strength and weakness and how those details were inextricably linked to the ever-changing cadence of my breath. It was an intimate bonding with all my inconsistencies and asymmetries.
I walked out of that class with every footstep a connection with the pavement. With my weight shifting from foot to foot, I derived support from the solid ground, feeling a little longer in the spine, where it met with the base of my skull pressed skyward, suddenly released from the concrete tenets of my self judgement.