On a short trip to New York for a meeting, we decided on the spur of the moment to try and cram in a class at Tara Stiles’ Strala Studio. In the foyer the doorman directed us to the lift before we asked and we rode to the top surrounded by quiet, smiling glances. As the lift opened, it looked like a houseparty. Amidst a barrage of smiles and warm murmurs, Tara sort of erupted into the space, hugging and greeting all and sundry.
When I met Tara Stiles again, late last year, at the Om Yoga Show, her infectious laughter and mischievous smile were undiminished., despite the rounds of completely sold-out classes and crowds of well-wishers. Her new book, Make Your Own Rules Cookbook, was hot off the press, barely even released and she signed every copy and engaged every reader. As we sat perched on the sofa, beneath a giant image of the Bhagavad Gita, on the Yoga Alliance UK stand, she answered my every question (there were many) with a direct, clear gaze.
What excites you most abut teaching yoga?
For me, the most important thing is to help, to be able to do good.
What was it like in the early days of teaching?
Well, I grew up with all of this, around dance and all these practices and it just seemed natural.
Were there challenges?
Sometimes at first, people didn’t get me and what I was tryig to do. There seemed to be a lot of rules and I was different…Maybe people felt I was challenging the traditional ways. But gradually I found the videos had touched so many people, reached across the world. I just went for it, it came easily, just wanting to help. I grew up on a farm, so I’m pretty grounded.
Is it overwhelming teaching in so many places, travelling so much?
Well of course, like everyone I feel more at home on my own turf.. in my own studio. But I meet so many lovely people. There’s a girl here whom I met in Asia, who gave me a lot of local recipes. I’ve made so many friends.
Does it get tiring? (I asked this as I looked over a long line of cookbook-weilding yogis)
Not at all. It’s fun.
I spent some time in Asia with yogis who felt that Westerners don’t know the true yoga. It seemed to be a preoccupation. I would get into discussions about how Yoga, like everything, is evolving: we have our own way of taking it forward. What would you say to them?
The most important thing is to do some good. If people can be helped directly, so much the better. It’s not about the chanting or one kind of spirituality or another. It’s about helping.
When I actually went to India, I found so many people there interested and ready for this kind of yoga. It was accepted so well…really a wonderful experience.
How is your Teacher Training?
I want to empower people to lead Yoga. It’s not about the Alliances and so on: in fact I mainly work with the UK Yoga Alliance, as their standards are high and integrity is important to me. We teach some body therapies too and have a really precise system. I want the yoga leaders to lead well, so we take a lot of care to help them become the best they can be.
As I was leaving and a crowd of friends engulfed her for dinner plans, I suddenly remembered something, “Ah, could you sign my cookbook?” “Sure I can!” She gave me a lovely message and a huge hug. I can’t tell you what it said, but the glow lasted all the way home.