Talking Shop with Esther Myers
Esther Myers, who lives in Toronto and teaches yoga around the world, produced the video Vanda Scaravelli: On Yoga and wrote the instructional book Yoga and You. Myers also recently completed a practice video for women with breast cancer.
Yoga Journal: What is unique about Vanda Scaravelli's approach to yoga?
Esther Myers: I think it's the combination of power and fluidity. There are strong practices like Ashtanga, and then there's Kripalu, which is a much softer approach. But this is dynamic and powerful, and soft and fluid. I think it's very feminine. It's got a quality of spontaneous emerging that's sort of rare in the yoga world.
YJ: What were some of the essential elements of her teaching?
EM: A real clarity of underlying principles. She actually started with Iyengar and then came to feel she needed a practice that was less strenuous. So she set out on a process of relaxation, unwinding, and undoing. This willingness to surrender and to trust her body's wisdom absolutely became the foundation of her own process of discovery and evolution. Also, Desikachar taught her the importance of integrating breath with the postures. As she followed the breath deeper and deeper into her core, she found a spontaneous and powerful undulation emerging from her spine which she called "the wave." This idea that the spine is the undulating quality of your being infuses all of the poses.
YJ: How did you meet her?
EM: It was really bizarre. I studied with Dona Holleman in 1978, and Dona was studying with Vanda at the time. She took me to meet her, and it was absolutely a non-event, I thought, except Vanda said, "My daughter lives in Toronto. You should get in touch with her." It turns out her daughter lives a 15-minute walk from my house. Six years later Vanda came here to visit her, and the only thing I can say is that it was like Mary Poppins. This woman landed on my doorstep and changed my life!
YJ: What was the single greatest lesson you learned from her?
EM: When I asked her how she developed her own work, she said, "I just trusted my body." I think that was a gift that she had, trusting her own process to the extent she did. It confronted me with how much I didn't.
YJ: Did you eventually find it, this willingness to trust your own body?
EM: When I had a hysterectomy two years ago, one of the things I was aware of was "I know how to do this now." What I had certainly found was that now I can go to where my body is and gradually build from there.
YJ: You have a video coming out this fall for women with breast cancer. Can you tell us a bit about it?
EM: The women in it are all breast cancer survivors, so it's unusual for yoga videos. There's a lot of relaxation, some simple yoga poses, and some of the stretches you're given after surgery, incorporated with breath awareness that comes from a yogic perspective. It's geared toward women for whom lifting an arm over the head would be a challenge.
YJ: How has your exploration of yoga changed through this experience?
EM: It has changed a lot. I took the diagnosis as a death sentence, which is not an uncommon association with the word cancer. When I started studying with Vanda, she was about 78, so transmission for her was a big issue. She felt she had tapped into something important and didn't want it to die with her. I really took that on. I said, "If I only have two years to live, one of my goals is to put this out in the world." That sustained me in a huge way. And the other thing that changed is how I see yoga as a resource. You can use it for stress management, as a powerful ally in a storm, or a vehicle for profound self-acceptance, transformation, and love.