This article was written by Tara Stiles for the 4th issue of Amrita Magazine.
Do you believe that yoga is a philosophy before a physical practice? How do you integrate yoga philosophy into your teaching?
I believe yoga at its most useful is a mindset supported by physical practices that help us progress. With Strala, we focus on the mind set of sensitizing and responding. We spend so much of our time tuning out how we feel and living in a no pain no gain, stress response state. Even in our yoga practice we can remain in this state if we don’t adopt a better way. How we practice is how we are and our aim is to practice softening, connecting to the self, moving with grace, efficiency and coordination, so we can progress, gain health and radiance, and a real connection to our relaxation response. All the great results of yoga happen when we exist in this state. We focus the entire practice on living in this state. Whether the movement is simple or challenging, we approach with softness and ease. Using what you need. Resting what you don’t. It’s the same concept as tai chi so we have a structure to practice with the yoga form. Also, what’s so special about Strala is that we focus on moving well, instead of forcing our body into positions. Yoga at it’s best is a flow state. We’ve lost that in modern yoga which focusses on rigid positions. By focusing on moving well, with the tai chi mindset, softening enough to be moveable, and letting the breath move the body, the possibilities are limitless. People feel great right away, and gain progress without stress and struggle.
Do you follow your own spiritual practices into your daily yoga routine?
I don’t see a separation between spiritual practice and daily life. I always have experienced life as how you are is how you are. How you treat yourself matters. The conversations in your mind matter. How you treat everyone, whether a janitor, or a super star, matters. I grew up with strong values that each of my actions has an impact, and being in this world where people talk about spirituality is fine, but the way I see it is every moment is spiritual. Everything is spiritual. It’s not so useful to separate out spiritual and non spiritual practices for me. I aim to improve how I am every day. Hopefully I get better at being a good person and learning from each moment. I’m also lucky learning this from an early age. It’s refreshing and energizing to simply be a kind and nice person in every opportunity. Living in fear and a more limited us vs them mindset has a lot to do with dis-ease and sickness I think. It’s a practice for sure. Probably, you’re right, a spiritual one. I think it’s most important to be a good person. Decorations on an at home altar and accessories for yoga practice can be nice, but not essential for spiritual practice. Personally, I gain benefits from subtracting the accessories and focusing on how I am. If you are alive, you are spiritual. Every moment is an opportunity for a spiritual experience. For me, it’s about staying in that mindset so I can enjoy and participate in the magic and beauty of life.
Your partner, Mike has studied Chinese Medicine at Harvard. Has this had an influence on how you live your life?
Mike asked me to clarify: he studied mind body medicine at Harvard and Oxford, not Chinese medicine, although, he wouldn’t admit it, but between you and me he has been involved in the eastern movement traditions and all they entail since he was a kid. Our good friend and Strala Faculty member, Sam Berlin has studied Chinese and Traditional Japanese medicine. For me, it’s awesome to have them around to support my raw feelings about how useful these approaches and mindset are in the Strala practice, and life in general. I was interested in eastern arts from a young age and would play around in the woods with meditation and read books on science and eastern philosophy. When I was studying dance I was exposed a bit more to the healing community that was a dive into these ideas and I loved soaking up what worked and discerning for myself what didn’t work. Like a world that talks about spirituality, I found a lot of pretending there. What I love about Mike’s background and hanging around him is it’s who he is. There isn’t a separation from mind body medicine Mike and yoga Mike and business Mike and Dad Mike. It’s all the same. How he picks up a glass, to how he carries Daisy, to how he moves in tai chi. It’s the same. Efficient. Graceful. Soft. All with a focus on improving. My measure of someone really doing something well is you sort of can’t tell that they are doing it. Putting on a show of things never impressed me and I don’t think it’s that useful. Sam is the same way. They are a couple of guys you want to have on your side for sure. They both can help in a medical situation, but are also just great guys.
You had your first child, Daisy a year ago. How has this impacted your yoga practice?
Oh wow. First off, Daisy is just awesome. We have so much fun all together. From a practical standpoint, my “free time” is a lot less now and that has been a huge blessing in prioritising meditation and yoga practice. Also being with her has helped me prioritise how I am even more. How I move with her. How I lift and lower her. I feel so lucky to have this mindset. I can see how life can be so frantic like a run away train when you get caught up in the no pain no gain mentality. I know it because I’ve been there as well. I’m so happy to have the opportunity to be a mother to Daisy and to follow the practice together. Every moment matters.
You are sponsored by Reebok. How do you find balancing the material aspect of yoga with the more spiritual non-material point of view?
I worked with Reebok for 5 years and together, starting in 2010, we created a really nice yoga range. There wasn’t much out there for yoga apparel then and at our first meeting I proposed creating something that helps people feel good in their bodies. Soft fabrics. Happy colors. Positive messages. At the time there were only super tiny brands basically run out of yoga teacher’s homes that appealed to a hard core yoga community and Lululemon was coming up and were known for being really expensive and exclusive and sort of like a suck in your body feel. I wore old boyfriend t-shirts and sweats for yoga, so I saw an opportunity to reach out to more people, to try to get more people practicing yoga. The goal for me was that and also to help them create a sustainable collection. It took time, but they have made a lot of progress, exploring dry dye and apparel made from recycled plastics. I don’t see a divide between material and spiritual. Working with a big company had a major advantage of reach, and when progress is made, a big opportunity for positive change. I think there is this dark cloud over ideas that yoga needs to stay out of the market place all together. When you take the mindset of ease and inclusivity with you in all you do, you can really do some great things in the world. And the bigger the scale, the better for all. Again, how you do one thing is how you do everything. Business for me, is personal and of course spiritual, because everything is spiritual.
Now I’m working with Loomstate to take the sustainable idea mainstream. We are launching Strala as an offering of clothing with a few other ideas cooking. Fashion needs to change and what we wear needs to reflect our values and meet our needs and desires. The team works with a group of farmers in India to support not only the economic health of the family farm, but the vitality of the communities. They are involved with the leaders of fashion sustainability and the future of where things need to go. I’m learning so much and am grateful to bring the Strala collection to everyone this holiday! Surprise, we haven’t been talking about it in the media yet, but there is a spoiler!
Last year you published your teacher training manual. Why did you decide to do share this with the world?
It was a crazy move some thought, but having a decade now behind us teaching teachers these techniques, and seeing how many people they are able to help through the practices of softness and ease, I thought, this is crazy not to put this information out there for anyone who wants it. It’s never been done before and I thought, hey, even more reason to change that. Now teachers and healers of all styles, not just Strala trained, can use these concepts and practices in their classes, workshops and trainings. Guiding Strala is available for anyone interested. More ease is good for us all.
You published a book called Yoga Cures which aims to conquer common ailments. What are your views on the term Yoga Therapy?
Yoga at its best is healing, connected, and puts us in our most optimal state to rejuvenate. I love that the practice can be about getting out of your own way to heal. What a great way to approach health and wellbeing. I’m sure the term Yoga Therapy is used broadly, but the approach of ease and softness goes a long way to help and support what’s working with us. I love the idea that yoga doesn’t cure you, you cure you. Yoga is such a great tool to help us connect with ourselves and come back into alignment with who we are.
Tara is the founder of Strala, the revolutionary approach to being, moving and healing, teaching yoga, tai chi, and Traditional Chinese Medicine, to help people release stress, let go of bad habits, and move easily through all kinds of challenge. Strala is practiced in more than 100 countries, and thousands of Guides are leading Strala classes daily around the globe. Even more Strala training graduates bring what they learn into their office work, healing practices, and all of life. The mission we share is to help people accomplish far more, through softening and connecting with our creativity and purpose. Tara has authored several best-selling books including Yoga Cures, Make Your Own Rules Diet, and Strala Yoga, all translated and published in several languages. Tara is married to Strala co-founder Mike Taylor. They live in Brooklyn with their one year old daughter Daisy.