Teacher Spotlight: Daniel Lavilla

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Teacher Spotlight: Daniel Lavilla

In celebration of our exclusive collection with Gerry Lopez we have come together with some key leaders in the surf and yoga communities. ⁠

Among them is Daniel, a proud native of Cádiz, Spain, whose path crossed ours through long-term Manduka ambassador, @whit_hornsberger. From the moment we connected with Daniel, it was evident that he embodies a rare blend of authenticity and inspiration, coupled with a remarkable narrative waiting to be unveiled.

Daniel's story shows resilience and the pursuit of self-discovery, inviting others to join alongside him on a transformative journey. Embracing both the ups and downs inherent in growth, Daniel finds beauty and purpose in every step. Today, we are thrilled to introduce you to Daniel, a living example of how surf, yoga, and the human spirit are all connected. 

Stay tuned for more shared stories and experiences within the yoga and surf community in and around Cádiz!

Meet Daniel

My name is Daniel Lavilla, born and raised in the last piece of sand before jumping to the water out of Europe, this is San Fernando, Cádiz. Here, the rhythm of our lives is deeply connected to the sea. I believe that we are so much more than our jobs or titles, that we can be seen as whole humans way further than those conceptions about the self, so I feel like if I have to talk about how I got here, I need to mention my mom first, raised four kids, four men actually, the eldest being born with cerebral palsy, while she also worked all day, full-time job. We’re a humble family. She is the biggest inspiration I could ever find, on how to be strong, courageous, but kind and compassionate, at the same time, and the reason why I want to keep learning, growing and becoming a better person. Turning 30 this year in 2024 feels surreal! Though I’m young, I know that this path I’ve already walked on has taught me so much. Every challenge, every struggle has led me to this moment, sharing my story with you.

Six years ago now, I hit a really low point, going through a really dark period. Struggling with mental health - anxiety, depression, and a lot of physical problems, which wouldn’t even let me sleep, or step out of my house. Back then, it felt like I was drowning, with no way out to the surface. Now I can look back and only find gratitude for those times, everything I learned, and where it led me to. Those situations forced me to confront myself and my shadows, to dig deeper, finding the strength I never knew it was there. They pushed me to search for answers, for ways to heal and rebuild from the scratch. That's when I found my way back to yoga. This time really diving in, deep. It wasn't a magical cure-all, but it was a lifeline. It was a space to slow down, to reconnect with myself, my breath, and my body. It’s a practice that has taught me everything about self-compassion, kindness, about facing my anxieties and fears, helping me lean into all that power and incredible resilience that we all already have.

There is always a way forward, for all of us. This is the journey I'm on, and let me tell you, it's far from perfect. But it's so beautiful, and I'm determined to keep exploring it, face the challenges, learning day by day. If my story resonates with you, or if you're curious about what I've learned along the way, then come join me on this journey.

How did you find your passion for surfing?

I started surfing when I was  12, actually I was a bodyboarder for a lot of years, I had so much fun with it. We were a pretty big group of crazy kids, just trying to find the most radical waves and barrels. Those were some wild and unforgettable times.

Fast forward to my mid-twenties, I was living in Cornwall, UK. Most of the waves there were different, and I felt the pull to make the change and join all my friends there that were having all the fun with “normal” surfboards. So, I traded in my bodyboard for a surfboard. It took some time to adjust, I mean, standing on a board, hits different! (No offense to my bodyboarding crew, but I haven't looked back since.)

Lately, though, I've been drawn to a more relaxed, chill approach. I’ve been getting into longboarding, or mid-lengths. It's a different vibe, it just feels more in tune with where I'm at in life right now. It's not about adrenaline, rushing all the time and pushing limits – for me now it's more about flowing with the water, hanging out with friends, enjoying the ride, and finding a sense of peace and connection on the wave, like a dance. I think in the end it’s all that matters, embrace the moment, fully being present in the water, catch some waves, have some fun!

Can you describe what surfing is like for you? What does it mean to you?

What is surfing for me? Hm I always struggle to find the right words for this, because surfing means so many things for us, everything, if you love surfing, you know what I’m talking about. Surfing a wave and being on the ocean is such a different feeling from anything else, so powerful, so beautiful, you can never get enough of it. Which sometimes also drives us a little bit crazy during the flat days, long waiting periods without waves, it’s tough for our minds. Also when you arrive to your favourite spot after work, and suddenly the wind changes, and no good waves anymore. This might sound silly, but you guys know completely know what I’m talking about! It’s a “tough” life sometimes, but it’s so much fun! Gotta love the ups and downs of it.

Starting to surf was one of the best decisions of my life, I wouldn’t change surfing for anything. I don’t know if this makes sense, but it’s that you can feel literally everywhere, you can feel it in your skin, when your body touches the salt water, you also feel it when you haven’t touched it in a while, your skin feels different, not as good, you feel it in your hair, in your nose, how is more clean, more open, you breathe better, more relaxed. Your skin is more tanned, obviously, so you look at yourself in the mirror with grace, we need to talk about this, people, we love a surfing tan. Everything seems special, you see life with another eyes, and you’re so full of happiness and good vibes. A nice surfing session, or a couple of great waves, might be the best high you can ever get.

Can you explain how surfing has developed physical, mental, and/or emotional growth and skills for you? 

Surfing and having this deep connection with the ocean, has allowed me to feel really involved on these natural processes and rhythms of nature, since we are always focused on the changing tides, the swells, the winds. It also helped me to really value and observe how everything is evolving and changing all the time, how nothing is guaranteed, and how you have to really appreciate the moment you’re living in, the waves that you’re riding, because the next moment, or a second later, things might look a lot different. It really teaches you how to be patient, or at least we try to be. It’s a never ending work I guess, and it’s hard when your brain is searching for this dopamine or adrenaline rushes, it’s also an addiction if you look at it from a scientific perspective. But surfing doesn’t only teach you about patience or impermanence, it also transforms you, into a more aware human being, in this case I’m talking about our external landscape, being more conscious towards the planet, to take more and better care of our oceans, our beaches, to act more sustainable and respect all lives and different ways of living on this planet, everything is connected, we are all one.

How and why did you start practicing yoga?

It was back in 2013, when I first found about Yoga, thanks to Alicia (@alirayoga), she was my very first teacher. At the beginning, for me it was simply a new way to move, exercise, a chance to explore different stretches and gain mobility. The deeper side of philosophy and the lifestyle aspects were not really on my radar yet – it wasn't a huge thing down here in Southern Spain. It took some more time to arrive here, a lot more, I guess. Then everything shifted when I faced mental health challenges as I talked about before. That was the moment when I truly began to dive deeper. Coming back to my yoga mat, at least twice a day, long practices, letting my body express itself, move around and flow.

Then researching, reading more about these traditions and cultures, exploring mindfulness, meditation, pranayama/breathwork, and also all the fascinating science behind our mind-body connection. It became such a powerful tool for self-discovery and healing. Understanding how everything works together inside – the brain, body, and nervous system – helped me navigate those tough times and eventually find my way back to myself. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Yoga. Now, this desire to share what I learned and helped me with others, to support, uplift and empower them on their own journeys, fuels my passion to keep going, to keep learning everyday.

Why did you start teaching? Can you describe your approach to teaching yoga?

When I joined my first teacher training, it wasn't initially about teaching for me. It was another step more on my journey of self-discovery, pure curiosity to deepen my practice and connect with it on a more profound level. As the training was coming to an end, something clicked on my head. Stepping onto the mat, to lead which was a meditation actually, not a movement practice. For the very first time of my life. Thanks to Ricardo and Indra, the teachers, because they invited me in front of the group to be the first one trying. They said that they saw a spark in me, so they threw me into the fire, believing I had a story to share. This is why we need mentors and guides in our lives, I guess. They can see things in us we can’t see, or don’t want to see. Sharing my personal experience and the transformative power of yoga and mindfulness practices with others just became a calling. After witnessing the changes it brought to my life, bringing me out of the dark and to live life again, it awakened the passion to share my story and guide others on their own paths. This experience, with meditation at its core, continues to shape my teaching philosophy today.

I would describe my approach to teaching as authentic, grounded, with a modern perspective, and open minded. My intention is always to create a safe space that brings people's hearts in with ease. Spiritual, without being mystic. I believe it’s really important to differentiate these two things, which get confused so often. The beauty of yoga lies in its practicality, and I love demystifying it with a scientific lens. It's all about harnessing what we already have within us, using all these tools that we have literally at the palm of our hands, within our bodies, to cultivate wisdom, kindness, and compassion – qualities that our world desperately needs.

How has the practice of yoga helped or changed your surfing?

Yoga has been a game-changer for my surfing, for sure. The mobility I've gained throughout the years translates directly to being able to move smoothly, in the water but also out of the water. These benefits go way beyond the physical. Yoga has skyrocketed my mind-body awareness, especially my proprioception. It's like having an internal map of my body – I can feel how different parts connect, align and work together to find optimal performance, and also recovery.

These benefits and the awareness are linked also to my breath. It has become my anchor in the water. With different breathing techniques to keep me centred and focused, whether I'm paddling out for a big session or calming my nerves in a crowded lineup. It really helps me stay grounded and bounce back when things get tough, like wiping out or feeling overwhelmed by competition.

So you know friends, big waves, crowded lineups, water conflicts (hopefully not the latter) – yoga can equip you to stay calm and focused, no matter the situation.

What advice would you give surfers about getting into yoga?

Be curious, try different things, different styles, don’t close yourself up too soon. We all know the post-surf stretch feels amazing, but yoga offers way more than that. It deepens your flexibility, builds core strength for paddling power, and improves your balance. You'll be more aware of your movements, which will improve your surfing technique, and your confidence. Yoga builds that so important mind-body connection that ripples through our entire lives, in and out of the water. It creates a more balanced, focused, and a calmed you –  both on the waves and to navigate life's currents. Yoga and surfing just share a natural connection, a rhythm, a way of being present in the moment. You might not see it yet, but trust me, it's there. Let's connect and discover this connection together, one wave at a time.

Any advice you would give men about getting into yoga?

Oh I love this topic, it’s such an interesting conversation always. Being a young man that has been in this world of yoga, meditation or any spiritual practices for some time. I think this is something that needs to be talked about more. Let’s be honest, the yoga world can seem pretty female-dominated. But trust me, there's a whole crew of guys, that were out there reaping the benefits. It's all about opening up, not showing off. Worried about being judged? We all start somewhere. Yoga isn't a competition, it's a journey. So yeah, most yoga classes are full of women, and what? That doesn't mean it's not for you. I mean, we, as men, don’t think like we need these things, but deep down we are just somehow afraid of opening up, of sharing our true faces, our vulnerability, or simply expose ourselves in a situation that we don’t control, or where we can see people doing “better” than us, or thinking that people are looking at us doing it “worse”. We all have insecurities, but on the mat, we leave our egos out at the door, no one cares if you can’t do a handstand or touch your feet. We need to realise that is not all about looking more macho, times have changed. Vulnerable is the new strong. It’s about supporting and lifting each other up, as one, because at the end of the day, that’s all we have, each other, as a collective. So I think we should really try to show up more, to share more. Because this is not a work that we do exclusively for ourselves, it’s a work we do for any other person we encounter in our lives, to be better for everyone. 

Tell us a bit about your favorite places in El Cadiz and El Palmar.

I would never change where I am from. My home holds a special place in my heart, and for the past few years, it's been amazing to witness a thriving conscious community growing here! Our beaches are stunning, the towns, the food, of course, but also the people down here are just different, so fun, open and kind. We live in a different rhythm. What truly excites me is the shift towards a more mindful way of living, now you can find more gatherings and events focused on these topics than ever before.

This wasn't always the case. Finding a sense of community for those interested in alternative practices used to be a challenge. But now, there's a beautiful energy flowing through El Palmar, Vejer and Caños, and the whole Cadiz area. It's a collaborative effort – locals and winter residents/travellers alike are contributing to this positive change.

A perfect example is La Posada del Té (@laposadadeltea). This beautiful cozy spot run by my dear friend Amaia isn't just a great place to grab a cup of tea, or eat the most delicious vegan brunches and cakes, it's a space to step outside of the world’s noise. Amaia, with her sweet and kind soul, has lovingly created a community around tea, mindful eating, calmness, and overall health. You can find meditation practices, tea and cooking workshops, cultural events, or simply connect with people who share your passion for mindful connection over a cup of tea or a piece of her magnificent matcha cakes.

Another go to place is A-Frame (@aframe_elpalmar), in El Palmar, run by Katrin and Arne, a German couple that moved here around 20 years ago, they created a Surf Camp, consciously managed, with a Surf Shop in which I used to work with them. I really appreciate them both, and I will always be thankful for how kindly they treated me, and for all the friends and connections I made there. This led me to teach in their beautiful Yoga House, a white wooden house, right in front of the ocean, stunning views, you can see the waves while you practice, and even see the sunset. There we connect and share our practices with our students.

I've made so many incredible friends from all over the world through these events and gatherings. We learn from each other, share experiences, and create a more uplifting cultural scene together. That, for me, is the essence of life – connection, open hearts, and fostering a positive, peaceful vibe and inspiring environment. I always say we have, we are here to help each other, and inspire each other.

What is next for you?

My current focus is pouring all my energy and my heart into building my career as a teacher and coach. Leaving my previous job was a leap of faith, but it allowed me to fully dedicate myself to this path. I deeply believe in myself and what I have to share to the world. Let's face it – stepping out of the comfort zone and following your passion isn't always easy. Fellow teachers reading this will probably understand the challenges. But the rewards far outweigh the difficulties! Being complicated doesn’t hold us back from fighting against the currents and overcome all the challenges we face. We love this life, we love sharing our energies, experiences and wisdom with the rest of the world and see them reap the same benefits that have been helping us for a long time. It’s a vocation, a calling. We don’t teach yoga or meditation just for doing something and earn a salary, if we wanted that we would choose another path with some fixed or easy conditions. So now I’m focusing on creating workshops, to be able to share all the things I’ve learned throughout years of research and practice, and also create retreats and experiences. All of this while moving around the world, finding connections with like-minded people, without even looking, life keeps surprising me with such amazing collaborations, as this one with you, Manduka. So to you reading this, it’s time to connect and create together! You know where to find me now, right? Let’s make a difference together. Whether you are a teacher, a coach, or someone that’s looking for a open hearted, open minded teacher, this is our time to lift each other up. The world needs more people like us supporting each other and working together.

And if you're a retreat space owner or looking for a passionate, open-minded teacher, I'd love to hear from you! In 2022, I had the incredible experience of teaching in the Maldives, it was my first and only time out of Europe actually. I look forward to have another chance to do it, traveling and exploring new cultures is a dream I'd love to pursue further.

We saw that you have a clothing brand with your brother—can you tell us about that?

Our clothing brand, Arrecife (@arrecifesurfco), which means "reef" in Spanish, is a project bursting with a lot of potential. My brother Javier (@javilavilla) launched it while I was abroad, and I jumped in the moment I got back. We are not only brothers, we are best friends. Being just a year apart, we've grown up surfing together, moving in the same circles, and building an unbreakable connection. My brother’s hard working mentality perfectly complements my creativity, making us a strong team. That shared passion for surfing, the ocean and creating something meaningful is the driving force behind Arrecife.

Right now, we're building the foundation brick by brick. We've seen incredible support and sales even with the limited time we can dedicate. It's a testament to the amazing community we've cultivated! Thank you to everyone that is supporting and representing Arrecife out there!

Life can be a balancing act, and focusing all our energy on Arrecife just isn't feasible at this moment. But here's the exciting part: we have a clear vision for Arrecife's future. Once we're ready to dedicate more resources, we'll be pushing Arrecife to  greater heights. The potential and the support of our people is there. 

In the meantime, we're committed to nourishing our community that has supported us so much. Stay tuned – we have some exciting things in the works for you!

Anything else you’d like to share with the community?

A message to all the yoga community, to my fellow yoga teachers: let's change the narrative, leaving behind the Instagram-perfect poses and show the real us. We're all students here, learning and growing. We're all on our own journey, and celebrating each other's progress is what makes yoga such a powerful community. The world of yoga is evolving, and it's time to break down the barriers. Let's translate these traditions into something that resonates with our modern lives. It's not about abandoning the roots, it's about making them relevant for the men, and the women of today, for all of us.

Connect with Daniel

Follow Daniel on Instagram or connect with him here



Sharing good vibes + the best mats, apparel and yoga gear since 1997.

Sharing good vibes + the best mats, apparel and yoga gear since 1997. #inspirethepractice

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