Yoga teacher Lara Land is the owner of Land Yoga, an ashtanga studio in Harlem. Two years ago she started Three and a Half Acres, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing yoga and mindfulness to youth at high risk of incarceration, as well as to New York City police officers. The name is a quote from her Mysore teacher, Sharath Jois: “Each human needs about three and a half acres of land to breathe properly.” Land spoke with Karen Schwartz for YogaCity NYC’s Ahimsa Activism series.
Karen Schwartz: Tell us how Three And a Half Acres works.
Lara Land: We look for organizations that are already working with young adults at high risk and we present yoga and meditation as part of what they should be offering their clients. Harlem United is our biggest partner right now—they work with LGBTQ youth at high risk of or infected with HIV—and we’re in the process of starting a partnership with the NYC Justice Corps. In a lot of the organizations we’re also serving the staff. Working in service can be very draining.
KS: You’re teaching yoga to the NYPD?
LL: We offer two free classes a week. I go to the precincts and speak at roll call about breathing, mindfulness, the importance of self-care. Most of that is in an effort to get them to class but it’s also a teaching in itself. Both the youth and the officers are doing yoga practices as a means of healing within their separate communities, and eventually in the next year we plan to have them practice together. The reason we haven’t brought these groups together yet is because of how delicate it could be and the potential for awakening traumas and grievances. We want to make sure it’s done the right way.
On the mat with Three and a Half Acres
KS: Whose life has been made better by this work?
LL: We have one officer who is at Land Yoga religiously, taking class once, sometimes twice a week. He was in so much stress that he was having neck spasms and cramping, and he was able to release that. He told us so many times how much the practice has made him [better able to] go into his job.
One of our young adults told us that he was so angry before class he was ready to fight, but the class helped him let go of a lot of that anger. Much of the feedback from our young adults is about having more confidence and understanding their body language better, and how that translates in a job interview.
On the street, with both these communities, handling conflict can’t be taught intellectually. It has to be a nervous system realignment, so the body is really taught to slow down instead of going into fight-or-flight adrenaline mode. Long-term, it becomes more a habit to slow down and take a breath, and that overrides the previous habit to jump—which is lifesaving.
KS: Who inspires you?
LL: So many people! The women who organized the Women’s March, I find them extremely inspiring. Seane Corn [Off The Mat, Into The World] is someone I’ve followed for many years. My guru, of course, Pattabhi Jois, and his grandson who’s my teacher, Sharath.
And my parents! My mom always taught me loving kindness from really, really young and my father always taught me about drive. I’m a combination of them.
KS: How can someone get involved with your organization?
LL: We’re looking for more teachers, not necessarily volunteers. If they have trauma training and have worked in the kinds of communities that we work in, they can receive a stipend.
Or they can volunteer with us as part of their training.
Volunteers can also help with outreach, which can mean anything from helping us write letters, to social media, to visiting precincts and staffing events. Our program is expanding very fast.
KS: Any upcoming events we should be aware of?
LL: Taste of India, our biggest fundraiser of the year, is March 14th and that’s a really good way to support and to find out more about Three and a Half Acres. It’s a big Bollywood style party we throw every year, and the proceeds go to support our programs. Visit our website, or go to firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets.
For more information about Three and a Half Acres and Land's teacher training, visit threeandahalfacres.org, or email Land at email@example.com.