The Anatomy of Letting Go

One of the founding principles behind a ‘Scaravelli inspired’ approach to yoga practise is to apply a level of kindness that allows people to accept and work with the body’s tendencies in order to unravel them. It is a method successfully employed by osteopaths, rolfers, shiatzu practitioners and the like. This, together developing the skill of actually employing the force of gravity (instead of trying to fight against it), and the enormous release of superficial tension that can come with the exhale, can transform people’s yoga practise beyond measure. It seems to be a bit of a revolution – moving away from the no-pain-no-gain paradigm and towards a more Taoist sensibility of going with the natural flow of things – but it just makes sense, intellectually as well as philosophically.

We need to start by thinking of the body differently – beyond the simplistic pulleys and levers model. Muscle tissue comes in many different forms to accommodate the many different jobs it is required to do. When we think of muscle we are mostly talking about the superficial structures that are designed to respond rapidly to our environment (and our intentions). I believe that Yoga works at the deeper level of the core postural support and connective and muscle tissue – the stuff responsible for organizing our entire structure from skeleton to position of vital organs.

When the quick-twitch, rapid response ‘white’ muscle tissue relaxes in a posture, the deeper, slower to respond (at first) postural support ‘red’ muscle tissue is required to start doing it’s job. When you experience this core level awakening for yourself, you will understand the incredible level of work involved in “releasing” into a posture. One very clear principle that I have understood from the osteopath yoga teachers that I work with, is that when there is a lack of core postural support, we have to hold ourselves up with effort in the muscles that aren’t designed for the job (white muscle tissue is used for short busts of effort and has a blood supply to match). The muscles gets tired of holding us up so the body finds ways to build support for the effort – collagenous tissue is laid down – so we get stiff in our joints, and restricted in our movement.

Most of us in the West have some level of core collapse going on. One way of waking it up is to work the body so hard that the superficial effort eventually finds it’s way into the core – you see this in top atheletes gymnasts and dancers. The trouble is that the ambition and extreme effort involved often lead to injury at a level that doesn’t reveal itself until they stop. We all know that if you start working out you can build up muscle tone and bulk fairly rapidly, and that within a few of weeks of stopping, it all turns to flab. Postural muscles behave differently. Once atrophied, it’s a bit of a job to wake them up (hence the apparent intense effort required if you are to truly let go). But once they begin doing their job, they are provided with an appropriately strong and continuous blood supply (hence the term ‘red’ muscle). Keep strengthening and we begin to be able to let go of all that tension we carry in our hips, shoulders neck and back. Strengthen the core response further, and we start to become relaxed in our work – as if our bones and our breath are supporting our efforts. And in fact they are. The breath, the wondrous breath is the link between the core of the body and movement.

Marc Woolford
Marc Woolford teaches yoga inspired by the work of Vanda Scaravelli. He runs brilliant workshops mostly attended by other teachers. You can find him at

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