Vanda Scaravelli was born in Florence, Italy in 1908. She came from an intellectual and artistic background. Her father was a successful businessman and music lover and created the Orchestra Stabile, so that Florence could have its own orchestra. Vanda’s mother Clara Corsi was a teacher and one of the first women in Italy to graduate from the University. Vanda was raised in this musical atmosphere and people such as Bronislaw Hubermann, Pablo Casals, Andres Segovia were often guests of the family. Under the tutelage of Ernest Consolo, Vanda trained as a concert pianist.
When Vanda was still quite young she visited California with her parents, where she first met Krishnamurti. He became a friend of the family and would often stay and rest from his travellings at their villa in Florence, where he could write in peace temporarily free from his work as a guru.
Vanda’s husband Luigi died unexpectedly in the late 1940’s. Very saddened and run down at the time, her friend Yehudi Menuhin introduced her to BKS Iyengar. He invited Iyengar to Gstaad, Switzerland where Vanda rented a chalet each year and Krishnamurti spent his summers giving his annual talks. Iyengar taught daily yoga classes to Krishnamurti, and gave Vanda a lesson each day as well. So well into her 40’s Vanda found Yoga.
TKV Desikachar was invited to Gstaad several years later by Krishnamurti. It was at that time that Vanda was introduced to the importance of the breath. Both Vanda and Krishnamurti continued to study privately with both Iyengar and Desikachar for several years until the visits to Gstaad stopped and Vanda began to work alone. She developed a unique method of yoga that she richly describes in her one book AWAKENING THE SPINE. This approach to Yoga was partly inspired by her friend Krishnamuri; because of his weak constitution, he did not have the stamina for a strong physical approach and Vanda became fascinated on how the breath moved the spine in relation to gravity.
Yoga helped Vanda to survive the death of her husband. To her at the time she describes it as “fun”, but only later did she understand that it went much deeper. She talked about a “new life” coming into her body. It affected her piano playing, as the body relaxed, the mind became more attentive with a true collaboration between body and mind.
The importance of the breath to Vanda cannot be overemphasized. She says that “We start with breathing and we end with breathing and every movement we make is with the breath.” The effect of the breath creates a wave like movement of the spine and by following the wave it is possible to become very supple and very elastic. The object is to undo and the more a person can undo, the easier things become. She felt that it is important to become your own teacher by being attentive and interested in the breath and how it can undo the body. It can then possible to reach the postures without strain, “with allegrezza” (intelligent heart). When practising yoga the body needs to remain relaxed and not be a slave to ideas and models that encourages copying a shape or posture, as this is simply imitation. The body has its own intelligence, but it needs to be free in order to express itself in that freedom.
There were only two words which Vanda felt were necessary. We have already spoken about “the breath”; the other word was “gravity”. When a person stands relaxed using the exhalation, the pull of gravity is from the waist down through the heels into the earth. The back of the waist opens in two directions as the upper body becomes light, open and relaxed. The more the heels and the pelvis become heavy, the lighter the upper part, creating a wave in the spine. The feeling is working from the inside out; working from the actual bony structure and not the exterior layer of motor muscle. Vanda talks about the “inner dance of the body, full of mystery and adventure”.
Vanda suffered a stroke in 2000 and died five days later aged 92. It could be said that she was in good health when she died; her body just became tired and she faded away, like a little bird. She said that doing yoga will keep the body in better health and that there is no old age. She felt that often old people withdraw from life. They use less of their memories, their arms, their legs and the faculties they have; consequently they lose them. She stresses the importance of using everything today and not withdrawing, not to lose contact with people and with life which gives so much pleasure.
“If there are things you like, go, do! As long as you are alive, live! Give your energy, give your wisdom, give what you have, physically, mentally, emotionally. But be simple. That is so healthy.”
With acknowledgments to:
“Awakening the Spine” – Vanda Scaravelli