Lara Z: Artist & Yoga Teacher

Intuitive creativity and fluid, mindful movement is expressed in Lara’s yoga teaching as much as her artwork. This journey to fully explore and express the beauty of her essence began after a traumatic, almost life-taking accident.

Post-traumatic stress had taken over her body, bringing enduring anxiety and sleeplessness. But through body awareness practices of yoga and Somatic Experiencing, curiosity and self-compassion gradually replaced fear and opened her up to the wonders of the spiritual human body.

Here, Lara shares with PRAVAYAMA how the teachings of Shiva Rea and Tantric philosophy have a profound effect on her everyday life: inviting her to slow down, to marvel at the magic of life and to catch glimpses of the extra-ordinary within the ordinary.

And Lara tells how, from this peaceful place, she has birthed a passionately creative, purpose-filled life.

The Timeliness of Yoga

Yoga was introduced to me by my mum when I was 17. I remember it making me feel so alive and connected to my essence, my passion, my purpose, that I just couldn’t get enough.

What is so curious is that on my 18th birthday shortly afterwards, I had a serious accident. I fell through a glass table, severed my gluteal artery, lost about 4 litres of blood and nearly died.

The reader’s digest version of the story is for over 10 years (I’m 29 now) I have been suffering with, what was at times debilitating, post-traumatic-stress (PTSD) symptoms of anxiety leading to insomnia, stemming from that single-event trauma.

So my yoga trajectory has run pretty much parallel to this crippling and fascinating syndrome. The medicine I have received from my mat over the past decade or so has been the keystone towards coming back into balance in my body and mind.

Curiosity

‘Curious’ is a word that I’ve become super intimate with over the years. The questions I ask myself daily are: What am I more curious about than afraid of? What does it mean to live fully awake and passionately on purpose? I believe it starts with realising the promise and potential of every single day; to awaken a commitment to live in a way we will be proud of when inevitably it’s time for the ultimate savasana.

For me, curiosity changes everything, it really has the opportunity to flip your perspective completely around. When I’m in a state or when I have been – thank goodness these days it’s so much better, I’m more compassionate but I’m also catching myself before things get too far or too anxious.

But when I was really struggling, there was always the choice to get really pulled down by that infinite spiral of fear. The inverse of that is staying open to be like, ‘Ah, I’m not going to die, but what are these sensations?’ And it’s really from a yoga mindset, moving towards the feeling rather than running away from it. The fear really is a fight or flight response, whereas curiosity really is the opposite of that where you’re merging with the sensations.

The Shiva Rea Effect

A huge breakthrough in my life was my first encounter with vinyasa trailblazer Shiva Rea in 2015. I had just left my job, was chronically unwell with PTSD symptoms and had to move back home with my parents. However, six months previously I had booked a month-long retreat on the isles of Greece, far away from my places of safety. I was very close to not going. 

Not only did I stay, but my nervous system started to settle and I started sleeping again. This was the beginning of deep healing, and a huge transitional moment in my life.

My connection with Shiva and the movement medicine I received on that retreat/training/rehab centre was the precise alchemical blend I needed to restore balance and allow me to feel – in the full Grecian sunshine, without any clouds overhead – my inexorable thirst for life, for love, for reveling in the experience of being an embodied human.

Her fluid and dynamic methodology of Prana Flow has revolutionised my teaching and her tantric-inspired philosophy radically shifted my lens to see the world.

Orienting From Darkness to Joy

It’s challenging, by no means am I feeling on top of it, this is a constant journey for me. But I know what I need now, I know the antidote that I need to recover when I get triggered again.

The cues that I keep telling myself is about orienting towards joy and pleasure, not lingering in the darkness. People have different views about this but I’m not one to wallow – I don’t feel like that’s where I find feeling, staying there and cooking there. Some people are really good at that, I’m not.

The body work I was doing – somatic experiencing, coaxed me to body scan – going through and mapping, tracking my body. Or just sitting with my body, closing my eyes and sitting down and mapping: Where is being pulled to attention in my body?

It’s often towards what’s uncomfortable and that’s really important to address, really going into it, seeing if I could merge my attention with the discomfort. It might be an injury people are working with, but for me when I was really struggling the discomfort was everywhere. When I was really anxious I felt like everyone could see me, vibrating – I wasn’t worried about anything, it was purely a physiological response. My body was in a state of shock that wasn’t present-day, it was an old story.

So it’s about ‘Can I soften more?’ Or, ‘Where do I feel good and can I go there and focus on that?’ It could be the tip of the nose, a toe, a finger, an ear or something. And then that feeling starts to spread. So it’s about finding the safety. Everyone’s different but when you’re in those dark places it’s really trusting that the morning will come, a lot of faith.

Yoga Asana as the Portal

The asana is an extraordinary portal, it’s addictive, it feels so good in your body. The physical exertion gets people in to it, especially guys. Using your own body weight, building strength, working on challenging things in our body is the hook, the work for a lot of us is staying in a state of compassion while we do it.

But I believe that over the years the physical practice becomes a gateway towards experiencing other, more subtle layers of our experience. From most dense to most refined energies shimmering inside.

Our energetic body, our pranic body – that’s really where I aim to teach from now. I do talk about alignment but for me it’s more about starting to feel freedom in the body and using energetic cues and energetic alignment so people start to feel a sense of lightness and power in the body beyond just muscle and bone.

I’m constantly reminding students to slow down… which is actually more challenging. Instead of whipping their bodies around at 100 miles an hour, I encourage simmering in the slow burn of sensation and cultivating strength in deep activation of the bandhas, and waking up the map of the energetic body.

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Living Yoga

If I had to sum up what yoga means to me in one word, I believe yoga is listening: Listening to the body with curious, compassionate, loving attention, revelling in the experience of being human, in all its pleasure and pain.

Yoga taught me how to exit the fast lane and slide into the slow river of wonder. It taught me that instead of ‘finding’ joy, we can cultivate it by searching for the preciousness of small things, the ordinary miracles – such as moving an arm through space, savouring the texture of breath entering and leaving the body, the delight in taking a shower… in touching something soft… enjoying a delicious mouthful of food… and the list goes on.

The Spiritual Human Body

 With the spiritual path, I’m still not sure what specifically I believe in, I just know that I’m a person of deep devotion. My spirituality really comes from opening myself up to awe and revelling in the great mystery of the universe and the potential of this body and brain. For me, spirituality is surrendering to something much greater than you or I, and feeling connected to the stars in an ever-unfolding process.

So for me it’s not from an intellectual place, it’s from a body place, a felt sense. I often see that with people trying to understand ‘What is religion?’ ‘What is yoga?’, ‘What is the doctrine behind it?’ I don’t really believe there has to be one. I think it’s just opening ourselves in a receiving way and for me, that’s everything that leads my yoga, my yoga path, letting my body do the talking.

Meditation in Creativity

I’m a tactile person and my hands have always been my avenue to best enjoy the world – whether through yoga or massage, kneading dough or arms covered elbow-deep in silken clay. I feel very lucky that I was brought up in a house where my creative spirit was given free reign to play and explore from the very beginning. 

I feel most alive and connected to my essence when I am revelling in the creative process, serenading myself with meaningful movement and encouraging others to do the same. 

I guess I have become known for my mandala art – on handmade, hand-carved ceramics, but also more recently on large-scale murals in yoga studios as well as body art and tattoos. Each design is completely unique and the process of creating each mandala is a meditation practice. I sit in front of the canvas with no plan and no guide, simply giving my hand free reign. The kaleidoscopic, orbiting solar system that results is often a complete surprise to me, each design a reminder of my relation to infinity – from microcosm to macrocosm.

Working with clay is a profound meditation practice in itself. It connects me to nature in a very material way. From a macro-perspective, clay – or mud – is the skin of the earth. But it also connects me to my body. It is literally grounding, and teaches me how to be strong and steady, yet soft and receptive – it is delightfully sensual.

I believe yoga is listening: Listening to the body with curious, compassionate, loving attention, revelling in the experience of being human, in all its pleasure and pain.”

Revelations of Tantra

In these times of olympic levels of distraction and business, stress and trauma is commonplace. I believe the antidote for so many of us is to slow down, to pay compassionate attention to what we feel – even the icky and uncomfortable edges. What I’ve discovered is not only is this the deep healing for our nervous systems that most of us need, but it can become something extraordinary – to open up to the magnificence of this existence.

This attitude or belief system is essentially Tantric revelation – that our moment to moment waking life, even in the thick of work or stress or life drama can be irradiated, by diving for even just a moment into the texture of our inner and outer worlds – not by transcending the world, but by catching glimpses of the extraordinary hidden within ordinary life.

As an aesthete, sensation addict and admirer of all things beautiful – I absolutely fell in love with this worldview. Delving into the teachings of Tantra radically shattered the picture I had of what meditation is or how meditation is often presented – often as a way of dissociating from human experience and trying to rise above it. Quite the contrary this path is about going deeply into intense experience, every sensual delight, every ordinary moment, as a gateway to the divine.

The techniques, in many ways, are most profound in their simplicity and accessible to us in every waking moment – movement, breath-work, creativity, nature, dance, play… these are the meaning-making aspects of who we are; a journey from the head into the feeling heart, into the intelligence of the body.

Living on Purpose

After many years of searching, wondering and wandering about my ‘dharma’, about what was my passion and purpose on this plane, it was only when I was forced to leave my full-time role at the magazine that I was able to fully attend to my desire to create.

What has been so remarkable for me to see is how all of my seemingly disparate threads of skills seem to have woven together into a colourful tapestry of a career. The many years of living with ‘struggle’ has brought me into daily conversations with myself, inadvertently demanding for my own authentic expression, innovation and replenishment. I truly feel we must first live the being and from that will emerge the doing.

 Hosting my yoga retreats, Back2Roots Retreats alongside dear friend Brooke Elliston have become fertile ground for me to share my diverse passions and trainings – from vinyasa to tantric philosophy, AcroYoga, Thai massage, art making, healthy cooking and the list goes on.

Each retreat is a synthesis of luxury and wilderness woven together with a lot of heart. Empowering transformation by holding space for others to live from the inside out brings me so much joy, alongside making art for art’s sake.  And facilitating these is the greatest gift, the greatest blessing that I’ve had because of so much healing that I’ve had from it.

Creativity drives every aspect of my life. Whether it is brainstorming sequences for a yoga class, curating my playlists, planning retreats or physically making art – I have made the commitment to myself to live from the inside out, tapping into the rhythm of the heart that moves my body first, and mind second.

I stay aligned with my “brand” by following my bliss. By pursuing my passions and trusting the gifts that are mine alone to give. When I make decisions from that place, the way seems to reveal itself.