Towards Understanding Yoga

The ancient tradition of yoga started to appear in the Western world only about 60 years ago. Over the years it has received a very mixed reception. When the violinist Yehudi Menuhin was in India, he met Iyengar and was so impressed with his abilities that he arranged for the, then totally unknown yogi, to come to London.

He proceeded to invite people to see for themselves what yoga is all about. People gathered to watch Iyengar almost as a circus act. Interest grew and Iyengar’s
teaching spread worldwide. Many other famous yogis followed and made their mark, thus popularising yoga in the Western world.

Vanda Scaravelli also learned under Iyengar but eventually developed her own ideas and added her individuality to the practice. She taught how to bring freedom to the body and the spine and left a legacy of teaching everybody with as much individual attention as possible. Her pupils, Diane and Sophy, continue in the tradition of small classes and it is thanks to these that one can learn and understand yoga in more depth.

Now it is the Western world which seems to claim know-all about yoga and a baffling array of branches of yoga are springing up even culminating in an attempt to patent one particular version. Out of this excess has sprung the misguided belief that yoga is either just a relaxation or a sweaty demanding exercise with spectacular contortions. It is, of course, neither.

We are born with intelligent bodies and, for a short period of time, we use them wisely. It is through yoga that we can maintain this gift. Therefore yoga practice is about re-learning to use our bodies in the manner nature intended; to let go when the tension is a hindrance and to pay attention to the possibility of freeing the spine.

It is hard work but under competent guidance a path well worth pursuing. According to Vanda Scaravelli, there are no bad pupils only bad teachers; therefore don’t give up, change the teacher.

She wrote a very beautiful and wise book ‘Awakening the Spine’ where she explains all her beliefs and experiences. There are many pearls in that book but I would like to quote one, for all those who are battling out there on the yoga mats dreaming of looking spectacular:

Do not kill the instinct of the body for the glory of the pose.

To practice yoga is to allow the movement to be true to us and our abilities. Given time, the poses which seemed impossible to begin with, start to make sense.
Eventually the time comes when practice loses the unnatural aim of force and, instead, embraces the art of letting go.