‘Awakening The Spine‘ is one of my favourite yoga books and I revisit the book frequently. Each time I dip into the book I am reminded of useful information and at the same time I see new information. The beauty of this book is that it goes well beyond the physical body and can open you up to the true gifts of yoga.
This is not a step-by-step instruction book for asana, Vanda is sharing her wisdom. Vanda explains “This is not really a yoga book nor a book on yoga, for yoga has been written about so much in recent years. What we will try to do in this book is to create a much more serious approach to our bodies, which have bee neglected for so many years, You have to listen to your body, going with it and not against it, avoiding all effort or strain and centring your attention on that very delicate point, the back of the waist (where the spine moves in two opposite directions).” Vanda uses art, nature, music, myth, philosophy to explore yoga practice.
Vanda Scaravelli was born in Florence in 1908. She came from an intellectual and artistic background. Her father had a degree of piano from the Conservatorio Luigi Cherubini in Florence and went on to create his own orchestra in Florence. Her mother graduated in pedagogy and was one of the first Italian women to attend university. Vanda was raised in a musical and intellectual atmosphere surrounded by artists and scientists visiting her parents.
Vanda herself studied music and was a concert level pianist. Music and musicality informed her work throughout her life.
“Movement is the song of the body” ~ Vanda Scaravelli
Vanda learned yoga from B.K.S. Iyengar who was invited to Switzerland by the well known violinist Yehudi Menuhin. She met J. Krishnamurti and later met Desicachar who taught her the importance of breathing.
For more than twenty-five years, until her death at the age of 91, Vanda Scaravelli was transforming bodies and lives with her innovative approach to yoga through the proper alignment of the spine. She listened to the body and worked with instead of against it. She used gravity, grounding, and breath to achieve dramatic improvements in health and wellbeing.
“The way we live is destructive to the body; there is no respect towards its needs and demands. We destroy, little by little, that precious, complex, vital, vessel of life we received at birth, why? Do not fight your body. Do not carry the world on your shoulders. Drop that heavy load of unnecessary baggage and you will feel better. 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.” ~ Awakening The Spine, Vanda Scaravelli
This classic inspiring yoga book features three parts – Part One “The Story of Stories” the philosophy of yoga; Part Two “The Asanas” short exploration of yoga asana and Part Three “Breathing”.
Vanda skilfully uses nature and the wider world to illustrate her teachings and to show the internal & external connections. We are skilfully guided to ‘see’ and experience the links of our inner and outer experiences. The spine is central to her practice and teachings. The nature images are carefully placed to mirror the asanas and to prompt a deeper examination of practice.
It is inspiring to see the photos of Scaravelli in the Asana section, showing that yoga is for everyone. She didn’t start yoga until her 40s and the photos in the book are taken in her 80s. This book is an inspirational reminder as to why you are doing yoga.
Scaravelli reminds readers that: “if you are kind to your body, it will respond in an incredible way.” ‘Awakening the Spine‘ offers a gentle way to achieve and maintain overall health and a naturally supple spine at any age.
This is an updated version of Vanda’s original work, with a foreword by B.K.S. Iyengar and revised by Vanda’s daughter based on Vanda’s extensive notes.
I also recommend ‘Notes on Yoga: The Legacy of Vanda Scaravelli‘ by Diane Long and Sophy Hoare.
Diane was the first of Vanda’s regular students and remained so until Vanda’s death in 1999. Sophy began working with Vanda during the period when she was writing Awakening the Spine.
In ‘Notes on Yoga: The Legacy of Vanda Scaravelli’, they share their experiences and memories of being taught by Vanda and offer instructive advice for practising asana, challenging many preconceptions about yoga.