Teaching in Clare Island: yoga blossoms in freedom
Published in Yoga Therapy Ireland magazine, Spring 2014
When we need to find a deep reconnection with our being we often go in search of a place where we can be more in contact with nature. For this reason when I was in my mid 20’s I used to walk the fields and woods near my home, to sit in silence in the beautiful countryside of Fiesole. Was there that one day I met an interesting woman: she attracted my attention with her body-mind attitude. She was silent and completely present in the act of walking on the earth. I saw in her something very different from other people. She was Vanda Scaravelli and she become my yoga teacher, from that day until the day she died in 1999. She taught me the beauty of a yoga practice that respects the natural rhythms of the body, a deep reconnection with nature, with the force that sustains our life. She taught me how to reconnect with a place that leads to independence, and that this place is inside us. I slowly abandoned my fears during the years of yoga practice with her. She offered me a feminine and intuitive approach which gave me the freedom to truly sense, explore and discover yoga. With the integration of thought and feelings, the intelligence of the body awakens the intuition of “what is” and you can listen to the “music” within yourself that is Love. I discovered, as Vanda said in her book “Awakening the Spine”, that this process is part of nature. I discovered that the beauty of teacher-student relationship is there only when it is completely based in freedom.
I regularly teach in my studio in Florence, but I also travel in search of places where I can be in the presence of nature, where our senses can be awakened by the wind, sea, air ……..and beauty. One day in 2005 I was looking for a place to teach a yoga workshop in Ireland and I contacted Ciara Cullen of Clare Island Retreat Centre. From my first step on the island I felt peace, there Mother Earth is not withdrawing from the surface of the planet and every little ripple is singing. It was a place where the presence of man is very small and there is beauty in all directions. A place which gives a deep sense of protection. I have returned every year since.
I asked Ciara Cullen to write something about her experience:
“When Rossella came to us I had been practicing and teaching ashtanga very seriously. With my French partner, Christophe, we had just started running a purpose built yoga retreat centre on the island, which was also our home. I attended Rossella’s first retreat curious as to the style she was teaching. During the first class, which consisted mostly on breathing, Rossella asking us with the most extraordinarily descriptive language to find our spine and feel gravity. I was stunned: how could this yoga be so completely different to what I had been practicing for so long? I remember feeling distinctly unsettled. Somehow this gentle yoga was very challenging. What’s more, I hadn’t a clue how to do it. When Rossella came back the second year, I realized that her teaching had penetrated deep beneath my skin. Slowly, slowly, I could feel an inner curiosity developing within me.
At first, Rossella’s yearly visits allowed me to become softer in my vinyasa practice. I was becoming aware of my breath in a different, more subtle way. I remember saying to her, after her third retreat here, that I felt there was no going back. This slightly unsettled me, as I found the practice of ‘un-doing’ extremely difficult and frustrating —a daily second series ashtanga practice was so much easier.. For in fact, what I felt was tension, mostly in my shoulders.. And it is this tension that over the years I watched, then breathed into, then explored with my connection to the earth until it started to dissipate, leaving such a sense of spaciousness and light. It has taken me a long, long time, to find this internal territory, to begin to understand what Patanjali speaks of: having stability and strength coupled with softness. And then even longer to teach it in our own retreats.
This path has been completely non-linear. There is no instruction manual. The process is entirely experiential, and as I can be very analytical, learning in this way has had enormous benefits. We live in a world where we expect to ‘get’ things quickly and directly if we put enough effort into it. My work with Rossella has shown me another way. Over the past eight years, the path has repeatedly led me off tangentially—a glimpse of an understanding would lead to me doing’. When Rossella would return to the island, I would see that I had misunderstood, and the path would take a different turn: more un-doing, needed, and then the process would literally unfold: I would then truly feel the understanding in my body.
Interestingly, our centre on Clare Island has developed in a similar manner:. non-linearly, organically, becoming more connected with the earth through the nourishing food we now grow which we serve to our guests, through the care we give to the land and to our children and animals which live here. It is the way yoga should be, I firmly believe, connected with such deep roots to the elements, to the earth. “
During my annual visits to Clare Island I knew wonderful Irish people, and for a long time I also gave regular workshops in Dublin, I was also very glad to be invited to teach for Yoga Therapy Ireland. During the last 15 years my teachings are developing thanks to my committed students who believe in a relation based in reciprocal freedom and respect.
I asked Kerry Maguire to tell her story:
“I first encountered the captivating teachings of Rossella Baroncini on her summer yoga course of 2006 at Clare Island Retreat Centre, The format of the Rossella’s course was similar to that of many yoga courses found worldwide, the teaching in contrast was unique. Through her lyrical and expressive words, she enables the yoga student to connect so profoundly with the earth, that the physical body is able to release into gravity whilst finding freedom in the postures. I found my practice gaining a lightness and completeness that was unfamiliar to me. Indeed, I was accessing a practice of yoga that I had never experienced before.
Her teachings flood the studio with images of nature; of the ever extending roots of a tree, of streams… and rivers… and oceans and of the moment a flower opens her petals to bloom. Through the strength of such images and specific asana guidance, Rossella encourages the student’s awareness of the spine, the vertebrae and the reciprocal movement of gravity through the body.
Needless to say, this style of yoga communicated through Rossella’s teaching, was a break through moment for me and my practice. The previous years of lower back pain and leg stiffness slowly started to gain relief through practicing yoga in this manner.
Following her course on Clare Island, I chose to further my study on a one to-one basis with Rossella in Florence. I stayed for almost a year, studying yoga and working. What an incredible year! I can only recommend such an experience. Since then, I have pursued a personal choice of embarking and completing an integrated Masters in Osteopathy and have worked as a registered Osteopath in Yorkshire since 2012. “.