Tara Stiles connects healthy approaches to exercise, awareness, food, and everyday feeling good with a wide audience around the world. She's the resident expert and face of the Women's Health Yoga Channel, is the "Yoga Master" for Nissan's Master the Shift program, a popular writer for the Huffington Post, and has been featured in campaigns for Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Target and Athleta.
She's recognized for her bold, fun and approachable style of yoga, breaking down ancient tradition and ideas into useful practices for everyone. Tara is also the founder of New York-based yoga studio Strala, where her teaching centers on building strength while helping people to live healthy and feel good.
MindBodyGreen: How do you start your day? Do you have a morning routine?
Tara Stiles: Depends on the morning. Ideally I'd like to wake up an hour before I need to start getting ready for the day and do some simple twists in bed and a short morning meditation, but sometimes I wake up to the phone ringing, or a pressing email, or I'm rushing somewhere. Awareness of my state of mind is what I try to focus on most, whether I am enjoying an extra hour and meditation, or dashing right into the day.
MBG: When did you begin practicing yoga?
TS: I was lucky and got introduced to the formal practice of yoga when I was a teenager. I studied ballet and yoga was part of our weekly schedule for relaxation and reducing soreness. I got really into the practice and wanted to learn more. My ballet teacher, Rory Foster, saw my interest. Turns out he had been practicing yoga for years. He gave me the book, Autobiography of a Yogi written by his guru, Paramhansa Yogananda. I visited the Self Realization Fellowship in California when I was 18 and moved to NYC shortly after. I felt like I had a cool and unique introduction to the world of yoga. It was enough to spark my interest and leave me the freedom to explore many styles and practices of yoga.
MBG: What is the most common misconception about yoga?
TS: A common misconception about yoga is that you have to be a certain type of person to practice yoga. Many people have negative ideas about yoga because of behaviors embodied by some leaders and people in the yoga world. Spiritual elitism is unfortunate. Yoga is for everyone.
Yoga isn't a matter of secrets handed down from some outside authority. We all have already in us the intuition to find the right way to our own health, spirituality, and whatever else we need. By working on things like strength, balance, and awareness, yoga clears the way for us to find (and trust) our own abilities.
MBG: Any tips for those of us who are stressed at the office?
TS: Totally. Awareness and health can fit in your whole life, not just while you're on your yoga mat. Switching out your soda or coffee for water is a great start at the office. If you can, kick your shoes off and sit cross legged with your feet up on your chair. This will save your hips and back from pain. Take breaks, especially if you stare at a screen for a good part of the day. Even a quick walk outside can refresh your entire system and you might even be hit with a burst of inspiration.
MBG: Do you have favorite yoga gear? What about a favorite yoga mat?
TS: I like to wear American Apparel for yoga. Their clothes are loose, easy, no fuss, and they are made in America. The fit is always good too. I'm not big into designs, performance fabric, and fancy yoga decorations and logos. I like to be comfortable and minimal, especially when I practice. Jade Yoga mat is my favorite mat right now. They are made of rubber, and in the US. Practically they are the best I've found so far. They don't slip when they are filled with sweat and they last longer than other mats.
MBG: Favorite music to listen to while practicing yoga?
TS: I like a nice balance of rock and roll and Krishna Das. I'm friends with some awesome musicians and bands so I get to keep up with what's going on in the music world. Lal Meri, Rosey, and HUFF THIS, are on our current playlist along with Bruises by Chairlift — "I tried to do handstands for you" — so fitting for fun yoga!
MBG: Any favorite yoga poses?
TS: I like handstands because they build strength and require a lot of focus, which I need to constantly keep sharp!
MBG: If you are new to yoga, what's the best way to start? Any beginning advice for someone who's going to their first ever class?
TS: Start slow. Don't worry about what you think a pose should look like. When you work with your breath, you'll be right where you should be...tricks and pretzel poses can come later. Rest in child's pose is always a good go-to when and if things get tough. If you didn't like the class, try another. There are loads of different styles and teachers so sometimes a little shopping around works wonders.
MBG: Biggest yoga pet peeve?
TS: Sweat that smells like alcohol. Totally gross. If you're hungover do some yoga at home and wait a day until you grace everyone with the smell of your sweat.
MBG: What's in your fridge?
TS: Not too much. I've become a scavenger, searching for food daily. It keeps it fresh. (thanks, Michael Pollan!) I usually have a stock of healthy Ezekiel (Food for Life) cereal and frozen Amy's organic pizza though. I've got some organic root beer in there now for when I let loose on the weekends!
MBG: Who inspires you?
TS: So many people. Lately and most intensely I'm inspired by everyone that practices yoga at Strala, Ram Dass, Krishna Dass, Nancy Kaye, and Mother Theresa.
MBG: Favorite guilty indulgence?
TS: I've got plenty. Current indulgences are Horizon chocolate peanut butter ice cream, Amy's organic frozen pizza, brownies from Think Coffee (right by my apartment), and sleeping in. I go through phases though.
MBG: If it was your Last Supper, what would your last meal be? Where would the meal be? Who would you like to be there (past/present/future)?
TS: Wow. Can we have Maharaji, Jesus, John and Yoko, my husband Mike, Nancy Kaye, Krishna Dass, Ram Dass, Michael Pollan, Jim Jarmusch, and Bill Murray at Cafe Noir in NYC for tapas!
MBG: Please tell us about Strala and why we need to check it out!
TS: I did things sort of in reverse. I practiced and studied a lot of yoga, wrote about it, made videos and DVDs about it, and then I decided to go local and open a studio. All the preparation really helped me figure out what I had to share and shape how I could help people the most efficiently. We have a great time at the studio. It's cool see people achieve and sustain an awesome level of health and happiness. We've had dramatic weight loss in just a couple months with a few people, and lots of good, clean, sweaty fun.
Strala's goal is for everyone to achieve a lifelong strong base of vibrantly good health. We focus on building good health through attention to strength, balance, and awareness. The Strala of yoga works to create a clear, fit mind and body, along with the intuition to do what your body needs to be healthy.