The popular yoga instructor explains why yoga does a body good.
Tara Stiles talks a mile a minute. It’s just one of the ways in which the owner of Strala Yoga in Manhattan is not your typical yoga instructor.
“I always joke about ‘yoga voice’ — someone is speaking in a normal tone, and then when they start yoga instruction, their voice gets all weird,” she says with a laugh. “It becomes this precious moment. But yoga doesn’t have to be like that.”
As evidenced in her new book Yoga Cures: Simple Routines to Conquer More Than 50 Common Ailments and Live Pain-Free, Stiles’ approach to yoga eschews many of the spiritual (and stereotypical) aspects of the practice to focus instead on physical results.
“I like to explain yoga in terms of what it does for your body — the wiring, the chemicals that get released into your bloodstream,” she says. “A lot of times with yoga, people do it and they feel good, but they don’t know why.”
Spry: We reviewed your new video series, Deepak Chopra & Tara Stiles Yoga Transformation: Weight Loss and Balance and Deepak Chopra & Tara Stiles Yoga Transformation: Strength and Energy, which feels like being in a class with you. Why did you decide to do it that way?
Tara Stiles: I thought having three different people doing the poses and showing modifications would be a little less, “Simon says do this.” If you’re a beginner and you’re watching a video with just the instructor doing the moves, it can be harder to copy the shape of the pose. My main mission with everything I do is to make yoga very easy for people. One thing I hear a lot is, “I’m not flexible.” That’s a great reason to start doing yoga! You don’t have to have perfect form — it doesn’t have to look like a cover of a magazine.
Spry: Your new book Yoga Cures offers poses that can relieve pain and discomfort of various ailments. Did you discover any of those accidentally?
TS: Yes, I had a pretty bad headache once, and I realized that doing a headstand helped! Something about the pressure and the blood flow can relieve the pain. Then I looked it up and found that other people had said the same thing.
Spry: Are there any yoga moves you can do at your desk to help combat the effects of sitting in one position all day?
TS: One thing I notice is that my eyeballs get really irritated during the day. So you can rub your palms together quickly, press your hands into your eyeballs and take a few deep breaths. It also helps to sit up straight, bring your legs up and sit cross-legged in your chair. Your hip flexors get crazy tight sitting in that position all day. You can even do the arm movements from the Eagle position: Cross your elbows and lift your fingertips upward, trying to touch your palms together.
Spry: How did you come to work with Deepak Chopra?
TS: We met at a natural product launch. He was giving a talk and I twittered at him, “I’m teaching a class at the launch. Can I tell my friends you’re my opening act?” He responded, “Come and talk to me.” I’ve always wanted to meet him, because what he’s done with spirituality and meditation is what I want to do with yoga—make it accessible for a broad spectrum of people. We became friends, and we do yoga together when he’s in New York. He’s given me a lot of confidence, telling me that my practical approach to yoga is valid. There’s so much I’ve learned from him. When I got the idea to do the DVD, he said, “When you have an idea, you have to do it right away or it loses momentum.” And I asked him how he picks projects to work on and he said, “Well, I don’t do anything unless it’s fun.”
Spry: You believe yoga can be good for everybody, but occasionally there’s a debate about whether too many people are injured in practice. What do you think?
TS: I sometimes see yoga teachers walking around with their wrist taped up to show off an injury—to show that they’ve pushed themselves too hard. But in our studio, we’re really against that. We’re against launching into poses. If you can’t easily lift into it, you’re life’s not going to change when you get there. You have to work progressively toward what you’d like to do. When you practice in an easygoing way, you’re not going to get hurt if you’re paying attention to yourself.
Spry: Do you have any advice for people who want to start practicing yoga but don’t know where to begin?
TS: Starting online is a good resource. I do a lot of YouTube videos, but you don’t have to look at mine—there’s lots of stuff out there. Ask your friends if they do yoga and where they like to go—you usually like what your friends like. The scary thing is that people go to one class and have a bad experience, like the teacher was too hippie-dippie, or the room was a million degrees. They think that experience is what all of yoga is like and they never go anywhere else. Yoga is getting so popular now that there are many types of classes; some are very extreme, some are more philosophy-based. You really have to shop around. So many of my friends are on medications or stressed out. A lot of those problems come from being overwhelmed, and yoga can cure all that. And what it can’t cure, it can help you handle with ease.