A big part of Sara Laimon Luke’s story begins on a farm in Zimbabwe.
But we’ll get back to that in a minute.
Instead of 8,456 miles away, I first met Sara at a park 4 blocks from my apartment. In 2013, during Milwaukee’s Bastille Days, Sara and her husband Whakapaingia (Whaka) were sharing their acroyoga moves on the grass, inviting anyone to play. Together, they own and run Koha Yoga, and what I experienced was basically grown-up gymnastics mixed with the airplane move you do with your mom when you’re little, infused with some realllllllly good-feeling back stretches, and I’m so happy I joined in! From there, I went to my first-ever Koha Yoga acro workshop with Jessy, and I spent a week-long retreat with Sara and Whaka in Costa Rica this March. It was a trip of a lifetime.
And yet, until a couple weeks ago when I met Sara at the home where she grew up—above a bait shop on a lake halfway to Madison—I didn’t know about Africa or a huge section of her path.
Here’s what I learned about the woman I already knew as an inspiring entrepreneur, yogini and nomad: Sara, now 37, started her post-secondary education at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but it just wasn’t for her. So she traveled to Zimbabwe for six months to do development aid work, helping start a dairy farm outside Mutari. That is where she realized she was going to become a teacher “to help people see our connections to the earth, to not harm it any more.”
She returned to Milwaukee and became a teacher, then moved a few years later to teach in South Central L.A. She landed a teaching job that came with an “urban jungle we turned into an urban oasis,” Sara says. When she was finished, her L.A. school had a water cistern, rainwater catchment systems, a fruit forest, a river running through it where it used to flood, drought-resistant landscaping, chickens, bunnies, aquaponics—and a curriculum that taught students to use their voice to make change in the community. (Whoa—I thought I already admired this woman enough!)
Sara created that curriculum and the Green Ambassador Institute, where she trained teachers to put it to work. She then worked to get grant money to disseminate her curriculum through other California charter schools with the help of hundreds of community partners and a woman named Lindsey, who turned into one of her best friends.
Then in 2010, Sara and Whaka had their daughter Tahi. Sara went part-time, trying to still do a lot of everything, and four years ago, they sold their belongings, moved out of L.A., and started traveling.
People with Panache: So basically, you taught, then created this innovative, restorative-sounding curriculum, and then got the grant that enabled you to step out of the classroom and share it?
Sara Laimon Luke: Right, and after that, in June 2011, we became nomadic, first going to Costa Rica. Tahi potty trained and learned to walk and swim in Costa Rica!
PWP: Oh my gosh, and she’s such a little fishy now. You’re obviously super entrepreneurial, having taught yoga, trained teachers, facilitated trainings and been festival stars, all the while traversing the country and the globe.
SL: And now I’m going to work for a brand-new school in L.A. (Editor’s Note: Monday, August 17 was her first day! I texted her to tell her we were going to post this and found out about her first day, and she said: “The school is cutting-edge and truly going to make an impact on this planet!” Keep doing your thing, Sara. We can’t wait to see how this new school grows!)
There are four founding teachers and a vice principal, and it’s focused on coding to get kids tech-savvy. It’s going to be nice to have a home and to ground after four years of living in other people’s spaces, besides the RV. It’s going to be nice to have our unit for even just a year or two.
PWP: Have you always had huge goals you wanted to meet and just created ways to make them happen?
SL: Well, after I went to UWM and left to go to Africa, I was looking for a small, focused school where people really wanted to learn. I learned that the US was using a model that is not sustainable, and we must change the model for everyone to aspire to.
PWP: Oh my gosh—yes. Yes, yes, yes. So you got into teaching to shape that future?
SL: Exactly. And when I was student teaching, the other biology teacher quit, so the principal asked me to be a teacher, and I started getting paid instead of paying.
I never really felt like I had one awesome teacher—no one that did things differently that made me feel like I could do something different or have a voice. The woman who started the first environmental charter school where I taught in L.A., Alison Diaz, was one of the very inspiring people in my life. She was brave enough to start it in a “bad” neighborhood and never lost vision or focus or energy. I got burnt out; she never did.
And I found that movement was missing from the movement! That connection to body, spirit, and others in a fun, playful way.
Seven years ago, I got into acro. I’ve been into yoga since I was 18. And now it’s 2015, and I’ve been doing teacher training for AcroRevolution, running retreats, doing private lessons, festivals, and traveling in RVs teaching at least 25 different states barre, yoga and acro.
PWP: You’ve been able to meld work, family and passion.
SL: It’s work though, even though it’s dreams. I’m not chilling in a hammock; that’s not my life of my dreams.
PWP: Right; it’s meaningful work. I don’t personally buy into the “when you find a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” thing, as not every little part is magic. But when it adds up to a greater whole, I think that meaning is way more important than fleeting happiness.
SL: It’s important to make sure everything you do has a purpose beyond you. And then it’s harder when you have kids—when you’ve got a 5-year-old saying “wipe my butt” while you’re trying to have an interview. (Editor’s Note: This happened, and it was probably much funnier to me than to Sara. Tahi was my Costa Rica swimming buddy.)
PWP: Like all the things you do, Sara, it’s amazing to watch you be a mom, too. What makes you happiest?
SL: Playing acro, doing my ashtanga yoga practice, being calm and patient with my husband and family, drinking water, and looking at things with positivity.
PWP: What’s the hardest to look at positively?
SL: Sometimes the world’s prognosis. But why be doomed when you can be happy and create alternatives?
PWP: Yeah! I bet that’s how a lot of people feel! What if someone’s in a situation where they might feel a little doomed or powerless?
SL: Don’t judge your job, because you can be a positive, beautiful, inspiring force at whatever job you’re in. Just realize you can do whatever you want. And if you’re looking to transition into something different, it doesn’t have to happen right way.
I saved half my salary for a couple years and lived off half so we were able to take this four years of living life nomadically and to play life as a game; what’s the worst thing that’ll happen? We’d have to work a 9-to-5 or have a home? Looking at life as a game instead of taking things so seriously is a much better way.
[Photos by Alysse.]