A little potted story of Hand to Earth

January 11, 2015

girl before a mirror not seeing what she looks likeMy work through yoga draws on many influences. Stemming from a short time exploring more formal approaches in India, I became interested in the language of Vanda Scaravelli, who in fact studied with the famous Indian guru BKS Iyengar. What she offered was really a metaphor for immersion and discovery of the body’s relationship with it’s earthly resources – not a technique or style of yoga.

This excited me; though enamoured with Indian spirituality as a whole, I was versed less in the pantheon of Hinduism but more in the incarnational language of Christian mysticism and meditation, especially through my teacher Giovanni Felicioni. I’m also naturally a poet so this allowed a freedom in which I could express through yoga something of my own life experience and the world of feeling; feeling that is found in the subtle fabric of the body, and includes but is not controlled by emotions or particular mind states or psychological projections etc.

More recently this has led me towards a new threshold: how the body is a vessel or a gateway into the archetypal imagery of the unconscious. This work has been pioneered by people such as Marion Woodman, the Jungian analyst whose explorations into understanding dreams through the body led to the founding of the Body Soul training programme, of which I’ve been delighted to get a taste of over the past year.

I think when people feel drawn to this way of working with yoga, they have already started thinking creatively and independently about how yoga is a process, not of trying to impose on or control the body but one of, as Scaravelli herself says, ‘undoing tension’. The journey this entails, if we’re truly to embark on it, cannot be underestimated. It is liberating and there is gold to be found, but the raw materials involved bring us to face ourselves honestly. One of Scaravelli’s phrases describing the path is one of ‘infinite time and no ambition’; a difficult concept to grasp in our culture where even yoga has become a commodity of the marketplace.

So people who find themselves interested in this orientation start to see it as a practice that is not trying to escape in any way, but expand to include more and more of their human experience, and therefore that of others, as they find it through movement in the body. This could be called a process of embodiment ・of coming back to the ground, the force of gravity that enables us to connect with this ground, and the grace through which that connection brings us back into contact with our whole being.

When we truly do that, we turn towards others in recognition, desiring to understand rather than be understood; not to be consoled but to listen and console (prayer of St Francis). One of my favourite contemporary mystics is the French philosopher Simone Weil, and she wrote a book called Gravity and Grace, the understanding being that in this conversation between the ground and ourselves we enter into a dialogue with everything that is. Which is of course counter-cultural to the narcissistic leanings of modern life and psychology.

Scaravelli notes in her book Awakening the Spine that there is ‘gravity in everything’ ・and we come to see this in some small way through our yoga, our gateway of the body. Here, and this is something I’ve only just started to comprehend in my own journey, we find a bridge into healing, within the holding field of a resource far bigger than ourselves or any shape we might aspire to achieve with the body. And so yoga space becomes a place of relationship; an encounter with other human beings; an re-orientation where we are seen and heard, but perhaps more importantly we come to see and hear.

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