As part of our Q&A series, Morningsider brings you exclusive interviews with neighborhood “Insiders.” This week, we interview Lara Land, Owner of Land Yoga.
Lara Land is an authorized Ashtanga teacher who began her studies at Boston University. Lara graduated with a BFA in theatre but was extremely interested the study of the mind and body. Upon moving to New York, she began to study yoga in depth at the Yoga Sutra studio, where she earned a certification in Vinyasa. Lara has also traveled to India to learn from the Guru of Ashtanga yoga, Sri.K Pattabhi Jois, and she continues to study at the Pattabhi Jois institute on a yearly basis.
During her travels, Lara has also volunteered her time teaching yoga to HIV positive women and children, including a 3-month stay in Rwanda teaching yoga to genocide survivors. She is also an active volunteer for a number of organizations and charities, including Jewish Heart for Africa.
1. Tell us about Land Yoga.
The studio was inspired by the community, my desire to build a life in this specific place and serve the people here. It is definitely a labor of love, created after years of intense yoga study here and in India and a decade of personal yoga practice and freelance teaching. In addition to Ashtanga we offer pre- and post-natal and a variety of children’s classes and other related workshops such as Indian dance, Ayurveda (traditional Indian healing) and more.
2. What inspired you to open Land Yoga?
I had been away for about a year teaching and studying in India and Rwanda and had given up my Brooklyn apartment. When I returned, I was drawn specifically to Harlem. After moving here three years ago, I spent many days walking around and discovering my neighborhood. I saw the rapid development occurring and the need for the services I offer. I was (and continue to be) very inspired by the other businesses owners contributing to the landscape.
3. Can you explain how Ashtanga yoga is different from other styles, and what are the health benefits?
Ashtanga Yoga is very different from other styles. It is a traditional style passed down from a direct lineage and it is taught how you learned from your teacher so that the benefits are preserved. You must study for many years in India to be able to teach this yoga and even once you start teaching, you do not stop learning. I just got back from my sixth trip to Mysore, India. Ashtanga is traditionally taught slowly by slowly, pose by pose to the student. The student can enter any time within a window and they are taught to match the movement to their own breath rhythm instead of going at the same time as the group. In the beginning there are just a small number of movements and as they [the students] are ready, the teacher will add more. The special Ujjayi breathing matched with movement is called Vinyasa and heats the body internally, cleansing it and making it very light and healthy. The combining of posture, listening to breath, and fixed eye gaze, turns the practice into a moving meditation and enables the student to experience the higher mental and spiritual benefits of yoga.
4. We know that Land Yoga is home to a number of wellness practitioners who offer an extensive menu of treatments. How did you all come together to offer your services as a group?
It was my vision to create a space that offered services that complimented the yoga and that I find enjoyable and beneficial. The combining of this group of people was quite natural. I just started mentioning that we would be looking for healers and the right people were attracted to our space. It turned out that Candice (Soham Wellness) and I had actually met years before.
5. What is your favorite part about being a yoga instructor and business owner?
My favorite part of being a yoga instructor is watching my students transform before my eyes. What I witness is nothing short of miraculous. All ages, abilities, personalities come in and anyone who is committed, benefits. Actually, all it takes is a little effort and so much will come. I see people’s health transformed, which includes sleeping, eating patterns, flexibility, strength, digestion. They build stamina, will power, compassion, fearlessness, and clarity. These benefits are with them when they go out into the world and directly affect the way they act and communicate with others. This has a rippling affect and does change the world!
Being a business owner is incredible experience. It is a chance for me to practice my yoga skills (kindness, truthfulness, non-stealing, energy conservation, contentment, etc) in a real worldly environment. Watching your idea flourish before your eyes and turn into something tangible is a very profound experience. I think it’s like having a child. Having the business has enabled me to touch so many more people than before, and I’m just getting started! And of course, it has given me the chance to meet the most creative, hardworking, expansive, passionate business owners who are all here in Harlem.
6. What are some of your favorite Harlem hot spots?
I really can’t say just one hot spot. I make it a point to frequent as many of the businesses in the neighborhood as possible and to spend my time and money here. Each business is unique and so depending on mood or personality, there is something for everyone.
7. Anything else you would like to add?
I would like to express a real sense of gratitude for all the kindness, love and support that the studio has received since its conception. We are just getting started, so if we haven’t reached you yet, as my teacher says, “all is coming.” Also, I want to express another one of his sentiments and one of my personal mottos which is “No fear.” Lots of people are afraid to step into a yoga studio because they think they are not flexible enough or “good enough” to do yoga. This is totally false. Yoga is a personal journey and there is no one to impress but yourself. Everyone is a beginner when they enter and again, to paraphrase my teacher, anyone—young, old, sick, anyone but lazy people, can do yoga!
2116 Frederick Douglass Boulevard
New York, NY 10026