I have been doing yoga on and off for about twelve years now and even though I consider myself relatively experienced and confident to do an occasional advanced class, one can still find the actual practise of yoga a little intimidating. Sometimes people who are doing the class can be judgemental, making overall vibe wrong; sometimes you come across an instructor who either isn’t too precise with his instructions, so you stumble and start looking around, in the hope that other people might give you a clue, or are downright intimidating.
Lately yoga has become a bit too commercialised, with too many styles and too much rigidity, so when I heard about Strala Yoga and its founder, Tara Stiles, I was a bit hesitant. What type of yoga is it ? What makes it different from any other style? Luckily for me, I got to find out this week, when Tara came to London for the first time to teach open classes at London Om Yoga Showin Olympia. The tickets for Tara’s classes quickly sold out, but I was in with a chance, as Tara and I connected via Twitter ( Tara is an active participant in social media sources like Facebook or Twitter ) and she told me to come anyway.
Tara herself is tall, rod straight ( she is a former ballet dancer and it shows in her posture ) and very pretty. She has an open, beautiful face that radiates joy, even if it is a gloomy, grey day outside and long hair that falls around her shoulders in natural, easy waves. She wore a loose fitting hoodie, a comfortable yoga tank ( she is currently developing a yoga-wear line together with Reebok, hopefully launching in the beginning of the year ) and I particularly envied her loose trousers-at times you might feel cold, hence her pants had long ends and if she needed to do an active pose involving legs, then the elastic bands allowed for the trouser to be pulled up comfortably).
Her instructions are precise, yet her classes are the opposite of rigid. You flow from one pose to another at your own comfort, with Tara gently correcting you, if need be. She told all of us to be comfortable in the moment in time, in a particular inversion or bend and not to rush our bodies.
She uses music in her class, which is loud enough so you can hear the song’s words, but not too loud, so Tara’s instructions are well heard too and her music style encompasses anything from current popular songs in the charts to country music.
An hour flew by quickly and I particularly enjoyed her telling us to ‘listen to your heart pump’ while you are meditating, holding your hands in prayer position, next to your chest. Her point of ‘everything you need rests deep inside of you’ felt so right that I held my breath for a second, feeling it resonate with me and then settle deep down in my consciousness….
When the class was finished people thanked Tara and she hugged everyone and thanked everyone for coming, which I found both touching and endearing. In our day and age, when people tend to concentrate on themselves and be egoistic, she radiates calm and joy and it beams through her eyes. At times she feels almost unreal, in her enthusiasm, her joy and her desire to spread the yoga practise, not teach it. She actually told me that she didn’t have a desire to ‘name’ her style of yoga, it was at the urging of her clients that she took ‘Strala’ Yoga on the road. The name Strala was supposed to be an amalgam of words strength and radiance, but later it was pointed out to her that ‘Strala’ actually means radiating light in Swedish.
Talking to Tara is very easy, she is very young yet her gaze is wise and so are her words. She is natural and friendly. She is passionate about what she does, about the people that she meets and works with. And that light that she has in her eyes shines through her class, when she peppers her instructions with a very occasional girly giggle-radiance and joy, being in tune with oneself, sharing your knowledge and skills with others and thanking people for being receptive to you-isn’t it a definite path to fulfillment…..
Questions and Answers with Tara Stiles, founder of Strala Yoga
GAP: Can you please tell me a little bit about yourself and how you went from being a model & dancer to becoming a yoga instructor?
Tara Stiles: My earliest memories are yoga-like. I grew up in the woods in Illinois where I felt super connected to nature and had my own understanding of consciousness and interconnectedness. I taught myself how to meditate, and sat in trees and meditated, and danced around in the forest. Modeling was a super lucky break that happened in Chicago and then NYC with Ford models. It was a great way to express myself through photos and TV commercials, have fun, and learn how to navigate being in the world. I was always doing yoga and learning yoga from lots of different teachers and healers. The more I was integrated into NYC, the more I realized the approaches and schools were separate, and some of them very rigid and I didn’t feel represented how I felt and connected with yoga, and how I know yoga can reach so many, the way yoga was being presented wasn’t going to move it forward significantly to many more people. I’ve always had this strong sense that yoga is like a 6th sense, inside and available for everyone. From seeing the opportunity and potential demand for people connecting inward, I started small with my approach. I wrote, blogged, made videos, taught yoga in the park, in my boyfriend’s apartment. Things grew fast and naturally. It’s thrilling to be able to help so many connect inward.
GAP: From what age did you start doing yoga and who were the yoga teachers who most inspired your professional journey?
Tara Stiles: When I was a kid I saw a lot of colors all the time. They seemed to connect the fabric of consciousness. I started listening to them and my yoga practice developed from there. My ballet teacher, Rory Foster, saw my interest in yoga and handed me the first book I read on yoga, Autobiography of a Yogi, and I studied with his teacher, and other healers. I hadn’t looked at older teachers who had created videos or taught a lot of classes so much, because what I was carving was very different. Teachers and leaders who I admire greatly are Deepak Chopra, Rudy Tanzi, and Tao Porchon Lynch.
GAP: How did the idea of Strala yoga come about and what makes it different from let’s say Ashtanga or Juvamukti yoga?
Tara Stiles: Strala is a movement based system that connects people inward so they can find their own path to healing and happiness. A big instruction with Strala is the idea of “finding the ease”. Whether the movement is simple or challenging, we instruct people to move with ease; more like water, less like rock. People become very capable quickly; this translates into bodies, minds, and lives. We are working with far eastern influences in Tai Chi and shiatsu. Our movement is healing based. Movement focused, and not pose focused. We encourage people to find their way into the poses, we don’t push or force bodies into a specific shape and we educate that the pose is not the goal; finding the ease in effort will get you much further than force. People feel expansive after a class and that ripples into their lives. I want to help people expand. I’m not interested in poses. But by working on ease, the poses become something to do.
Strala is a meditative movement that connects people with their intuition and awareness, simultaneously building strength, and capability, creating space for expansion.
GAP: What makes a good yoga instructor?
Tara Stiles: The ability to listen and the mindset to ask: “How can I help?” rather than “What can I prove.”
GAP: Why would you recommend to have a regular yoga practice to women as part of their fitness regime?
Tara Stiles: Do you want to feel fantastic all of the time? Have more energy, mental clarity and focus, reverse the aging process, have glowing skin, deep connection to your intuition, and have a ridiculously strong, lean body? That’s what regular yoga practice (with ease) can offer you.
GAP: What are the most important lessons that you have learnt since becoming a yoga instructor?
Tara Stiles: So many reminders every day. The most important is the famous quote from Ram Dass: ‘Be here now’.
It has helped me with my leading style, in leadership, and relationships.
GAP: How important is diet to you as a yoga instructor?
Tara Stiles: Your yoga practice should sensitize you to evolve how you feed yourself and what you do in your life. If your yoga practice isn’t sensitizing you, practice This is Yoga ( it is Tara’s four part DVD set that will be available in the UK from December ), because that is my goal for you, and find a teacher that helps you in that way. When you become sensitized you start to want to eat healthier, be kinder, and live better. Living with purpose is the whole point of practicing yoga. For me, I eat plant based for a number of reasons. I can appeal to your vanity and health by telling you you’ll look younger, become your ideal weight and have loads of energy eating plant based. I can appeal to your consciousness and kindness that animals shouldn’t have to live in cages and be abused for you to eat lunch. I can appeal to your longevity by reminding you about the terrible affects of factory farming on the environment. It’s not sustainable to eat animals in the way we consume them no for the long term. Mainly, I stick to appealing to people’s health. It’s crazy healthy to eat plants, and you’ll get all the protein and everything else you need from them. Best thing you can do is to keep practicing yoga and get interested in cooking. It’s fun and you’ll get healthy fast and get hooked too!
GAP: Do you take any health supplements and what beauty products do you like?
Tara Stiles: No supplements. I eat a plant based protein and greens powder every few days in a smoothly.
GAP: You are a very active participant in social media. Why do you think it has become such an important part of our life and do you think it has a negative impact on how people interact?
Tara Stiles: Deepak says it best: “social media is neutral, its’ what you do with it that matters.”
I use social media as a tool to connect, share, help, inspire and create. The more people that use social media in that way the more we can collectively lift everyone.
GAP: What drives and motivates you?
Tara Stiles: I’m inspired to help others become connected to themselves. When you feel connected, anything is possible.
p.s. keep an eye on my review of ‘ This is Yoga ‘ DVD by Tara Stiles ( set of four disks ) in December.