Vanda Scaravelli Yoga

When tensions leave, the body goes back to its original state, and balance is re-established. – Vanda Scaravelli

Years ago, at a small yoga studio I regularly attended, I purchased Vanda Scaravelli’s Awakening the Spine. Perhaps what impressed me the most were the images of Scaravelli practicing the asanas. At the time of the book’s first publication (1991), the author was in her eighties. It was inspiring to see a woman of her age showing the poses with such flexibility and ease.

Beautiful images of nature, architecture, art are scattered throughout the book complimenting the author’s insightful guidance. The author explains that Awakening the Spine is not the typical instructional yoga book. Instead Scaravelli stresses the importance of learning “how to listen to your body” (16) and avoid “all effort or strain” (16). According to Scaravelli, at the waist, around the fifth lumbar vertebrae, movement goes in two opposite directions: down through the hips, legs, feet and upwards through the top of the head. Gravity pulls the body towards the earth and also allows the body to extend upwards in the opposite direction. This allows tension to be released between the vertebrae (8).

You have to learn how to listen to your body, going with it and not against it, avoiding all effort or strain and centering your attention on that very delicate point, the back of the waist.  – Vanda Scaravelli.

Vanda Scaravelli formed a new approach that emphasized the practice of yoga  with an intelligence that encouraged sensitivity and self awareness. The poses should not be forced but bring ease and freedom. She believed to practice yoga in this way would bring transformation.

Practice transforms the body and the mind and a new life begins
– Vanda Scaravelli

Born in 1908, Vanda Scaravelli grew up in an artistic family in Florence, Italy. Her home life was full of music. She herself studied at the Conservatorio Luigi Cherubini in Florence (Scaravelli 184) and became an accomplished pianist. Her father was a business man with a great appreciation for music (184). Her mother and father hosted a salon for a number of well renowned artists (em yogastudio). . Later she married Luigi Scaravelli, a professor of philosophy, and had two children (em yogastudio). Artists, philosophers, and scientists were frequent guests at Scaravelli’s villa near Fiesole, Italy. Musicians regularly congregated and gave concerts (Scaravelli 186).

When Vanda Scaravelli was in her mid forties she was introduced to yoga and took her first lessons with B.K.S Iyengar (Scaravelli 19). She quickly noticed improvement with her health. It was later she learned the importance of breathing with lessons from T.K.V. Desikachar (20). No longer receiving lessons from Iyengar and Desikachar, she continued her yoga practice on her own. This motivated her to find a new approach to yoga (24).

Vanda Scaravelli touched lives through her teaching. Her only published book Awakening the Spine has been quoted from frequently; often coupled with an image of Scaravelli showing a beautiful yoga pose.

Do not kill the instinct of the body for the glory of the pose. Do not look at your body like a stranger, but adopt a friendly approach towards it. Watch it, listen to it, observe its needs, its requests, and even have fun.

To be sensitive is to be alive  -Vanda Scaravelli

Works Cited

Three Stretches for Latissimus Dorsi & Teres Major

Overview/ Anatomy:

Teres Major is often referred to as the Lats ‘little helper’. Synergists, Latissimus Dorsi and Teres Major work together to perform the same actions of the glenohumeral joint (shoulder): Extension, Adduction, and Medial (inward) Rotation.

The Latissimus Dorsi is the largest muscle of the back, and it’s main function is movement of the upper limb. It originates in the mid back thoracic region ; the thoracolumbar fascia, and iliac crest (hip bone). It inserts into the humerus (bone of the upper arm).

Teres Major lays between the Lats and Teres Minor on the lateral (outside) border of the scapula (shoulder blade).

Some of the Movements of the Shoulder are:

  • Flexion: From a position of arms down at the sides of the body, the arms move forward and upward toward the head.
  • Extension: The return from flexion – arms lower down toward the sides of your body. *Lats and Teres Major extend the shoulder (glenohumeral joint).
  • Abduction: with the arms down at the sides of the body, the arms move in a upward direction out to the sides of the body.
  • Adduction: the return from abduction – arms that start out to the sides of the body lower down towards the body. *Lats and Teres Major adduct the shoulder (glenohumeral joint).

Latissimus and Teres Major also medially rotate the shoulder.

A few activities that use the Latissimus Dorsi (and to a lesser extent Teres Major) are: Swimming, rowing, and climbing rope.

Stretches For Latissimus Dorsi and Teres Major
Get more from your stretch with Mindfulness, Intention, and Breath 


Standing Hands Clasped Over Head:
Stand with your feet parallel about hip width apart. Clasp your hands and place them above your head with palms facing the ceiling. Drop your pelvis, tail bone straight down toward the floor. Chest, shoulders open. Ears ease back in line with your shoulders.

Feel the bottoms of your feet like a tripod. Feel the balls of the big toes, little toes, and heels on the floor.

Breathe and think about stretching your elbows straight and reaching your palms toward the ceiling. Increase the stretch by bending side.

Variation 2: Cross one hand over wrist to guide yourself into more of a stretch.


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Sitting Side Stretch:
While this side stretch targets Quadratus Lumborum, it also stretches the lats and teres along the outer border of the scapula and back. Sit cross legged on a mat. Drop your shoulders down and feel that the two shoulders are level. Open chest and shoulders. Head draws back so the ears are in line with the shoulders.

If you feel discomfort sitting cross legged (perhaps your knees are high as opposed to closer to the floor; therefore forcing you to lean back) you can place 1 or 2 folded blankets underneath your sit bones. Your feet will of course need to be off the folded blankets as you want your sit bones to be higher.

Bending to the side, bring one arm over the head and the other at your side on the floor, palm down. Breath and feel the length along the outer border of your scapula and sides of back. You can increase the stretch by placing the forearm on the floor. Look down towards the floor or straight forward as you bend side then slowly turn your gaze to look up (refer to the image above). Breathe.

Having straightened up to the beginning position, keep the arm above your head for a few more deep breaths. Enjoy the feeling of length from your seat on the floor to your finger tips — then lower the arm and begin the side bend to the other side.

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Chair Stretch:
Begin by kneeling on a mat in front of a chair. Place your hands shoulder width apart on the chair’s seat. Lower your torso and head below shoulder level as pictured above. Feel the length in your back, along the lateral (outside) border of your scapula (shoulder blade),  and out through your fingertips (they of course are still placed on the chair). Following a few or more breaths you can take your hands off the chair and lower all the way down to child’s pose. An exercise ball can be used in place of a chair as seen in the photograph.


Safe Stretching:

  1. Don’t stretch to the point of pain. If lessening the intensity of the stretch still causes pain, stop.
  2. Stretch with consistency – as a daily routine or every other day.
  3. Gradually increase the intensity of the stretch over a period of time.
  4. Stretch slowly. Don’t bounce. Breathe

Body Alignment: Mindful alignment makes for more effective stretching. It also helps in injury prevention. A few alignment reminders:

  1. When standing, think of your foot as a tripod. The ball of the big toe, the ball of the small toe, and the heel form a tripod. Distribute your weight equally among these three points. Feel the weight on your left and right foot equally. As you put your intention on this you may notice that you have a tendency to favor one side over the other.
  2. When standing, feel your pelvis, tailbone drop straight down toward the floor (or chair if sitting).
  3. Many of us allow our shoulders to round and our head to jut forward from it’s gravitational center. Think about opening your chest and shoulders and easing your ears back in line with your shoulders.


Suggested External Links:
Why Is Breathing Important During Stretching?:

Latissimus Dorsi Muscle – Attachments, Action & Innervation: