Ibiza wellness: Larah Davis – Top Ibiza yoga teacher
Born in a small village just outside of Oxford to British and American parents, Ibiza yoga instructor, yoga therapist and founder of Ibiza Retreats, Larah Davis’s journey into the wellness world came through injury. In her early teens, she suffered severe spinal injury in a car accident, and the ongoing pain from this caused her to seek beyond modern medicine for an alternative way to heal her own body.
Today, she is renowned as one of Ibiza’s leading wellness experts, with Ibiza Retreats hosting a wide variety of transformational holistic wellness retreats, grounded in yoga, for guests hailing from all walks of life and all over the world. It is here Larah feels she is living her true purpose of serving from the heart through the yoga, yoga therapy, holistic coaching, energy work and the ongoing development and refinement of the retreat concepts to bring life-enhancing tools and techniques to empower their retreat guests.
When did you first discover yoga and what attracted you to the practice?
In my early 20s, I was experiencing debilitating levels of physical pain. It was the aftermath of a very serious road accident in which my spine suffered significant trauma. Physiotherapy and general medicine only dealt with localised injury, whilst the trauma needed to be released from the nervous system in order for me to recover holistically. I didn’t want to be on painkillers for the rest of my life so I started to seek alternative healing options. With every exercise program I started I would run into injury – I hadn’t awakened my body’s intelligence and didn’t know how to listen to my limits. When I was at university, I encountered yoga through one of my professors. Aged 64, he was teaching Shadow Yoga classes for just £2 per session, with the desks pushed back in a classroom. He was so calm, centered and incredibly strong and flexible – and his qualities were deeply inspiring: I remember thinking of my first class: “this is so challenging!” And I always loved a challenge.
Did you feel an instant connection to the practice?
I felt the connection with my professor, which was amazing, and then I felt the connection with my self as a whole being, at different levels – body, mind, breath and…. my spirit. I remember the first downward dog and how it challenged me mentally, energetically and physically. I loved how I really HAD to feel – had to breathe more deeply, had to meet my limits – and how that connected me with my truth, my shadows and also my light and potential. When you feel that inner connection, it’s like – click! You start to connect to a deeper source of knowledge and innate intelligence – as humans, we often need to feel convinced by feeling at the physical level, then we can refine and learn to control and utilise the breath, then we can get closer to mastering the monkey mind, all this has to happen before we can access the “Anandamaya” bliss level.
What was it that you identified with about yoga during that time?
Yoga is a journey of many lifetimes, yet what I loved most (as a very driven goal-oriented young woman) was that advanced yoga was not about whether you achieve the harder poses or not. Over time I realised that it was as much about surrender and acceptance of my state of being at that moment, on that day. In essence, I was mesmerised by tuning into this subtler, deeper connection to myself and how I could truly tune in to and maintain this connection through my yogic practice.
When did you start to develop a regular practice?
I carried on studying with my professor and, when I started working in New York, I tried other classes, but they’d be full of 60 people, fast-paced and taught in Sanskrit… and, after too many stiff necks and sore shoulders I became concerned about injury, especially as I was very bendy and had a propensity to hyper-extend through my spine. So I started to explore different teachers and study every type of yoga that crossed my path. My first Ashram experience [in NYC] was a pivotal point in my journey – in my evenings, I was hosting one of the hottest restaurants in Manhattan, and on the other, I was really still seeking – beyond the physical side of yoga. I was living with a white light healer in the West Village, who invited me to meet her guru… and that’s when yoga went to the next, deeper (or higher!) level.
Tell us about the Ashram experience?
She took me up in a lift in the old Chelsea Hotel – where Sid Vicious killed Nancy Spungeon – of all places, and on the seventh floor, we entered an apartment that had been converted into an Ashram, with plush deep red carpets and soft calm lighting. It was like opening a door into another dimension. The vibration was so high and light in there, it was overwhelming – pure love. Everyone was chanting mantras, and, when Baba (the guru) entered, his presence alone emanated peace, love and calm. This was my first ‘satsang’, (a talk by a guru or enlightened being). As he started to talk, I realised this was what I had been seeking – a naked, non-dogmatic truth that was pure and from the heart.
How did this change your direction in life?
I realised brand management in New York wasn’t where I was supposed to be, and, following my Ashram experience, I felt plugged in to a deeper sense of knowing. I began to follow this – my inner-guidance system, my intuition. I went back to London to finish my degree, and during that time I came to Ibiza to live for a while. I’d been coming to Ibiza since I was 16, to dance and feel free. For me, there was always a spiritual connection and Ibiza was always a place where I could really be myself. It always felt healing, enchanting, inspiring. I loved the philosophical and esoteric conversations I’d have with people here, the colourful people, the natural beauty, the high vibrations and the sense of living more simply. Then a friend in Australia asked me to help him manage his musical career and I sensed that this felt right – so I booked a one-way ticket to Sydney find my purpose.
Tell us about this journey?
I went to the opening of a Day Retreat in Sydney in 2001. The woman fronting the company asked me to help her build her life transformation company offering workshops in Sydney and retreats in the blue mountains. I was already studying energetic and spiritual healing at the Natural Healthcare College in Sydney, but I didn’t know what the Life Coaching or Neuro Linguistic Programming was that her business was offering. I said to her: “If this is what we’re going to be doing with people, I need to be doing it too” and so, alongside my daily yoga practice and ongoing yoga studies, I began to learn this vital tools and techniques for enhancing your emotional and physical wellbeing and for living a happier, healthier life. This cognitive approach would later enhance my teaching at every level – and I always had yoga in the background, underpinning the cognitive and energetic studies. Yoga was my foundation. For someone who’s really cerebral, it helped me really get out of my head and into my body, to access and sculpt my energy to serve me and life better.
How did you get involved with retreats?
With this Life Transformations company, we started offering fully integrated wellness retreats to people with depression, high-stress lifestyles, insomnia, who were dealing with functional illnesses – which is what we do with Ibiza Retreats now – and it was up in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney that I developed a 360-degree multi-sensorial approach to retreats.
At what point did you make the decision to become a yoga teacher?
I had studied and studied many different styles of yoga – Vinyasa Flow, Hatha, Sivananda, Iyengar – all over the world. But it was when I moved to Ibiza 10 years ago, that I started looking for a course to train as a teacher. I had started Ibiza Retreats, and had qualifications in Energetic and Spiritual Healing, Life Coaching, NLP – but was looking for the right teacher to truly inspire me. You really meet yourself when you commit to a teacher training and I was seeking someone with the wisdom and life experience to professionally hold that space for a deep journey and who could offer an integral yoga experience, grounded in a therapeutic approach. For me, the path of yoga has always been about self healing and self-empowerment, with a very individualised approach for each person. In the end, it was Nora Belton I did my first teacher training with, who had a very therapeutic and well-rounded approach – it was amazing.
Have you done any other trainings since then?
Yes. I have studied with many teachers and since 2015, have been training in Yoga Therapy with the brilliant faculty at the Yoga Campus at The Life Centre in London. The therapeutic knowledge and application is vital for the working consciously with the many ailments, issues and physical injuries that present on our retreats and ensures we can provide a safe practice that challenges many individuals at different, life-enhancing levels.
Tell us about the style of yoga you teach today?
It’s a creative therapeutic hatha vinyasa flow which is creative and highly individualised. Rather than pre-writing an entire script of postures and pranayama beforehand, I do a basic preparation for the class and then tune into the yogis on the mat and invite them to tune in to their needs and ‘Sankalpas’ intentions at that moment – on that day. It may involved restorative elements or be more dynamic and revitalizing – it all depends on the purpose of the practice for that person (or group of people) on that day.
Does the yoga taught at Ibiza Retreats also follow this style?
This approach is offered by all of our co-teachers on retreats. Our mission is to empower our guests to take home a self-practice that enables them to enhance their health, happiness and inner-journey and healing processes when back in daily life too. It’s always tailor-made to bring the best benefits possible to where our yogis are in the present moment, physically, emotionally and energetically – and I love teaching to amazing music and including mantras to open up the heart and throat chakras too!
How do you describe your relationship with your students?
I feel like I’m the taxi driver! I see yoga as multi-sensory medicine for body, heart and mind. I’m here to facilitate an experiential journey of self discovery, by their sides, through their body, through their breath, through their awareness. I love inviting students to experience rather than achieve and through this approach, enabling them to awaken their own body intelligence and to listen to and trust themselves (rather than simply following my teaching cues). When it comes ot the deeper inner-journey of self-knowledge and healing, I let my clients lead, first by embracing blockages and pain as a tool for self-enquiry and learning – rather than seeing pain as a limitation, they learn why pain is there and what they have created in their lives that caused it – both physically and emotionally. And of course, I offer yoga as an elegant and inspiring range of beautiful tools and techniques to release stress and tensions and to access peace, positivity and calm. The yogic journey always offers transformation and transformation is most powerful when my clients are leading THEIR way, at their pace, themselves.
How do you describe your personal teaching methods?
Intuitive. Therapeutic. Diagnostic. Empowering. Gentle, breath-led, always inviting my students to come back from the mind and to recognise when it’s the mind leading, and when they are really riding the breath and listening to that soft voice within. That for me is the integral part of Vinyasa Flow: the breath, synergised with movement, in a magical, vibrant harmony.
What is your own yoga philosophy?
Self-acceptance and self-love leads to self empowerment. Accept where you are now and truly challenge yourself to feel it. Listen to your inner-truth in that moment, then love yourself enough to listen to that truth. If it means surrendering into child’s pose rather than keeping up with the rest of the class, dare to do it – and this will empower you to make yoga your. Yoga is about union of body-mind-heart-and spirit – therefore it is not about looking at what the person on the next mat is doing, nor comparing what you can do. It is about witnessing yourself, learning about yourself, surprising yourself and challenging yourself not to as often as to. Maybe today is the right day to get your legs up over your head… But what is the purpose of that, right now, for you? Being true to yourself amps up your energy massively – as you release the pressure you put on yourself, you release pressure in your muscles and nerve endings too. As you find freedom in body, mind and breath – you can find freedom off the mat too.
Is there anyone in the yoga world who inspires you today?
There is a teacher called Uma Dinsmore Tuli, who has written an incredible bible on yoga for women called Yoni Shakti. She’s at the vanguard of yoga for women’s wellness internationally. She is phenomenal and has researched and developed a wealth of knowledge and a sophisticated, yet very authentic, cut the crap approach. She’s all about honouring yourself, honouring the shakti, making it fun, singing plenty of mantras, juicing up the energy in the class… and yoga nidrra! (yogic sleep). She inspired me as a real human being and mother of three, with all these different perspectives and responsibilities in life, to try to integrate yoga at every level into my life, including my journey of motherhood and family life.
What is your own personal practice like?
Right now, as mother of a baby and a 6-year old It’s more integral than ever. It could be that I am just doing 15 minutes in the morning one day and the next day it’s 40 minutes, or 20 minutes in the afternoon with my legs up over a chair. It is purpose focused. What do I need today to be cenetred, strong, relaxed, focused and calm? I adapt my practice to suit my Sankalps and incorporate plenty of restorative yoga, and yoga bidras (the yogic sleep you enter via the theta state of self healing) into my teaching as well as my self practice, because our society now is so over stimulated. Our nervous systems are exhausted. It’s all about how to make the most of your 15 minutes to get to where you need to be. I’ve got a yoga deck under an almond tree, so when my baby’s asleep, I take longer there and dive into intuitive flow. But I do yoga every day. There is such a huge difference between the way you feel when you do, to when you don’t. It’s like drinking water or brushing your teeth! I am so much kinder, so much nicer and so much more centered with more patience and energy. I am much more balanced and I am stronger.
Do you still practice under the guidance of other teachers?
Yes! Some of my favourites are here. I love practicing with Suzanne Slocum Gori, she’s amazing and I really feel I am learning a lot more for myself as well as for my teaching methodologies when I train with her. I love Leana – she has a lot of Scaravelli inspired details and compassionate alignment principles, a therapeutic approach and recognising that one size does not fit all when it comes to asana alignment techniques. I also love Vivienne who teaches with me and for me on our retreats, she’s just gorgeous and has a very feminine energy and creative, somatic approach.
The topic of women’s yoga and empowerment seems to come up often…
This is the direction I am going into more now, into women’s wellness through yoga, pre and post natal, female empowerment. I love really inviting women to learn how to nourish themselves, their needs, their bodies, to create a new sense of body mind beautiful throughout the different stages (and challenges) of life. Through living in London and NY, I became aware of the male go-go-go over-active energy that was running destructive patterns inside of me. I needed to learn how to ground, to rest, to receive and to reconnect to my intuitive self, in order to rebalance this. What’s also interesting is when it’s men that I’m teaching, I normally find ways for them to incorporate more yin, receptive and female energies into their practice. Sometimes us women need to cultivate more core strength and yang warrior energy – it is all about balance!
Where can people practice with you on the island?
I’ve just started Mamalove Yoga & Baby classes, coming with your baby, on Tuesday mornings which resume in September and I also teach private classes – until next spring when I return to teach on our retreats, because my other yoga is my karma ‘mama’ yoga, As a mother to two small children, I am practicing the Bhakti yoga of devotion to their wellbeing as well as overseeing the wellbeing of Ibiza Retreats from the background. My children are my greatest gurus of all for sure. This is something that needs to be rekindled in the yoga world. Karma Yoga is the yoga of giving back, without expecting anything in return. All about kindness and giving. When you’re selflessly giving, it gives you energy and opens your heart exponentially.
Tell us about one of your most profound yoga experiences?
Each moment that I feel myself ‘drop in’ to my body and heart, when my practice becomes a true union, the feeling of peace that descends, from my muscles to my mind, is awe-inspiring. Underlined of course, by the time I received the Shakti Pat from a Guru in NYC, at that first Ashram. The divine Kundalini energies rising up my spine resulted in all the pain and tensions caused by my previous car accident just melting away. There were surges of love and bliss flowing through my whole system until the next morning. That was when I KNEW I had to get more of this natural high, from following my purpose, my Dharma (life path) to serve others. Another was being in such a deep ‘no-mind’ state, that I found myself in headstand without knowing how I had got there!
Have you got a yoga ‘wow’ moment?
Yes! Many. From practicing at sunset in front of Es Vedra when I first moved to Ibiza, feeling every cell alive with energy, breath and the magic of being there…. wow! I get shivers just thinking about it – the nature, practicing barefoot on the earth ionises our system and releases tension profoundly. And earlier in my yogic journey, finding myself upside down in headstand without even knowing how I had got there, realising afterwards that I had been practicing from a place of no mind. This for me is the greatest flow, when we have focused our mind with total mindfulness and presence, to access this awesome state of lightness and harmony.
What do you find most rewarding about teaching?
Seeing and feeling my students awakening their potential and empowering yogis to discover how much more they are capable of – opening vast oceans of possibilities for the mind, soul and spirit to spread your wings and fly! I love to see students connect to their practice beyond the physical, to connect to their purpose, passion and your dreams. Through this your soul invites you to create more meaning through your work and creations, you consciously begin to seek to offer your life in a way that is for the greater good at all. I love to think of it as empowering people to become inner peace warriors: sending out ripples of positive energy through their families, friends, colleagues and SM networks to enhance our beautiful world.
What do you find most challenging?
Meeting myself. [Laughs.] Because of course, when you are working with different students, their stories often mirror your own. One of the most important professional aspects of teaching, is to come from a non-judgmental, all accepting place. So one of the greatest challenges is when students come who are mirroring something in you – something you’re working on or that you need to work on. This becomes a healing path for both of you.
How do you stay grounded and connected with your philosophy as yoga becomes more and more of an image-based business?
Some people say if it’s a spiritual practice, then it should be free. Now, I agree with that in essence, and when we’re practicing for ourselves, it’s free, however teachers also need to have the means to live happily and invest significantly in our ongoing trainings, so it is also important to recognise the exponential value of good yoga teaching! Additionally, I believe it’s very important as part of the yoga journey, we’re giving back. So with Ibiza Retreats, we’re aligning with a wonderful charity www.yogamandalaproject.org that is empowering and teaching trauma sensitive yoga, to refugees in Jordan and to Palestine. We’re going be giving a certain amount of our profits this year to them and invite our guests and site visitors to become more involved and more aware. Towards the end of this year, we’re also going to invite the APNEEF carers to our retreat. As you grow as a platform, it’s important to use that as leverage to give back and spread the yogic experience.