Studio Spotlight: 18th Element Yoga  

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Imagine working for 60 hours straight.

Imagine being a yoga teacher and being part of something that goes on, without stopping, for 60 hours.

This is what Lara of 18th Element Yoga does, every year, for Veterans Gratitude Week supporting Veterans Yoga Project.

“We begin prior to sunrise on Friday and stay open teaching classes, running workshops and building a community until 30 minutes after sunset on Sunday,” said Lara. “It is the best way for me to remind myself of what someone with PTS(d) is going through.  The inability to sleep soundly for days on end, the necessity to keep pushing through when your body is crying out for rest, the inability to stop because the world is still turning.”

Now in their third year doing Veterans Gratitude Week, 18th Element Yoga – as well as its owner Lara – have a fascinating and rich back story. Lara’s call to yoga (and utilizing yoga as a way to give back) indirectly started after getting into a severe car accident, which caused major injury to Lara and emotional trauma to her daughter.

“I fractured my knee, dislocated my sternum, and watched my baby suffer from her own form of trauma for about a year, every time I put her in a car seat,” said Lara.

It was because of this accident that Lara started reflecting on death – and the way one lives their life. She wanted to do more in the world than just have a nice, corporate job and a big house. When she started thinking about her life and what mattered, one thing stuck out the most: love.

“Love is the only thing that matters, what can I do to make a difference to others and extend that love outside of my family members,” said Lara.

Lara felt a calling to yoga, but originally went into her 200-hour teacher training without any intention of using yoga outside of the fitness world.  However, it was during that training that she knew she wanted to be more than a fitness instructor. This solidified in 2015, when she met Dr. Libby.

“I met Dr. Libby and the oath began, which took me into a yoga world of building community, family, and faith in something more than just us.”

From the beginning, Lara wanted to make yoga accessible for everyone. This desire, plus her family’s history in the military, began to shape what would later become 18th Element Yoga.

“I remembered my grandfather as a faithful man who joined the marines.  He fought in the Korean war and was a POW for 19 months. After reflecting, it is very clear that he had PTS(d), which led to his drinking and, at times, restless life,” said Lara. “My husband is a veteran with a cyst growing in his shoulder due to an injury when he was in Iraq.  They all were let down by a system that took so much from them. I knew that my town, with all of the veterans and active duty, as well as 6 military bases (5 in a 25-mile radius), had a need for support, yet there were no studios that were focused on our heroes and their loved ones. So I was determined to create one.”

Since its inception, 18th Element Yoga has expanded to helping first responders, caregivers, social workers, health workers, and far more.

Eighteenth Element Yoga gets its name from a speech Archbishop Tuti gives in the movie I Am: the eighteenth element is argon, a noble gas.  It makes up 0.94% of the Earth’s atmosphere, but it doesn’t react to any of the other elements. That means the argon you inhale is the same argon you exhale.

“I pass it to the next person and we pass it on to each other with something so subtle but something that, if we didn’t have, we would no longer be alive: our breath,” said Lara. “If you just take a moment and imagine those tiny specks of argon, inert in nature yet so powerful.  Imagine whose argon you are taking in right now. When we feel weak, alone, isolated, worthless, depressed and we reflect on that breath. Think of everyone lifting you up on that inhale. Maybe you take in the same argon as Christ, the Dalai Lama, Achilles, Martin Luther King.... imagine them all inside you all supporting you, a community. You’re not alone and you have an inner warrior throughout the ages.”

Eighteenth Element Yoga is a safe haven for those who need yoga to build mind-body resilience and find a bit of community. They have even run their own 200-hour Trauma-Focused Teacher Training as a result of difficulties finding properly-trained teachers.

“Every one of these instructors at the studio are here for a reason and that reason is to make a change to those that have been turned away from other studios, told that yoga isn’t for them, told that they are past the point of saving from medical professionals, isolated without support. Unknowing victims of trauma and those trying one last time to see if all those lies are true.”

While keeping a studio afloat financially is a difficult task, Lara wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Money isn’t in abundance but the gratitude and feeling you get when someone calls you family is worth more in the long run,” she said.

Money collected during Veterans Gratitude Week goes towards supplies for their trauma programs, with the remainder of the money going to Veterans Yoga Project. However, money isn’t the only way to help support 18th Element Yoga.

“If you can donate financially, it is appreciated, but it isn’t just about finances. Come and spend some time with us; your donation of your time and companionship is donation enough for me.  Lord knows I need it around 10:30 PM on Saturday night.  Grab a bolster and a mat and stay with us for the full event.   Make the tide change with us.”

If you live in the Colorado Springs area, consider coming by 18th Element Yoga during Gratitude Week – or drop in at any point in the year, to be welcomed by teachers who want everyone to know that yoga is for everybody and every body.

“One of my favorite quotes is ‘I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples,’ from Mother Teresa,” said Lara. “I started with a small speck of sand that started that small ripple with me – then a pebble to allow it to ripple to my family, a stone effecting those nearest me. With the help of EEY teachers, we have dropped a boulder causing a wave and we hope with the support of others like us we can cause a rippling effect that changes the tide.”

- Abby Rosmarin