Tara Stiles transformed yoga for millions, turning a practice which is often seen as intimidating and guru-based into an everyday activity that supports wellbeing.
Now, Stiles manages a multifaceted brand that offers accessible yoga in different forms. There’s the range of DVDs and books – you may have heard of “Slim Calm Sexy Yoga”, “Yoga Cures”, and the “Make Your Own Rules Diet”. The hundreds upon thousands of Youtube hits. A series of global retreats and yoga programs with W Hotels. A dynamic yoga-wear line with Reebok. A yoga studio in New York and partner studios under the Strala Yoga umbrella. In fact, Stiles has turned her passion into such a full-fledged offering that she’s garnered a celebrity following that includes Jane Fonda and Deepak Chopra.
Stiles’ yoga style is very much about making up your own rules, so the sequences she and her instructors – at Strala, they’re called guides – teach are incredibly freestyle and students are encouraged to only hold and move into certain postures if it feels good to them. Traditional yogis are obviously outraged that anyone could take this sacred practice and turned it into a fitness regimen that’s fully adapted to the I-want-it-my-way demands of modern society. Still, Stiles isn’t too phased by the criticism and continues to walk the walk.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO YOGA?
As a kid, I kind of grew up doing meditation on my own. I would go into the woods and meditate by myself, and it would feel so amazing. Then, when I was in high school, there were these yoga classes as part of the ballet program. I thought it was fantastic, and it reminded me of what I used to do when I was a kit. I wanted to learn everything about it.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT YOGA? WHAT MAKES YOUR PRACTICES DIFFERENT FROM OTHERS?
I like this general idea of following how you feel and to just move in a way that feels good to you. We guide people to move in ways that are natural and easy for their bodies. It’s not like a Bikram class, where you’re given a pose and that’s that. Our instructors encourage people to move in ways that work for them instead of sticking to a script.
DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW THAT YOU’D BECOME A SUCCESSFUL YOGA INSTRUCTOR?
When I was younger, I wanted to learn everything about meditation and yoga. But I didn’t really think about it as a job. There wasn’t anything like instructor training back then – this was the 90s! It’s so different now. I was just casually learning more and more about it. After moving to New York, I did a bunch of different things. I ended up taking a class, and the instructor said that I should try and become on. So I did some of these programs and learnt varying styles and methods.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU DID TO GROW YOUR CAREER AS A YOGA INSTRUCTOR?
I wanted to make yoga more approachable. So everything I was doing was digital, even back then. I was creating videos, which a lot of my friends thought was crazy. Who brings yoga to the internet?! I just said “Just wait. It’s going to be normal in a couple of years.”
YOUR STYLE HAS ATTRACTED NUMEROUS CELEBRITIES AND WELL-KNOWN FIGURES. HOW DID YOU CREATE A RELATIONSHIP WITH DEEPAK CHOPRA?
I was writing my first book and when it was about to be released, my publisher asked me “Who is the most famous person you know that could write a couple of words for the book?” I jokingly said “I like Deepak Chopra, maybe you should call him.” The very next day, I ended up going to an event that Deepak was at. He approached me and told me he really loved what I was doing, that he had all my videos and we should be friends and work together!
WHAT WAS THE BREAKTHROUGH MOMENT WHERE YOU FELT LIKE YOUR CAREER WAS ABOUT TO TAKE OFF?
This woman from “The New York Times” kept showing up at my studio and taking classes. At the time – this was 2010 – there was a small column in the back of the paper called “Stretch.” We had lots of yoga studios everywhere, and I had my yoga videos online, so people all over the world were doing this approachable form of yoga. Yes, this is normal now but at the time, it was so out there. This woman kept coming in and she was calling everyone – my mom, Deepak – to find more information about me. I felt like I was getting audited! But then she told me she loved what I was doing and wanted to give my yoga a boost. And then suddenly, there it was, on the cover of “The New York Times.” a five-page spread called “Rebel Yoga.”
WHAT UPCOMING PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON?
I’m opening more yoga studios, but I’m growing this organically. I think it’s important to let things develop naturally, and almost slow things down if necessary. We’ve had a lot of potential investors come in who have wanted to blow things up really quickly. But I think the most important thing for me is that the instructors have a lot of attention and training. They need to feel confident with what they’re teaching so that when people come to the class, they have a great experience.
WHAT ARE YOUR GUILTY PLEASURES?
Pizza and Champagne! I like to have fun, but I don’t go crazy or overboard. I’m super active as well. I’m also vegetarian, but if I only ate vegetables or fruits, I feel like I wouldn’t be getting enough. So sometimes I feel like I need to have some pizza or something a little heavier. I think it feeds the brain in a weird way!
See also: Fitness Queen Hannah Bronfman