“You can’t do this practice and not be changed,” says Lara Land. “You just can’t.”
It’s the reason the Ashtanga yogi founder of Land Yoga is extending her mission this month, bringing yoga not just to the students who pay for classes in her chic Harlem studio, but to community members who may benefit from it but don’t have access, too. (Harlem yogis seem to have a knack for social impact—Ghylian Bell runs the Urban Yoga Foundation 20 blocks away.)
Land, a dynamic, petite brunette with a huge, constant smile, taught yoga all over New York City at popular studios like YogaWorks before opening her own space uptown three and a half years ago. And the Ashtanga-focused studio is super cozy and charming, with a wall of tiny Buddhas in the practice room that is a must-see.
She says she’s been drawn to charitable work for a long time. In her neighborhood, she created Harlem Earth Day for the community and hosted a huge fundraiser for Yoga Stops Traffick (which fights human trafficking in India) at Red Rooster’s downstairs hotspot, Ginny’s Supper Club. And farther afield, she taught yoga to HIV-positive women in Rwanda and HIV-positive children in India for several months, where she saw the practice’s power to help victims of trauma heal.
“I know what yoga can do because I’ve worked in really difficult communities,” she says.
Her non-profit, Three and a Half Acres, will partner with community organizations that help people dealing with all kinds of trauma to provide weekly yoga classes. So far, she’s partnered with the Ali Forney Center, which works with homeless LGBTQ youth, and Harlem United, which provides access to quality HIV and AIDS care.
“What we want to do is use yoga—all the parts of yoga, the philosophical aspects and the physical—to heal and empower and activate and bring together community,” she says.
She’ll continue to expand what that means and partner with more organizations. The next lofty goal she’s working toward? Providing yoga for police offers at local precincts. If she succeeds on that front, we’re thinking that will be a much bigger story. —Lisa Elaine Held
Land Yoga, 2116 Fredrick Douglass Blvd., between 114th and 115th Sts., Harlem, www.landyoga.com
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