Break the Rules with New York’s Yoga Rebel, Tara Stiles

Forget strict yoga poses and painful contortions, Tara Stiles is New York’s beloved yoga teacher that lets you do it your way. After teaming up with W Hotels Worldwide for the “FIT with Tara Stiles Yoga Retreat”, we caught up with Tara at the W Retreat & Spa Bali – Seminyak to chat about Strala – her unconventional approach to yoga that throws the rulebook out the window.

Tara Stiles, slated as a “Yoga Rebel” by The New York Times, isn’t your average yoga instructor. She’s a firm believer in moving in a way that feels good for you, not in the way that the yoga books tell you to.

This unconventional approach to yoga has, unsurprisingly, garnered quite a lot of attention with yogis worldwide. Tara has been dubbed “the coolest yoga teacher ever” by Vanity Fair and her way of practicing yoga, which she has coined “Strala Yoga”, has been making its way across oceans, giving both dedicated yogis as well as beginners the confidence to get creative and fun with yoga.

Strala, which is also the name of Tara’s famous yoga studio in New York, has proved particularly popular with yogis on the go, busy professionals and urban folk alike. The reason being, part of the Strala concept and the W’s “Pose Whenever” slogan, is that it doesn’t require a fancy gym, lots of equipment or years of experience to master – it’s yoga your way, in your own time. And most importantly, it’s fun yoga.

As part of Tara’s journey around the globe with W Hotels Worldwide, the superstar yogi stopped off at the W Retreat & Spa Bali – Seminyak where we caught up with her for the “FIT with Tara Stiles Yoga Retreat”. During the retreat, Tara was at the forefront of a sun-filled, cocktail-infused and fun-soaked weekend of sunset and sunrise yoga sessions, her own super-healthy organic recipes and full-body pampering alongside the island’s inspiring ocean views.

In between her stretching, posing and socialising with adoring fans, we were lucky enough to chat to Tara about her own yoga journey, as well as the secrets behind Strala, why Bali is such a great place for yoga and we even get some tips from her on how to lead a more toned, healthy and flexible life in 2015.

ASIA DREAMS: Prior to being a yogi you were a successful model. What was it about yoga that drove you to change your career path?

I was always into yoga when I was growing up, but at the time, I guess I never really thought of it as a career. So in the meantime, I kind of fell into modelling through some classical dance that I was doing – it was really fun so I stuck at it and took advantage of it as a great opportunity. It gave me more time to get back into yoga, so I began making yoga videos, sharing them with my friends and generally just meeting lots of people. Eventually, I discovered this new approach to yoga that was a little bit different and a lot more fun, and people started to really catch on. That’s when I realised, hey, I can actually make a career out of this.

ASIA DREAMS: Your unconventional approach to yoga has certainly caught on, so much so that Strala classes are becoming the latest trend for yogis worldwide. How would you describe Strala compared to other more traditional approaches?

Strala is all about moving in a way that feels good for you, whereas a lot of traditional yoga is more rigid; you’re either a beginner or you’re advanced, and it’s all about focusing on a specific pose. Strala on the other hand is all about you, how you feel at that particular time. If it feels right, you just kind of go with it. So it looks a lot different to traditional yoga and it’s very much about thinking and feeling in the moment, as opposed to mimicking a standard pose.

ASIA DREAMS: So what inspired you to get so creative with yoga?

Yoga is supposed to be for everybody, but these days some people are a little intimidated by it. So I wanted to make it more approachable, and most importantly, I wanted people to enjoy it at the same time. My classes have been described as a party, so it’s definitely on the right track!

Yoga can help people in so many ways, but unless you find a way to connect with it, you’ll never discover the benefits. So with Strala, people don’t need to worry about how advanced they are or whether they’re doing it in exactly the same way as the teacher. Instead, it’s more about expression and moving in a way that is comfortable and fun for you – I’ve found this has helped entice a wider group of people who may never have had the confidence to try yoga before.

ASIA DREAMS: Since opening in 2008, your New York yoga studio, Strala, has shot to fame. Do you have any more plans to expand and share your Strala approach?

Absolutely, which is one of the reasons why joining W Hotels Worldwide for their new fitness programme has been such a great opportunity, to introduce more people to the world of Strala Yoga. Yoga has become incredibly popular over recent years so there’s been a bigger demand for instructors who can teach yoga in a different way. So, I have been going around the world training a lot of instructors and sharing the Strala movement with affiliate studios. It’s been incredible seeing the approach spread so quickly, and it’s especially rewarding when I see people find the confidence to express themselves through their newfound way of viewing and practicing yoga. It’s there to empower people, and it seems to be working!

ASIA DREAMS: A lot of people take up yoga for weight loss reasons. Is your approach to yoga a good way to shed a few pounds?

When it comes to yoga and weight loss, I don’t think it’s as simple as just doing a bit of exercise. Our bodies are a work in progress, so it is very important to respect them, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. I see our bodies as a combined entity, and in order to feel healthier and lose weight, we need to connect all three aspects; physical, mental and spiritual. For example, a lot of people have issues with their weight not just because they eat too much or exercise too little, but because it comes down to an emotional issue. So yoga is a great way to connect those three aspects; mind, body and soul, and to work on each of them simultaneously. So yes, Strala certainly does these things, but additionally, it makes it fun too!

ASIA DREAMS: You’re not just a rebel when it comes to yoga, you also believe in doing things your own way when it comes to dieting too. Can you tell us a bit about your new book, “Make Your Own Rules Diet”?

Just like Strala, the Make Your Own Rules Diet is all about paying attention to what feels good for you. It’s an approach to eating that is designed to make you feel better about yourself on the inside, so that you can start to work on yourself in other aspects of life too. Eating well naturally makes you feel better about yourself, which often means you’ll be more driven to do a little bit of exercise, practice a bit of yoga and generally lead a healthier lifestyle. So the book gives readers a lot of really simple and fresh recipes that can be used as a guide to finding a diet that feels good, specifically for you.

ASIA DREAMS: The yoga retreat here in Bali in partnership with W Hotels Worldwide has been a raging success. What’s your impression of this spiritual island – do you think it’s built for yogis?

Bali is so beautiful and so inspiring, it’s a great place to get into yoga. The people are so friendly, so warm and smiling, and it’s very easy to relax here. In New York, people are much more affected by their stressful lives, and there’s this energy where everyone feels tense and on edge, so it makes it harder for people to relax and connect with yoga. But here in Bali, I immediately felt the chilled out vibe, and the sense of all the good things that yoga has to offer, like spirituality, inspiration and connecting with your inner happiness.

ASIA DREAMS: Last but not least, the New Year is just around the corner. Do you have any New Year’s resolutions or tips for our readers to maintain a healthier lifestyle in 2015?

I think a great resolution is to always follow your heart and soul. If you follow how you feel, whether that be practicing yoga regularly in a way that is comfortable and fulfilling for you, or simply staying happy on the inside, then you can’t go wrong. This is often easier said than done, so to help, I have created a very fun Youtube video on the W’s global websites to help you get up every day, practise yoga, detox and really feel great in your daily life. There are also four exclusive in-room workout videos designed for the needs of the W traveller as well as in-room tip cards with quick fixes for W guests globally to get camera-ready in a flash. A happy life is all about committing to feeling good and always following how you feel.