This is an interview with Lara Land, who was first introduced to yoga service in 2008, when she traveled to Rwanda with an organization now called Project AIR. For three months she worked with genocide survivors and their children using Ashtanga Yoga as a system for emotional and physical healing. Most of the students were HIV-positive; many had horrific scars from the war. From there she went to Mysore, India, to study yoga at the Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, and suddenly she saw all the service she could be doing in connection with yoga practice. She began volunteering weekly teaching yoga to the HIV-positive children in the waiting room of Asha Kirana Hospital in Mysuru, Karnataka. In March 2009 she returned to New York City determined to make a difference in her community.
In June 2011 she opened Land Yoga in Harlem, with the purpose of serving anyone in the community. Now she is working with schools, parks, small businesses, and with many of the local charitable organizations, especially the local Food Bank. Once a month Lara meets with seniors at the Food Bank to do gentle breathing and chair yoga.
Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?
I was originally motivated by a desire for purpose, to share what I can offer. Now I’m more motivated by effectiveness: to teach and work in places and with people who can really benefit from what I do.
When I started working at the Food Bank I had to beg the seniors to participate. Most chose instead to stick with their crafting or coffee and conversation. A funny thing happened, though — those who weren’t participating were watching. They would chime in and correct the form of the participants. Often I would spin my eyes behind me in a twisting posture and see the “non-participants” actually doing yoga from the corners of the room. The real shift happened one session when they asked me why I don’t come every week. That’s when I knew I was in!
What did you know about the population you are working with before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population, and how have those assumptions changed?
I didn’t know much about the seniors at the Food Bank at all, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. They had limited mobility, and I assumed I would not see improvement, but would mainly be there to occupy their time, and perhaps bring them some joy along the way. On the contrary, I am slowly noticing some small but important changes as they breathe and stretch their bodies beyond what they themselves expected. Their strength is also increasing. And as their willingness grows their ability grows, and this in turn brings about more willingness. That’s a magical thing. Continue reading >>