Tara Stiles’ 12 ways to make yoga work (in real life)

Tara Stiles is the go-to yoga guru for Jane Fonda and Deepak Chopra, and the person Vanity Fair calls “the coolest yoga instructor ever.” She visited Chatelaine HQ and shared her best tips to beat stress just in time for the holidays!

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Tara Stiles standing bow pulling pose
Tara Stiles takes standing bow pulling pose while in our studio (Photo by Leah McLean)

No matter what she’s doing, Tara Stiles likes to bend the rules. Five years ago, the former model traded in the catwalk and glitzy cocktail parties for cozy Lycra and yoga mats. “It just felt right,” says Tara. “Yoga had always been one of my favourite ways to work my mind and body, and I really wanted to share it.”

One thing led to another. She started hosting laid-back sessions in her New York living room and impromptu yoga pop-ups in the park. When leading a group, she concentrated on the physical benefits of each move, describing them in plain English (she called chaturangas push-ups, for example). She didn’t care if people achieved pretzel-perfect form, instead praising individual efforts, no matter how small. Popular music boomed, and she made sure not to act, as she says, “like some pretentious spiritual guru.” In short, Tara brought yoga down to earth — and her anti-elitist, chilled-out approach took off.

Next came Strala Yoga, the warm and inviting Manhattan studio she opened with her husband, Mike. Named with Tara’s own mash-up of the words strength, balance and awareness, it’s “a space where people can exercise, relax and connect to themselves,” Tara says. She later found out strala, fittingly, means “radiates light” in Swedish.

The accolades continue to flow. The original “yoga rebel” (a label that stuck after a quirky New York Times profile) is now the bestselling author of two books (Slim Calm Sexy Yoga and Yoga Cures). She’s working on a new yoga DVD series with meditations from Deepak Chopra and recently collaborated with Reebok on a playful and practical line of yoga wear for women. We were thrilled when she paid us a visit. Here’s a special peek at her day with us, including her best moves and health advice. So just bend it like Tara and you’ll quickly snap into shape!

Tara’s lessons from yoga that work in real life!

1. Find your own ease
“I’m not fazed by little stresses; I’m like a fuel-efficient car and use energy wisely. Each morning before I get out of bed, I close my eyes and breathe deeply for three or four minutes.”

2. Allow movement in all you do
“Go with the flow. When I practise, I try not to clench my muscles. We’re not meant to hold porcelain poses. If you look at trees, which epitomize balance, they’re always moving. Try to mimic that.”

3. Work in, not out
“‘Working in’ means doing an activity you love. When you do this, you’re more likely to exercise out of enjoyment instead of just focusing on calories and weight loss. As a result you make better choices, because you’re not trapped in a cycle of punishment and reward.”

4. Get your sweat on seven days a week
“Do something physical every day — even if it’s just for 10 minutes. The more you move, the more you’ll want to move. Pretty soon you’ll see results and move not because you want to look better, but because you crave that good feeling.”

5. Meditate while you exercise
“Instead of focusing on your burning muscles when you work out, learn to breathe in and out with clear intention. When you meditate during exercise, you can push yourself further each time.”

6. Stoke creativity on the mat
“There’s a part of your brain — yogis call it the third eye — that’s responsible for creativity and intuition. When you meditate or do yoga, you strengthen it like a muscle. That’s why people feel more creative and inspired after yoga. You start feeling more connected. Your body works more efficiently. It’s like becoming Neo in The Matrix — you see more possibilities. And it works for everyone, because you can feel your way into the poses and find your own version. Yoga isn’t about repetitive bicep curls or lunges that work only one area. It requires you to move every part of your body as you try to find balance.”

7. Stress less with a happy hobby
“I unwind by knitting. It started when I was writing my first book, and I was procrastinating. I walked by a store and I saw these girls knitting. Their yarn was candy coloured and super pretty. So I went in and got a kit. Now I’m hooked. I knit every second I can.” (See Tara’s collaboration with Wool and the Gang.)

8. Surf for workouts on YouTube
“I started my YouTube yoga videos so people could do them at home. But if you don’t like my style, there are a ton of YouTube videos out there. If you’re nervous or just starting out, it’s a great way to get comfortable.”

9. Don’t let rules rule your life
“If you’re too inflexible in your approach to everyday junk, it can make your life more dramatic. I prefer to help people find their own way. Always ask: ‘Who made the rules?’”

10. Serve up healthy desserts
“I always keep a few peeled bananas in the freezer. Sometimes I throw one in the blender with some peanut or almond butter and a little cocoa. It tastes better than soft-serve ice cream. I also love blending a frozen banana and clementines into a smoothie. It’s just like a Creamsicle.”

11. Find reward in exercise
“You’re in charge of your ability to feel good. If people come up to me after class and tell me, ‘You made me feel so great,’ I tell them, ‘You made yourself feel that way!’ Maybe I showed you a certain pose, but you changed your life just by giving it a try.”

12. Know you’re a work-in-progress
“I feel like we get the gift of strength or flexibility, and we spend the rest of our lives working to improve the other one. I’m naturally flexible and can be in the splits all day. But when it comes to running a flight of stairs or holding plank — that’s hard. So I make time to practise. Have patience with yourself. You’re always getting better.” 

Get Tara’s energizing yoga routine here.