Meet Lara Baumann: 'from Shiva girl to Shakti mum'. Replacing cult and convention with pure
Born in Colombia to German diplomatic parents, Lara achieved her MA in Religious Studies at SOAS University of London. Growing up in India and Japan, she developed a deep attraction to eastern philosophy. She started her career in the art world working for Christie’s. As a yoga apprentice, Lara studied with Sri K Pattabhi Jois in Mysore (ashtanga vinyasa) and with BKS Iyengar in Pune. Since then, other paths have been explored to enrich her initial approach. Teacher since 1999, she founded in 2007 her ground breaking QUANTUM YOGA school, publishing the book ("Quantum Yoga, The Holistic Approach to Creating Your Ideal Practice") followed by DVD’s and downloads of all the QUANTUM YOGA sequences. Lara now lives in Sri Lanka, where she and her husband have founded 'Tri', a sustainable luxury design hotel with yogashala and spa (see www.quantumyoga.com and www.trilanka.com for more information).
*Studio photo portraying Lara in a powerful variation of the Archer, 'Danushmatasana'.
It was far back in 2006 when a friend dragged me to my first class at Triyoga, Soho. At the time I just relocated from Italy. My mind was all over the place: new job and routine, the frenetic lifestyle and the dangerous temptations of a huge metropolis like London. Regardless, I was somehow in search of something to root me back.
At Triyoga the busiest and most popular classes were definitely Lara’s 'vinyasa flow': the right balance between an energetic and a gentle approach. What fascinated me from the very first moment was the feeling of inclusivity and collective energy created by her: everybody, regardless the level of experience, seemed to be challenged and rewarded enough. Her 'bird’s-eye-view'; the ability to master an all-around vision of the whole classroom; made me feel always comfortable and supported, even when attempting the more advanced poses. One year later, I was becoming a certified yoga teacher at Lara’s studio 'OmStation3' in Ladbroke Grove.
A long way we both came since. For many reasons I abandoned the practice; Lara moved to Galle, Sri Lanka, to open with her husband 'Tri' hotel, which comprises a 'yogashala' & spa, as well as the 'Elephant Palace' beach villa. Lara also runs one-month intensive Yoga Alliance 200-hour & 500-hour accredited teacher trainings. Five years ago she became mother of Juna; more recently she had her second child, Jaego. We lost contact for many years but a compelling curiosity recently awakened in me to see how life experiences, especially motherhood, have affected her approach to yoga.
Luca: Thank you Lara for finding the time for my blog interview. I know you are always very busy, having just returned from teaching a weekend workshop in Colombo to a feverish toddler. I hope Jaego gets well very soon! It is literally years since we last talked. I have to admit, it had mainly to do with my suffered choice to abandon the practice.
Let’s start trying to define together your QUANTUM YOGA, the way you would explain it to your children or to someone who never approached yoga before. I remember the word 'quantum' is evocative of Einstein’s relativity theory. In what way Einstein and the ancient ayurvedic principles; also a fundamental part of your teachings; are comprised in QUANTUM YOGA?
Lara: Ok. If I wanted to explain QUANTUM YOGA to a kid, I would say that it is about doing the practice which is right for you: simple! Everybody is different, and, moreover, we change all the time. Therefore, it is about how to recognise which practice suits you and also how to vary this practice from day to day in accordance with your changing requirements.
In slightly more sophisticated words, I would say QUANTUM YOGA is a method of personal practice optimisation. According to this method I advocate 'vinyasa'; which is breath-synchronised movement; as the primary mode of practice although there are times where a more static approach is appropriate: restorative, menstrual or pregnancy practice.
I have tried many different types of practices and I find that 'vinyasa' is the most effective in bringing together the three main existential qualities of the human condition: the breathing, the moving-through-space and the fact that we have busy minds. If you synchronise the movement and the breathing the effect is that the mind becomes clearer and more focused. 'Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodaha': with these words sage Patanjali defines yoga in his Sutras (3rd century CE) meaning the 'cessation of the fluctuations in consciousness' or, more simply, the 'stopping of the turning around of thoughts in your mind'… As you should you remember well from your teacher training! (laughs). Besides, since you are working with deep and steady breath ('ujjayi pranayama') you are also increasing the life force in your body ('prana') and your lung capacity, feeling more energised. Finally, by moving dynamically you are toning muscles, increasing bone density etc. In short, you are strengthening the body. Fundamentally, QUANTUM YOGA is a listening practice: which means establishing a dialogue between body and mind with a loving intention and responding intelligently to the reactions you observe happening in yourself. 'Quantum physics' has proven that any activity, when done with consciousness, bears a great transformative potential for the simple reason that when there is awareness your cells vibrate at a different frequency, and again, especially when the intention is positive. There are so many cross-overs between science and ancient spiritual teachings. The most obvious one is that energy is far more substantial than matter: the latter being just empty spaces held together by energy. When you practice yoga to a more intense level, you can experience this first hand. There are processes that happen in your body that are beyond mere muscles and bones. There is an experience of energetic shifts that can consequently affect your mental state.
Anyhow, the great lesson that I learned from this, as a yogi, could be summarised by these words: “work with awareness, pay attention, adjust your practice to yourself and your needs!”. As you can imagine this is a very different approach compared to other schools of yoga which are based on the repetition of the same sequence over and over.
Luca: Is then here implied an idea of creative and proactive approach to your yoga practice?
Lara: Absolutely. With QUANTUM YOGA I am trying to empower people to self-healing and I am also trying to inspire yogis to be more creative. I remember earlier on, in my ashtanga apprenticeship, daring to ask my teachers why always taking in your right leg first in the lotus position with the only response: “Because that’s the system.”.
Luca: Do you consider yourself a rebel against the yoga establishment?
Lara: Yes, thankfully I am a rebel! When I broke away from that system I realised that my practice was becoming more powerful and I was able to master postures like never before. I started listening and taking responsibility for my health, my injuries and my psychological state.
Luca. Is there a downside to this? Being too creative and not enough prepared: could you end up damaging yourself? I mean that especially for students and not so advanced yogis.
Lara: Yes, it can be dangerous, so I think that any creative act benefits from the support of a solid framework. To this end, QUANTUM YOGA provides the quantum grouping and sequencing system. The ultimate act of spontaneous creation is something for more experienced yogis. Until this level has been reached, QUANTUM YOGA provides ten sequences: three for beginners, three intermediate, three advanced and one for master level. The reason the sequences appear in threes is because QUANTUM YOGA leans on the teachings of 'ayurveda', central to which are the three 'doshas' or body-mind constitutions: 'kapha' or earth-water type, 'pitta' or fire-water type and 'vata' or air type. Based on this principle, it is always helpful to do a 'prakriti' assessment to find out your ayurvedic nature. The test analyses how the three 'doshas' are distributed in your body-mind complex. Human nature stays the same throughout the whole life but what manifests can vary according to circumstances. To make it clearer: people who are normally flighty need mostly grounding, others, who are mainly fiery, need soothing and, finally, the more earthy ones need invigoration. Therefore, if you are the last kind, for instance, your inclination will bring you to be heavy and slow but compelling circumstances to perform at work, a high consumption of coffee or the lack of sleep can increase your Pitta level regardless. Being a quantum yogi means having the ability to recognise these changes and respond to them creatively and intelligently. The reason why people are diseased or suffer from psychological issues is because of their natural tendency to repeat the patterns that put them in their comfort-zone. Nevertheless, the key is to oppose this natural inclination. Health and harmony lie in the cultivation of balance. The same applies to yoga practice. We should be able to alternate sequences to cultivate our natural body intelligence to cope with different movements otherwise the result of doing always the same sequence could end up with strain and injury. In the old days, as an ashtanga teacher, it was always the 'pitta' and 'vata' types showing up at my classes; never the 'kapha' types; although they would have been the ones benefiting the most from it.
For those who want to know more about this subject and do the 'prakriti' test, I would recommend to visit quantumyoga.com, although at 'Tri yogashala' we offer more accurate one-to-one consultations. The QUANTUM YOGA book: “A Holistic approach to creating your ideal practice” is also available on the site.
Luca: Let’s move now onto a more personal subject. How is Yoga affecting your motherhood and your relationship with children? Vice versa, how motherhood has affected your approach to yoga? For example, has motherhood made you a more patient and accepting teacher?
(As if she was overhearing our conversation, Juna suddenly appears in the skype camera frame: she is platinum blond and wearing reading glasses which give her a vaguely intellectual allure).
Lara: Personally I need yoga for my sanity more than ever! Having children can make your life challenging and stressful. My husband Rob helps me a lot, I have to say. He is a pretty amazing husband in almost every department. Not all but.. Whatever! (laughs).
As a teacher, instead, the fact of being a mother made me understand better the female body and psychology. You have to consider in fact that 75% of my students are female and that two thirds of them have children. It is imperative as a mother to learn to be less of a perfectionist and to embrace chaos. As you know, last weekend I ran a workshop in Colombo and everything went really well, but when I returned home, instead of putting my feet up, I had to take Jaego to the hospital because of high fever.
I have to admit, I am struggling being a mother in terms of my own meditation and deeper aspects of yoga practice. I used to delight in fully disconnecting from contingency and entering the transcendental realm. This becomes more difficult when you have children: because of the love, really. You care for them so much that when you are meditating you almost feel guilty. In the back your mind, the thought that you should always keep them in your consciousness never stops twirling around. All my life until motherhood, I have been pretty fearless and used to rejoice in a ‘nonchalant’ attitude that came from the feeling of just being responsible for myself. I do believe, though, that also as a mum and engaging yourself in the cycle of life, death and creation you can still approach yoga but, I have to be honest, I am still in the process finding my way. Early in my practice I was pretty fearless; 'extreme girl' was one of my nicknames; whereas now my children taught me what fear means as I became more attached to life.
Luca: Do you teach yoga to your children? If so, what do you think when putting together a sequence for them? It is difficult to keep up their attention? What do you notice striking or different when children do yoga compared to adults?
Lara: Yes, even before I had my children. I did it in London for a few years and I have been formally trained for that. For example, you don’t hold poses for so long because their bones are not fully formed yet, and you have to weave into the practice some stories because their attention span is way shorter than adults’. In children some behaviours are more obvious so it becomes easier to identify their ayurvedic type because they haven’t experienced much influences from the outer environment.
You can definitely do a QUANTUM YOGA kid’s class. Kids normally respond to it really well and, most importantly, they benefit from being told they should listen and they should always be looking for balance. I have to say that during the course of this interview I am getting inspired and I am thinking to write for my daughter Juna a sequence for her fifth birthday. She definitely needs yoga, she is a 100% 'pitta' type. Maybe I will name it “Luca’s Lullaby” in your honour!
(I roar in laughter. Like highlighting this hilarious moment, all of a sudden, the sound of strong rain and thunders become closer and closer. Connection interrupts for a few minutes. Lara warned me before about monsoon rains).
Luca: You live and teach in an upscale eco-retreat in Sri Lanka, paradisiacal place immersed in the nature, millions of miles away from western civilization. Why did you decide to move here? What contradictions and limits can experience a yoga teacher today practising in a city environment like London?
Lara: Talking about paradisiacal Sri Lanka (points the lap top camera at the outside)… Now it’s torrential rain.. And I have missed my surfing time slot for the day. Argh! Never mind. Answering to your question: I moved to SL for my husband Rob (He just enters the room: quick moment of greetings). He has been living here for fifteen years and when we decided to get married I moved as well: I couldn’t resist him! Anyway, my plan has always been to spend more and more time in Asia across the year, especially in the winter. Rob owns this island on Koggala Lake and proposed to build something amazing so I said: “Yes, let’s do it!”. The limits that I experienced in London when I was living there, like in any other urban environment, are mainly due to the lack of nature and its healing power. Let’s be honest, despite its decent amount of green, for many months you are stuck indoor because of the weather. Here we are in our house and, as you can see, all the shutters are open so we are not really inside. Nature becomes a dominant component of your life.
Luca: Is there also a component of stress maybe?
Lara: The stress here is just as bad. I mean: trying to have anything done in SL is like wading through thick mud! What happened today with the wi-fi connection is what happens on a regular basis in SL. What you learn here is patience and perseverance. Driving is hell and very dangerous. Besides, you don’t have as much of the culture and human creativity that you find in London and that is what I miss the most. There is a very small expat community here but it can become a bit claustrophobic sometimes. Although, there are lovely people and a few very committed yogis. Regardless the geographical place you are living and operating in, your existential issues remain the same: always blaming the environment is silly and wrong. More appropriate is working on your inside.
Luca: Do you see a next stage for your QUANTUM YOGA project? Is there an evolution to it? In other words, are we expecting something else big from you? Or.. This is it! Your long term dream has come true.
Lara: Personally, when the kids will be grown up and won’t need me anymore, I will probably start doing some more extreme practice again. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I want to reach enlightment, but at least to be able to have found peace when my time comes.
In terms of QUANTUM YOGA, I have been training in the last years inspiring and committed teachers. Some of them will probably take it further than I have, especially using the powerful marketing tools which social media can offer today. Hopefully they will soon design their own sequences as well. A while ago I have also finalised an advanced QUANTUM YOGA pregnancy video download. Sadly, years later, it is still in post production. It has been shot in 'Tri yogashala' and looks really beautiful. During the filming I was eight months pregnant and I love this element cause it helped me to express the idea that if you are an experienced yogini you don’t necessarily have to be too limited, even when pregnant. You can still do a lot of poses, which both mother and baby can benefit from.
Luca: If Yoga 'didn’t find you', what do you think your life would be like now? Who would you be? Do you think you could have done something equally enlightening without yoga? Ultimately, are there fulfilling existential paths other than yoga?
Lara: I think this spiritual yearning has always been in me but it could have found expression in something else, for sure. There was a big crossroads in my life at some point. I did manage to get my dream job in my twenties when I was at Christie’s, London, and I applied for a position as Junior Specialist in the Japanese department. What happened is that they gave that position to the son of one of the most important art dealers in Tokyo. That is why I decided to go back to university and do a master degree in religious studies. If my competitor hadn’t appeared and I had obtained my position at Christie’s, I most probably would have had a career in the art business. Having said that, I already knew back then that what really interested me in Asian art was its mystical and religious underpinning. Probably I would have ended up doing some sort of yoga practice to satisfy my spiritual longing. Also, working in the art world can be very stressful and competitive therefore I would have needed yoga sooner or later. To be completely honest I kind of suspect that, either way, I would have found my way to yoga although not necessarily the teaching part.
Luca: The interview is now finished. Thank you a million for your time, especially despite the disturbance caused by a few lost skype connections. As always, I find your words inspiring and I am sure the same applies to my followers and friends based in London and all over the world.
Should the readers be curious to know more about you, QUANTUM YOGA workshops and teacher trainings or, simply, should they be interested in booking a beautiful holiday in Sri Lanka, please follow the links below.
Lara: Thank you Luca. May all beings everywhere be happy and free!