Laura Poole was working as a fashion design intern in New York when she made a decision that would change the course of her career and her way of life.
The year was 2011 and she had not long returned to the US following a two-week meditation and yoga retreat in India.
As she settled back into the hectic pace of life in the city that never sleeps, Laura noticed her general health was suffering as she worked through the night as a cocktail waitress to support herself.
It prompted a rethink of her long-held fashion design dream and instead she returned to Australia to discover a new path as a Vedic (pronounced vay-dic) meditation teacher.
“The experience in India just triggered a huge awakening within me and I would say at that point a new pathway was being created for me,” Laura recalls.
“I left India wanting to go back to New York and was really inspired by the culture and the colours and the way of life there.
“But then I got back to New York, my health declined rapidly and I knew that was a sign from my body saying ‘you can’t keep living this way’.”
Laura began exploring advanced Vedic meditation practice and completed teacher training in Bali during 2012.
Fast forward to today and she has found her true calling on that alternative path which has also led her to the Surf Coast.
She is the founder of the Mahasoma Meditation Collective and, together with her partner Alex Klein, has established the Devaloka Bushland Retreat, which is nestled on a picturesque property on Wadawurrung country at Gherang.
“We are surrounded by gum trees and we live with the birds, the echidnas, the kangaroos,” she says of the idyllic 30-acre bush block.
“We have two pigs, 11 chickens and a cat that came with the property and is now our best friend.”
The couple made the move from Melbourne about 12 months ago to create Devaloka – a welcoming space which offers courses in Vedic meditation, as well as retreats and a range of workshops including permaculture and cooking classes, with Alex being a chef specialising in plant-based cooking and catering.
Laura was first introduced to Vedic meditation by her chiropractor when she was 19 and living in Sydney.
She had been dealing with several health issues for a couple of years when he encouraged her to explore the benefits of meditation to get to the root cause of her health concerns.
“He said ‘you need to be doing something yourself every single day… your mind is playing such a huge role in your physical health imbalances’,” she recalls.
“So, I listened to the Vedic intro talk and I was just like ‘yes, yes, yes’ – everything the teacher said I felt so deeply. He spoke to my experience, he spoke to my life, he spoke to my heart.”
When she won a $1000 textile design prize, Laura invested the money into a four-day Vedic meditation course and within a few months she noticed profound changes.
“It was almost like a pulling back and seeing the bigger picture,” she says.
“On a very physical, tangible level I noticed that my anxiety just kept on dropping to the point where I don’t have anxiety anymore, which is huge.
“I used to get really triggered and frustrated when things didn’t go my way and get angry at the smallest little things and I don’t get angry anymore.
“There’s so much more bandwidth there that allows life to happen but you’re not caught up in the drama of it.”
Laura describes Vedic meditation as an effortless transcending technique which is practiced with eyes closed. She says anyone can do it and enjoy its many benefits.
“We do it for 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon or early evening,” Laura explains.
“It’s designed to completely relax the entire nervous system to allow you to move into what we call the relaxation response or a state in which the parasympathetic nervous system is activated so you can completely rest, relax, let go of stress and fatigue and come back to a state of balance or a state of harmony within yourself.
“It’s not like you start meditating and you never get triggered and you never get stressed and life is just this this wonderful rainbow-pathed journey.
“But you begin to be able to have more time and more space and a greater perspective which allows you to be more creative and dynamic and to not feel like you have to control life, because controlling life is exhausting and really stressful.
“Your body health starts to come back and you start to feel more alive and more energised.”
Laura works from her studios in Gherang and Armadale, teaching people of all ages and different stages of life.
She says many people are drawn to meditation for health reasons, including chronic fatigue, anxiety, back pain, infertility and heart conditions.
“For many people it is the missing part of their healing journey,” she says.
“You’ve got other people coming because they want to go on a deeper spiritual journey.
“A lot of people now are already meditating through apps, through guided meditation or may have tasted it in a yoga class and they are wanting to deepen that experience.
“Most people come to meditation not to master meditation, or become some enlightened spiritual person, but actually just to enjoy their life.
“To have better relationships, to not feel as stressed and tired and to really tap into their deeper purpose – to feel healthy, present and to love more.
“These are the real reasons I would say people do meditation each day and kind of the purpose of it.”
For Laura, seeing the transformation in her students is the most rewarding part of what she does.
“I teach every week and seeing people relax into themselves and really let go and realise on a deeper level who they are, why they’re here, what’s important and then to see that manifest in their life pretty quickly – that’s incredible and is such a big part of the joy of teaching.”
To find out more about learning Vedic meditation or Devaloka Bushland Retreat go to laurapoole.com