With a range of DVDs and numerous books under her belt (with names such as Slim Calm Sexy Yoga, Yoga Cures and Make Your Own Rules Diet), hundreds of thousands of YouTube hits, retreats and a worldwide yoga programme with W Hotels, a yogawear line with Reebok, devotees including Jane Fonda and Deepak Chopra, a yoga studio in New York and various other yoga partner studios opening under the Strala Yoga brand name, Tara Stiles has turned her passion into a full-fledged career. However, despite her nickname ‘Yoga Rebel’, which she garnered in 2011 when The New York Times came out with an interview dubbed ‘Rebel Yoga’, she isn’t the in-your-face, loud-mouthed kind of gal you might expect after having read that she has revolutionised yoga. Instead, she is this gracious, charming, down-to-earth and utterly funny yogini, who just happens to be at the right place at the right time, doing what she loves.
Her style is based on the concept of making up your own rules as you go along, meaning that the sequences she and her instructors (at Strala they’re called guides) teach are all freestyle and that students (she calls them people) should only hold and move into certain postures if it feels good. Traditional yogis are obviously outraged that anyone could take this sacred discipline and turn it into a fitness regimen that’s adapted to modern times, but the dancer/model turned yogini isn’t too fazed about all the criticism and simply continues to walk her talk.
“I like this general idea of following how you feel and to just kind of move how it feels good,” she says openly when we catch up at the W Hong Kong for her FIT with Tara Stiles event, which is made up of yoga classes, a cooking demonstration highlighting her new in-room dining menu, as well as her in-room yoga tips and videos, encouraging W guests to ‘forget about being Zen and start getting fabulous’.
“We guide people to move in a way that’s natural and easy on their body,” she continues. “It’s not like a Bikram class where these poses happen and you’re stuck with that. So the instructors have a lot of freedom to make it work for the people in front of them, instead of just sticking to a script.”
Stiles has come a long way from spending her childhood meditating in the forests of Illinois to running her own yoga business, which now encompasses more than 1,000 guides across the world, with its latest Strala Yoga studio in Singapore.
“When I was a little kid, I grew up doing meditation on my own,” she says. “I would go into the woods and meditate and realise how amazing it is. And at high school age, we had yoga in the ballet programme, and I said, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing. This reminds me of what I was doing when I was a kid!’ So I wanted to learn everything about this. I didn’t really think about it as a job or anything. There wasn’t anything such as instructor trainings at all back then. This was the 90s. Now it’s very different. So I was just learning more about it, and my ballet teacher at the time was a long-time devotee of Yogananda. He gave me the book by Yogananda, and I studied that for a bit. And then I moved to New York and did a bunch of things, while sharing yoga with my friends. I took a class and the woman who was the instructor said that I should be an instructor and gave me her training programme. I did some of these programmes and learnt all these different styles and methods.”