From Senior Editor in the world of food & health magazines to renowned yoga instructor around the globe, and founder of Back2Roots, Lara Zilibowitz's personal journey has been one of profound transformation, with yoga and art providing the keystones in her quest towards wholistic wellbeing during her long-time skirmish battling post-traumatic stress symptoms of anxiety and insomnia. After several years operating as a double agent in the worlds of both yoga and publishing, with two demanding careers running simultaneously, she was forced to re-evaluate her priorities when her health was severely put on the line. At the start of 2015 she bid farewell to the corporate full-time world to pledge her way forward to peace and health for body and mind. She is now a renowned artist for her incredible mandalas and passion for meditation and healing through movement and creativity. Lara feels incredibly privileged to be able share these learnings and being big fans of her art we gave her our pen and some questions to see what came out...
Lara, from working in editorial of top foodie magazines, to yogi teacher, health retreat founder, mandala artist and so much more, your life sounds like one big creative dream! Tell us about your relationship to writing and expressing yourself via the written word, and how it started?
I have always enjoyed playing with words. Especially excited by the potential of language to evoke feeling in the intuitive realms of the heart and mind, beyond logic and reason. I majored in English and Performance Studies at university before going on to work in food and lifestyle magazines ~ ever fascinated by how creative expression can influence and affect how we see, feel and relate with the world.
I used to write poetry when I was a little one, exploring the magic of imagery and metaphor. I would fill notebooks with wild and fantastical tales of exploration and adventure, and it always seemed to go hand in hand with oral expression. I would recite the poems out loud, with emphasis! And ended up doing a lot of public speaking all through my youth.
You had every writers dream job as a senior sub editor at Delicious Magazine. Why did you decide to leave this world - a dream for so many?
To be very honest with you, I loved my job! And at the time didn’t leave by ‘choice’. Instead, I was facing intense overwhelm and burnout in my nervous system, and I had to stop. You see, whilst I was working full-time in that profession, I was also teaching yoga full-time. It seemed like the absolute dream - all my favourite things combined, multiple vocations! Until I was so exhausted by the relentless thrill of it all, that something had to give.
I also knew that my future was never going to be in publishing… and had been contemplating how to segue out into embracing my dharmic path of teaching yoga full time. So I’m grateful that they sky fell in, because it opened up the shimmering expanse of the potential beyond what I thought was even possible...
In your quest towards wholistic wellbeing you've been through a profound transformation, can you share a bit about your journey and your life now?
When I was 18 I had a life-threatening encounter with a glass table which left my nervous system in a state of severe shock. From that moment I was confronted with intense and at times debilitating post-traumatic stress symptoms of anxiety and insomnia. My journey of yoga and the quest for healing and self discovery has been parallel to that path of awakening. And because of it, I will be forever grateful.
Facing the intensity of life, full spectrum, has ended up being the biggest gift I could have asked for. It required everything else to fall away, and demanded me to face myself raw and unguarded in order to find out what was most important as I transitioned into the next phase of my life. It awoke a fierce commitment to live in a way that I would be proud of when inevitably it would be time for the ultimate shavasana. That then became my dedication, my passion, my purpose. To share from that place of giving and receiving with whole-heartedness, to encourage all who I would meet along the way to ask themselves those same potent questions: What does it mean to live fully awake and passionately on purpose? What am you more curious about than afraid of?
You both write, draw and paint. Have you always been artistic? And what does the art of handwriting or drawing by hand mean to you?
My mother is an artist, and an incredible creative force who encouraged me from as early as I can remember to explore creative expression through art, movement, words, cooking… you name it! I also came into this world as an extraordinarily tactile being - I LOVE using my hands… whether through yoga or massage, kneading bread dough, hands covered in paint, clay, swaddled in textiles… or of course holding a pen or paintbrush.
To be radically honest with you… I ashamedly never got my pen license at school! (ha) I have never been the most ‘dainty’ or ‘neat’ creatrix. Rather, I love to explore courageous and expressive gestures. No rubber, no ruler, just committing to the moment and trusting the unbroken flow of pure pleasure as the energy (in the form of ink or paint or whatever) pours from my heart through my hand.
You also like to draw on naked bodies… tell us more about that ;)
Yessss for me the human body is the most exquisite canvas of them all… creases and curves of majesty on living and breathing skin. Especially painting on pregnant mamas… The miracle of life literally being created underneath the wriggling canvas! Sacred body art and adornment is such an ancient practice in so many indigenous cultures that can transform the wearer into a powerful totem shaped by the colour and texture. It always feels like such an honour to be invited into someone's sacred space during these times of transition - such as the initiation into motherhood.
Here at Axel & Ash we are all about the magic art of hand writing and awakening the intimate connection that journalling and hand-written memoirs and using your body to create brings. It saddens us to hear how computers are taking over in school...what's your take on this? Do you think that hand-writing is a dying art?
I resonate with the sentiment… and yes, 100% I believe that handwriting has a very different effect (and purpose) to typing on a computer. We can directly access the intuitive mind when we allow our hands to just flow with pen and paper. A powerful practice I have adopted (and recommend for all!!) is ‘morning pages’ (from Julia Cameron: the Artist’s Way) with stream of consciousness writing first thing in the morning. To clear the subconscious, to illuminate the shadow, to bring clarity and cognition to dormant aspects of the psyche. The intimacy of a paperback journal, with smears and stains of tea and tears I believe is irreplaceable.
What does Press PAUSE mean to you?
It means to STOP what you’re doing, wherever you are. To turn the lens of our attention inwards and shine the light of awareness on what is happening within. I believe this is the biggest gift we can give ourselves in this era of Olympic levels of distraction and business. THIS is the antidote to so much of our modern day stress and struggle.
Being a wholistic yogi, who left the craze of a stressful office life - what's your best tip for all the modern creative entrepreneurs out there who find themselves working too hard (like ourselves :) ?
To catch oneself in those moments where we can feel like we’re running so far ahead, we’ve left ourselves behind… Before the stress signals hit the roof if we can slow right down, even for just a moment, or two, to pay attention to all of the signs and symptoms in the body longing for presence. To breathe into those areas of density, irritation, stickiness, and ventilate ourselves with new life. It can literally be like resuscitating oneself when we’re on the brink.
What are your favourite ways to de-stress? And how important do you think it is to switch off?
As I write all of this, I’m so aware of how challenging it can be to practice what we preach. In fact my self prescribed ‘work’ over the next couple of months is to refine the art of non-doing, of just Being, as I also can get swept up in the high-octane pace of modern living.
For me, meditation is everything. And not necessarily meditation where the mind becomes still and we journey into a blissful bubble of thoughtless awareness… sometimes that aspiration is futile. I mean meditation where we show up for ourselves with kindness and compassion and truly notice what’s happening inside the vast and untamed wilderness of the body/mind. To deny nothing, to impose nothing, to hold space for ourselves in the most radical and revolutionary way - JUST by showing up with an attitude of curiosity.
From this place, we allow whatever thoughts, sensations, emotions that are simmering beneath the surface to submerge to be felt, expressed and reconfigure once again into the cosmic soup of the whole.
What inspires you?
Also the colour palette in the sky at dusk can fill me with enough revelry to dream my paintings and to paint my dreams.
I am also absolutely in awe of what the human body and brain are capable of. Our boundless creativity on the quest for meaning and expression in myriad forms. Dancers, poets, philosophers, artists, archeologists, my yoga teachers and the teachers that came before them, my parents, my grandparents… pretty much everyone I’ve encountered has transferred some magical treasure. It’s always up to us if we can be open enough to receive those gifts. Even if at the time it might look like something else entirely...
We love your incredible mandalas, can you tell us what they mean to you, and how they come about?
A mandala is a symbol used in a lot of Eastern philosophy that represents wholeness: a cosmic diagram organised around a unifying centre point. It is a reminder of our relation to infinity, from microcosm to macrocosm.
These sacred universal patterns are used in the design of so much in our reality - from one cell dividing into two, to the way a flower blooms, to a supernova star exploding in the sky!
What I have come to appreciate through my studies of yoga and creative exploration, is that we are nature too. And this is not so much spirituality as it is science! What is out there, exists also inside of us: a nerve branches the same way that trees do, the fluid inside flows the same way as the fluid outside. More than anything for me, ‘spirituality’ is revelling in the great truth that all of life contains the same chemical elements and vibrating molecules from the original big bang over 14 billion years ago. That’s what it means when physicists such as Carl Sagan say “we are made of star stuff.” We are the microcosm, a miniature copy, of that macrocosm, connected to the stars in an ever-unfolding process.z
What’s so miraculous is that I was never ‘taught’ how to create mandalas, they started birthing spontaneously - first on my ceramic vessels that I would carve into, and then large-scale wall murals, human bodies, tattoos… the invitations are endless.
Where in the world are you now and what's next for you?
I’m in my new forever home in the hinterland of Byron Bay! Currently setting up nest and creating my studio and pottery shed. I’m very excited to get grounded after a huge period of travel and teaching around the world.
Whats next is facilitating our Back2Roots Yoga Teacher Training in Bali in November. A very exciting outpouring from the heart that has been many years in the making.
What would be your one tip to leave us all with?
It also doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t even have to be beautiful. Creativity itself doesn’t care about the results - the only thing it craves is the PROCESS.
Check our Lara's Instagram here.
Find our feather pens here.