Awakening the Spine

Toffia a sleepy little medieval village deep in the region of Lazio, Italy. It’s not a touristy place at all, there is not much to see or do, and that in itself feels relaxing. Time seems to have stopped. As you walk through the romantic and empty little stone build alleyways, you can easily fantasise what it would have been like to live here. As I pass the stone bench at the far end along the historical walls overlooking the panoramic green valley, I have a flash back of me sitting right here 10 years ago under the evening sun. It was a moment of awe and beauty and full of questions and uncertainties. If I could speak to that 10 years younger self of mine I would reassure her that all is well and that there is no need to be scared of your freedom, everything is Ok.

What would you say to your 10 years younger self ?

Here in Toffia is based a dear yoga teacher of mine, Diane Long who I first met in Varanasi by the sacred Ganges river in north India 12 years ago. Diane was for 23 years a devoted student of Vanda Scaravelli whom she met in Florence in the early 70’s. Vanda wrote a famous book called “awakening of the spine” that I would very much recommend you to read. When I first came across Vanda’s book I was at a point of my life where I felt a bit stuck. At the time I was fully immersed in a Iyengar yoga based practice and my whole life was turning around this. I had started to question what I was doing and longing for a deeper dimension to yoga. There was this subtle voice within encouraging me to search to seek something more.

Working with Diane challenged my ideas, all the build-up rules I had been following and invited me to question and keep finding other pathways to work with the body. A big part of her teaching is the invitation to constantly renew, re-discover your practice in a way that is intuitively guiding the attention back to the vital core, the spine. By listening more carefully and finding ways to speak to your body, to be in a conversation, and wait for the responds and move in unusual ways, to keep refining the attention.

It is time to stop to pull and push our bodies into shapes. It just is not useful and abusive and violent and adds on another layer of disembodied tension over our already numb connection to our physical self. The body deserves more love, care, interest, poetry and has such a gift of wholeness to offer to the one you cares to cultivate presence and kindness towards it.

For those who like to find out more about her approach Diana Long has co-written a book with Sophie Hoar called “notes on yoga” the legacy of Vanda Scaravelli.

Apparently Vanda never wanted her approach to become a yoga style or trademark. Now a days there is more and more “scaravelli yoga” or sometimes called “scaravelli inspired yoga” to be found. It’s great I think as this shows that people are wanting more out of their practice then just asanas, and postures. However Vanda had only a few students with who she worked over long time privately and I had the chance to meet a few of them, and they all teach very differently. So this is not a “style” , something that can be put into a box with a label on because it is about freedom.

It is not gentle yoga either as it may appear from the outside, as you do only a few poses and go slower. Actually it requires full active presence and an intense physical and mental level of attention that cultivates quality of ease and connection that is very unique and beautiful to experience.