Meet Ava, the founder of Spanda School; a thriving community hub on Blinco St Fremantle that is much more than just a yoga studio. With a wide range of classes, retreats and events, Spanda School's unique offering allows its students the opportunity to forge their own self-tailored spiritual path. From hridaya meditation, kundalini, tantra, satsang and cacao meditation, much of what Spanda offers can’t be found anywhere else in Perth and is entirely unique to the school. I began teaching yoga at Spanda School when it first opened and it has been amazing to watch its rapid growth in just one year. It has evolved into a large, nurturing and supportive community engaged authentically with personal evolution and self-realisation. I caught up with Ava to find out more about her vision for the school and how she incorporates the practices she offers in her own life.
What were you doing before you opened Spanda School? Could you share some background on how it came to be?
Before the school opened in Feb 2016 (so not even a year ago), I was teaching overseas in Thailand and in Mexico at the two headquarters of Agama and Hridaya Schools and it looked to everyone like I was travelling around the world, but really I was at these two places. I’d come back to Australia every couple of months to do little retreats and see Jarred and my family but then I’d head back over.
What is the basis and vision behind it and how has that evolved from its original idea in theory to what it has become now in practice?
It was always meant to be a replication of these other schools that I saw doing so well. The structure and community are the same, but of course the content that we share at Spanda is very different. It’s promoting a very specific type of lifestyle and the thing I want to share most is a transformative lifestyle. But really everyone is living a transformative lifestyle, because the way you live transforms what you are. Everything that you do as soon as you get up, the type of people you hang out with, when you hang out with them – everything about your lifestyle is changing who you are and visa-versa. Outside is inside and inside is outside and they’re just reflecting and configuring each other.
What I found that blew my mind all these years ago at the other schools, was that these people were living an epic lifestyle where, you’re going to school, but you’re going to the best school ever. You get up and everyone’s doing the same thing in the morning, everyone’s living in these separate houses (rich people are living in the richer houses and poor people are living in the discounted bungalows), but when everyone gets up, it’s cleansing practices. You clean your nose, you clean your tongue and everyone’s doing yoga purification practices when they wake up. Then they’re doing their own practices, yoga and meditation in their bungalow or they’re going to school because their course is on. Everyone’s going to the beach every day and juicing, fasting, praying, detoxing, going to kirtan or doing retreats, it’s a lifestyle that you get to immerse yourself in. There’s an energy that radiates from the school that says if you want to be a part of it, you need to commit to this stuff. There’s all these people that hang out on the periphery that kind of come to a class, or they’ll only come to the kirtan. But the people who had committed to it were just miles ahead, because it’s the whole lifestyle – you’re not just learning a course or practicing yoga, it’s this whole package. You didn’t just learn a great course or go to a great class, you have all of it, which of course will transform you. What if your entire life was the personal development program?
The school is not at its full expression yet, it’s about one-fifth of what I would like it to be running at, because it’s only 80 square meters and needs to be bigger and that’s why we’re expanding. So we need that big centre, we need more space to house everything that we want to do to create this thing. The vision for the school is a place where you can immerse yourself without having to pay thousands of dollars to travel to experience this. I got really triggered by one of my students the other day who said “I think I’m going to go try this one-week retreat in India, it’s three thousand dollars” and I was like, “so you’re going to compromise yourself and work your ass off in a job you hate, to go and do something that you don’t even really know about.” This is what I’m creating the school for, because it makes no sense that you work your ass off and struggle so that you get a little bit of freedom. This is what the whole model of this school is, to create a lifestyle for people and lots of places are doing that - but there’s no competition – because our lifestyle will not be for everyone. We are almost a closed bubble that will continue to grow, but it will have no threat to the Crossfit community that’s right next door, because they have a different lifestyle and set of values.
People that work in wellness or spiritual industries often say that combining a spiritual practice and business can be challenging. What have you learned about this since you started Spanda and how do you balance the two?
You know that common question of spirituality and money, which has been a blockage or something that I’ve totally identified in myself but so long ago. I probably did some real work on it about two-and-a-half, three years ago. I did a lot of work because I love money and I need money, but I was living a lifestyle where I was not going to work a normal job so I needed to sort out the money side of things. The clearest answer would be that it’s an individual issue that each of us have towards money. The way we fit in and struggle with society and our own sense of value is going to be reflected in money, so you have to sort that out so that every step you take with your business to be as financially abundant as possible are all natural steps, so you’re falling forward. I don’t feel money is an issue with the business anymore. Little things come up but they’re very much on the periphery. I work with money every single day in a yoga-term; Jarred and I do something called a ‘mental bank ledger’ which we did years ago, it’s a self-hypnosis technique that we do every single night. Every day I work with money in some way or another. With the amount of heaviness around money collectively, it’s almost impossible to keep going on and be totally in flow and in abundance with cash that you have to do something almost every day. For example, you’ll see pictures of Lakshmi all over my wall in my room and I do a lot of work with her.
You mentioned to me once that everything you do, you first work on in the mind – could you tell me a little bit about this practice and how it’s manifested in your life so far?
I think it’s really interesting how someone manifests something into their experience and it’s also really important, because it’s all a subconscious process. The subconscious relies on examples from the outside, so the more cool examples that you hear of other pople manifesting things, the more you start to configure into that direction. Most of the time all of the examples we see are ‘I struggled and I tried and didn’t do it’ or ‘I want it, but I don’t have it,’ so those examples are usually the ones that are configuring the way we believe we can create stuff. So I think those examples are really inspiring; like the school and my house and the partner I’m with and the manager and staff and community I have at the school are examples of my inner work. But the meat of it is, that the more you experience that everything outside of you is exactly what’s inside of you - the more that you actually see it that way and it’s not just words. It’s moments of awakening, awareness, practice, things lining up and the more that you see that it’s ‘me,’ then it becomes totally, undeniably your responsibility. Everything else it irrelevant. The degree that you see that it’s you is the degree that you realise that its irrelevant to work on anything else but you. In Spanda, everything is an emphasis on what you are.
Were there any inner-obstacles you overcame? What were they?
There’s been no obstacles, there’s just been lesson after lesson and for sure, in the past I’ve looked at things as obstacles, but now it’s so obvious to me that that’s the only way I could’ve done things. You know, mistakes I’ve made in the year or learning to communicate better and things like that. This year’s been a huge learning-year for me with the school being a directly reflection of what I’ve been doing, so it’s impossible to frame it as obstacles but more so, lots of lessons. Because of that there’s just no way I could’ve done things differently, but since the beginning of my journey, obstacles would be things like money, although even looking back it wasn’t an obstacle. When it arose in me that it was an obstacle it immediately shifted into a lesson that I could dig into and figure out. So over the past 7 years or so it’s been lots of obstacles in hindsight, but as soon as it actually became “fuck I got no money and this doesn’t feel right” then it became “okay cool, practice time or evolution time.”
Last time we had a chat, you spoke very highly about Hridaya meditation and said it is (and will grow to be) the cornerstone of Spanda School. Why is Hridaya meditation the heart of Spanda above all else?
But the Hridaya meditation which is a part of the whole yoga system, is the realest thing I’ve ever found. It’s what everything else that’s pointing up is eventually pointing to, but it’s just been systematised, clarified and shared and it’s like magic. Hridaya yoga or meditation of the spiritual heart, which is not the heart chakra but a sense of being. It’s basically dropping into stillness and that’s it, but there’s a whole system around it. It’s the only thing I ever want to do, so of course my business is going to reflect that. The thing I value most and prioritise the most is what I want the school to offer, but also knowing that it’s not for everyone and offering other tools as well.
What does a Hridaya session look like?
Hridaya is the name of a whole system. It’s based on Kashmiri Shaivism which is a type of yoga (not with the physical body), hatha, tantra, kundalini and even karma yoga so it’s this new system that’s incorporating all of these traditional yoga practices. In the past one lineage of yoga would serve you your whole life but in this day-and-age, we need all of the yoga’s, and why not? We have access to it and there’s a school that teaches all of it in one.
What does a day look like for you?
Lots of informal practice and a little bit of formal practice. So most days I’m teaching at least one or two classes and also having private sessions with people. Then I do a lot of creative work which is also a practice, which would be karma yoga. Most people think Karma Yoga is volunteer or unpaid service, but what it is, is a consecrated practice - to be present when you’re doing anything. Anything can be karma yoga, it’s just about being present and offering it to something greater than yourself. Lots of my days are spent doing karma yoga, my business work and creative work and hridaya meditation in the morning and evening. Sometimes I’ll do physical practice of yoga for the physical body, which I’ll do only do twice a week. I get in 6-7 hours of exercise in the week during teaching that’s informal. Diet’s also a huge thing, so I fast until the middle of the day on lemon water or sometimes I might have a juice. But I definitely go with what’s feeling natural, I’m not strict with anything and if I wanted to eat in the morning I would. I’m huge into an Ayurvedic diet and recently I’ve been experimenting with leveraging the phases of my hormonal cycle with my diet too. So depending on whether I’m in my luteal or follicular phase, having a different diet to support that, which is a little bit more Chinese medicine - which I’m not studied in - but I’m moving in that direction to experiment.