Join Catherine Annis at one of her weekly yoga classes in London at triyoga or at The Life Centre
I have known Catherine since 2001. During this time she has been my student, yoga colleague and friend. It has been a pleasure to act as her mentor. I have been impressed by her gentle enthusiasm and the intelligent way in which she has immersed herself in all aspects of yoga. She continues to add her own flavour that arises from her dedicated practice. Her teaching reflects her understanding of this broad and valuable subject.
John Stirk Osteopath and Yoga Teacher
The style of yoga Catherine teaches has been inspired by the pioneering approach of Vanda Scaravelli. This is a gentle yet demanding form of Hatha yoga, which focuses on developing core strength through releasing tension and creating length in the spine.
Scaravelli inspired yoga is a stress free yoga, that benefits everyone. Classes are suitable for all ages and all levels of yoga experience (beginner, intermediate or advanced). Regardless of your level of fitness, you will discover a longer, stronger and more flexible spine, a calmer mind, and begin to enjoy increased energy and ease of movement.
It uses the breath and gravity to allow the spine to unfold like a wave, allowing the uninhibited opening and energising of the whole body. As Vanda explains in the opening page of her book “Awakening the Spine”:
|“There is a division in the centre of our back, where the spine moves simultaneously in two opposite directions: from the waist down towards the legs and the feet, which are pulled by gravity, and from the waist upwards, through the top of the head, lifting us up freely”.|
Vanda’s teachings are miraculously simple. She encouraged her students to do less, feel more. To unwind, release unnecessary tension, and begin to simply be. “You must only undo. The more you undo, the more you are and the more things come to you. Don’t try to become; you are.”
Releasing unnecessary tension – the importance of gravity
One of the most important revelations about this way of working comes with the discovery of release. Some of the most pleasant sensations we feel during yoga are the lightness and lift – the feeling of grounding and release that happens when we unravel the body and release unnecessary tensions. Vanda understood this, and focused much of her attention on simply using the positions to allow tension to fall away from the body, surrendering to the pull of gravity. Although this is an incredibly simple idea, the practice is more complex, bound up, as it is, in our body histories, the way we inhabit our bodies, the work we do, and the way we react to physical, emotional and psychological stimuli. If you’d like to read more about gravity, please check out the fact sheet.
If we can follow her advice and at least begin to recognise where we hold on, we may begin to release tension away from the body, let go, and unravel established holding patterns. Once we set this process in motion, our structures will naturally begin to move with more ease and fluidity, as they did when we were children.
Suitability – postural and spinal issues
This approach is gentle, yet demanding. We work deeply, but with intelligence, so that the practice raises our awareness, helping us to make sustainable, healthy and nourishing choices, which will affect us and those closest to us, at all levels – physical, psychological and emotional. It is particularly helpful for those who are working with postural issues, lower back pain, stiff necks and shoulders and for those who are stressed, and need some space to learn how to deeply relax.
|Vanda Scaravelli from the book Awakening the Spine
My yoga journey
I never had the privilege of meeting Vanda, but have worked with many of her key students. My first Scaravelli inspired yoga class was taught by Alex Grey (who was a student of Diane Long – herself a long term student of Vanda). At that time, I’d been practicing since 1982, and attended Sivananda, Iyengar, Astanga – all kinds of classes, experiencing as much as possible. Alex was teaching elbow dog, and it was a revelation. I wanted to push right into it, to really “do” the pose, but she held me right back and stopped me – and it felt completely different. In the beginning, I found this frustrating, because it felt as though I couldn’t “complete” the pose. On one level the sensations were much more subtle and delicate – the complete antithesis to the familiar feelings of working hard and “having a good stretch”. But after a while I discovered that Alex was making me integrate. Rather than hanging out on my flexibility, she was making me work from the centre, from deeply inside, engaging my whole self in that simple movement. That was my first experience of Vanda’s approach, and it hooked me and kept bringing me back to discover more.
Shortly afterwards, friends and other teachers urged me to work with John Stirk. He became my teacher and mentor for the next 12 years, and we now work together regularly. John’s insights into VandaScaravelli’s life and work, and his own inspired approach to yoga and living, have profoundly enriched my practice and teaching.
All photos of Vanda Scaravelli are with kind permission of Pinter & Martin, publishers of
“Awakening the Spine: Yoga for Health, Vitality and Energy”