Awakening the Spine by Vanda Scaravelli (1908-1999) was published in 1991, twenty-five years ago, and it’s still an outstanding read.
Introducing the unique style of intuitive yoga to a wider public, this book is today the single best resource to understand Vanda’s vision, unless of course, you are one of her students or her students’ students. Being the exact opposite of a guru, Vanda taught but a handful of enthusiasts – a decision that ensured that her knowledge was passed on in the purest way possible yet in the same time, made her intuitive yoga style much less available, much less known than whatever yoga trends had emerged later (and flooded our city centres).
But let’s have a look at the paperback. What insights may it hold?
Reading Awakening the Spine:
The Stress-Free New Yoga That Works With The Body To Restore Health, Vitality and Energy.
I’m reviewing the 1991 paperback edition (€17) with huuuuuge thanks to my dear friend Doris who gave it to me for Christmas 😉
To prevent misconceptions: this is DEVINITELY NOT a yoga exercise book. It’s a book for seekers, for adventurers of the spirit, for those who don’t tire to explore the mystical bound of body and soul.
You will remember from my post …Who Is Vanda Scaravelli that it was a unique combination of gravity and breathing that inspired Vanda’s vision of yoga for everyone, a yoga style that evolves around how an individual body feels and performs the asanas.
And so the book begins with an introduction, explaining how it is different from other books on yoga, goes on to telling the author’s path towards yoga and then spins, from there, what reads like a philosopher’s tale about life.
The first part of the book discusses different spritual traditions (was yoga known in Ancient Egypt?), the complexity of how our body and mind interact, the beauty of movement and discusses Vanda’s mistrust of the very concept of organisations – a reason why she never founded, like anybody else, a school of yoga.
Part 1 also deals with secrets to maintaining a healthy spine during the day, during sleep, moving and breathing – everything is explored, explained, exposed eloquently and in very simple words. The chapter on dying is intense but necessary. Part 1 then closes with a brief yet comprehensive chapter with Vanda’s view of yoga benefits, and I’ll quote just one for its perfect truth that we should remind ourselves of more often when we chase freedom:
Some reviewers of the book argue that the content is ‘useless New-Age stuff’, and I see why somebody could think so. However, if we forget about spiritual trends, believe-in-yourself cat posters and such, and listen to the voice within ourselves, will this voice not be filled with obvious but muted truths about purpose, about love, about beauty? Secret knowledge, as the old sages knew, can protect itself very well. So who are we to deny it the veil of slightly ridiculous obviousness?
In Part 2, 29 asanas are discussed and shown, partly in drawings, partly by Vanda herself. I can’t say that it’s good for beginners; probably it’s better for individuals with at least basic understanding and some practice of yoga. It’s definitely a good read to be prepared for a lesson in intuitive yoga.
And while I’m not showing pages from the book here because I don’t feel good about causing sensationalist thrills let this be told: I am not close to half as flexible and I’m probably about 50 years younger than Vanda is in those pictures. (But if you feel like a little sensation wouldn’t go amiss, go ahead and google Vanda Scaravelli 😉 I’ll wait right here.)
Now, is this book for you?
Yes, if you are ready to forget the exercise-style yoga and look for movement that hides naturally in your own, unique body. Discover asanas from the inside. Let movement unfold from your spine. Feel a different kind of control – absolute freedom of movement. Learn to enjoy life in the Now. Learn to get the most out of your time on Earth. Yes. Yes. Yes.
But if you want to lose a stone until bikini season – no.
Let me wrap up today’s Bookshelf Monthly with just one more quote from Awakening the Spine:
Yoga has nothing to do with acrobatics or spectacular exhibitionism, even though some poses rather look like it. Students are sometimes inclined to force the flexibility of their bodies to the maximum, but this leads nowhere. “
– Vanda Scaravelli