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October 13, 2014

UPDATE: Editor's Note: When there's a big sexual assault trial in the news like the Stanford case this week, there's a lot of talk about the specifics; who was right or wrong, the details of the hours, days, and weeks that follow. What we don't often talk about is what happens next — months, sometimes years after. The silent epidemic of sexual assault is the long term consequences of trauma and the ripple effect it has through the lives of survivors. A brave and beloved member of our community, Tara Stiles, shared her story of sexual assault, the effects that lasted years, and how she finally healed with the help of yoga. We're re-sharing it today with a hope to broaden the conversation and a wish of healing for all survivors.

It's been my dream since childhood to own a business that inspires and helps people, and starting Strala has fulfilled that passion more than I ever thought possible. I regularly have the opportunity to connect with people all over the world, and we often have tearful, heart-to-heart conversations soon after meeting. This connection is my favorite thing about my life.

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Initially, my personal struggles seemed irrelevant to the greater message of Strala, which is about living with ease. But as I've had the privilege of meeting new people — many of whom have talked to me openly about their personal struggles — I started to feel dishonest in not sharing my own story. I started to insert it in conversation when it felt right, and it always was right.

That's why I chose to reveal a traumatic incident that happened to me as a teenager in my new book, Make Your Own Rules Diet. I never saw a need to mention this story before. I thought I'd seem selfish or as though I were asking for pity or attention. Also, I'm not a victim so I refuse to victimize myself. But as I met more people, I realized that telling one's truth can actually inspire and help others.

As a young dancer, I was sexually assaulted at Conservatory and I didn't tell the authorities. I came back to my room after a long day of rehearsals to find a big party happening. I just wanted to sleep, but I took a plastic cup of whatever-was-in-it and woke up naked and pinned under a guy in another room.

At the time, I believed I was fine. Mostly I was embarrassed. I wasn't sure what had actually transpired or why. I just knew it was something I never wanted to happen again, and I thought I would be fine with some time. I also saw this person every day. He was the boyfriend of a dancer I knew, and the way he looked at me made me want to disappear.

Over the next year, I developed an eating disorder. In hindsight, I was trying to control my body because I felt out control with my circumstances and my emotional life. But at the time, I didn't notice what I was doing, I was just simply doing things to keep myself isolated at social occasions when it was expected to be happy.

It started with skipping group meal times, and spiraled into waking up extra early to avoid interactions with people until I had to. I ate candy and drank diet soda for energy. If I was to have a meal, it was something without much substance or life, and that I could eat in private, like Malt-O-Meal.

One day, my ballet teacher actually confronted me and said he didn't know why I was doing what I was doing, but what I was doing to myself was awful and I need to take care of myself because I had a lot to do in this life. That stung, but it was the wake up call I needed. I had a lot of respect for him and I didn't want to let him down.

This moment made me realize I was letting myself down and I needed to find ways to integrate caring for myself into my life. I needed to come back to life, come back to my friends, and come back into the world. It started with taking myself out of isolation and allowing myself to enjoy the possibility of being happy again. It took a little over a year, but I eventually healed myself with different therapies, namely yoga, reiki and meditation.

I've never had a problem with food or restriction prior or since healing from the assault. My body has always been incredibly strong, efficient, and healthy because of how I live.

So why am I sharing this now?

In the last few years of travel, many young girls have come up to me and told me hauntingly similar stories of their lives and thanked me for the work I put out with Strala, and an intuitive approach to food and how we feel about and take care of ourselves.

They all tell me a similar story of how this practice has led them to heal themselves. Many of them mention that they were sexually assaulted, or struggled with an eating disorder, or were too hard on themselves for too long, and they, too, understand the importance of trying to live with ease.

I wonder why they feel connected to my work and they tell me it's not about the yoga, it's about the approach of ease. They tell me it's not about eating healthy, it's about getting excited to become sensitized to what feels right. They tell me it's not about following rules, it's about the freedom to follow how I feel.

I've said this before and it's a statement I stand behind. Yoga does not heal you. What heals you is connecting with how you feel and following actions that help you elevate.

Part of the reason I was resistant to actually go into yoga, was that I thought people who were into yoga had the wacky belief that it's the answer to everything. Poses and mantras and external alignment seem so silly compared to the power of connection to self.

I tell this story to broaden the topic of food and diet. It's about so much more than what we're eating. It's so much bigger than the rules and nutrition guidelines. It's about how we're feeling. How we feel about ourselves emotionally is the most important component in how we treat ourselves. I'm passionate about moving away from rigidity, no matter what the cause, and moving toward caring for ourselves and each other.

Take good care of you.

To find out how you can get free yoga videos to start and end your day with calm, visit Make Your Own Rules Diet.

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Tara Stiles
Tara Stiles

Tara Stiles is the founder of Strala Yoga, a revolutionary approach to healing through movement. She's also the author of Clean Mind, Clean Body. Thousands of guides are leading Strala classes around the globe in partner studios, gyms, and clubs. Strala has been illustrated in a case study by Harvard Business School, and its philosophy of ease and conservation of energy are incorporated by business leaders, entrepreneurs, and well-being professionals.

Stiles teamed up with W Hotels on Fit with Tara Stiles—a program bringing Strala Yoga classes and healthy recipes to W properties around the globe. She collaborated with Reebok, working closely with the design team on their yoga lifestyle range, as well as developed a line of knitwear and homeware with Wool and the Gang. Stiles has authored several books including Yoga Cures, Make Your Own Rules Cookbook, and Strala Yoga, all translated and published in several languages. She has been profiled by the New York Times, Times of India, The Times.

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