When I meet Catherine Annis in her Notting Hill home to experience Scaravelli yoga, I’m not feeling particularly calm. I’m on my lunch break (a rarity in itself) thinking more about my 4pm copy deadline than finding my inner core.
When we start to talk, her tranquil demeanour instantly puts me at ease. I become aware of the speed at which I’m talking, and realise that I – like so many of us – rarely make time to properly relax. Consequently, I’m not very good at it.
So she gives me a relaxation technique to do.
I’m to sit cross-legged and breathe for three minutes, and all I have to do is count my breaths. I can do that, I think, and start counting. Shutting my eyes more out of embarrassment than genuine meditational pull. But the effect is extraordinary. My mind clears completely of all the clutter and stresses that I jam in there every day, my head falls forward, my body relaxes. I feel calm.
Catherine has practiced yoga for 30 years, gravitating more recently to the teachings of Vanda Scaravelli. This type of yoga is based on gentle, unhurried but demanding exercise. It’s not about busting a gut to hold the tree position until you can’t see for the sweat pouring into your eyes, but about working with gravity to lengthen the spine and release tension. In essence, it’s about teaching your body to rest and release.
But that doesn’t mean it requires any less effort. At first, we lie on the floor and concentrate on where each part of our bodies are connecting with the ground. It sounds simple, but as I’m normally doing, thinking and feeling 30 things at once, I have to work really hard to remain focused on the task in hand.
Then Catherine tells me to bring my knees up to my chest, cross my ankles and flex my feet and toes, imagining all the while that my limbs are stretching and growing longer. It’s not easy, and it hurts – in my calves right through to my hips. But somehow I hold the position. In fact, once I get into it, I feel like I could happily hold it for hours. I didn’t know I could feel aware and relaxed at the same time.
We kneel up and sit back on our feet, resting our weight on our toes as they bend under us. It sounds uncomfortable, but I find by stretching my toes back and holding the position I’m able to release tension in my feet. Afterwards I have much more movement in them.
I come away feeling invigorated. Everything about my yoga session with Catherine felt simple and pure, yet very powerful.
I count 19 breaths during my aforementioned three-minute meditation, which I think is okay. Catherine says that’s good, then reveals that the ultimate aim of the exercise is to get down to one single breath. A minute and a half breathing in, and a minute and a half breathing out. My eyes widen. ‘Is that really possible?’ I ask. She assures me it is, and I believe her.
Catherine teaches at Triyoga in Soho and Primrose Hill, and at the Life Centre in Notting Hill.
Visit here for information on retreats and teacher training and call 07747 196914 for private tuition.
2nd floor Kingly Court
Tel: 020 7483 3344
Triyoga Primrose Hill
6 Erskine Road
Tel: 020 7483 3344
The Life Centre
15 Edge Street
Tel: 020 7221 4602