10 things I learned from Deepak Chopra's yoga guru Tara Stiles

Our office was abuzz when chilled-out Tara Stiles stopped by last week for a shoot with our team. We had the chance to talk to her about working with Deepak Chopra and how to be patient with your health. Read on for all the uplifting details.

Tara Stiles takes pigeon while in our studios (Photo by Leah McLean)

Tara Stiles takes pigeon while in our studios (Photo by Leah McLean)

Hanging out in tree pose with Tara Stiles is like breathing sunshine. In her Soho studio in New York City, where she teaches a unique form of yoga she’s developed called Strala, we’re all standing, one foot firmly rooted into the floor, the other resting on calf or quad, with our arms raised to the ceiling. We’re slowly swaying side to side while a sweet summery song is playing (think Lovely Day by Bill Withers, Hard Sun by Eddie Vedder or anything from Thievery Corporation). When did yoga get so cool?

If you’ve ever felt frustrated by yoga, thinking it was only for those whose chakras aligned or the ability to twist into a pretzel, then you should give Strala Yoga a try. Tara was disappointed by the yoga styles she experienced when she first moved to New York. There seemed to be too many rules around a practice based on learning to stretch your limits. “I thought a lot of people felt left out or bad if they couldn’t hit a certain pose. And that’s not what yoga should be about,” Tara told us in the Chatelaine studio (she’s developed a workout for our fall issue!). “Yoga is not about being in the perfect pose. It’s about connecting with your breath.”

So she started giving free classes in her apartment at 7 p.m. every night. She’d clear a space in her living room. “I just wanted to make people feel comfortable so they could relax and connect to themselves. I played music that people listen to, spoke in plain language and didn’t act, you know, like a big, pretentious spiritual guru,” says Tara. The classes became so popular, people spilled out into her hallway.

Now – after two books, a popular blog and a DVD series, an app co-developed with Deepak Chopra and a yoga wear collaboration with Reebok – Tara runs a beautiful studio in Soho with her husband. (We got a sneak peek of her new fall/winter collection for Reebok, and let’s just say the cashmere cool down sweater and super-soft skinny sweatpants are going to give Lululemon some serious competition).

Tara came up with the name Strala after merging the words strength, balance and awareness together. She later found out in Swedish it means “radiates light.” It might be the high we’re all still feeling since our shoot with Tara, but I swear members of the office are definitely radiating something since trying out a few of her poses.

While we don’t want to spoil our fall story just yet, here are 10 things we learned from Tara Stiles during last week’s photo shoot at the Chatelaine office.

1. Work in, don’t work out
“Find an activity you’re passionate about. When I see people doing workouts they don’t really enjoy, they have this sense of frustration, and they tend to get trapped in this cycle of punishment and reward. So it’s like, ‘Oh I just did this workout, I’m going to treat myself to a burger and fries.’ When you’re exercising out of enjoyment, you’re not focusing on how many calories you’ve burned or flexing your fitness. Instead you’re tapping into how you feel. That translates into your physiology and your brain chemicals and all that good stuff. You just feel better, and you make better choices. When you exercise, make the goal about feeling good. Work in, don’t work out.”

2. Act like a hybrid car
“During yoga, I try not to clench all my muscles. If you look at trees, which are the epitome of balance, they’re always moving. So it’s not about holding porcelain poses, because life isn’t like that. And during the day, I try not to get fazed by all the little stresses. I try to be like a fuel-efficient car and stay relaxed and use my energy wisely. I look for ways to find the ease. You can start your day off right if you just close your eyes and breathe for three or four minutes before you get out of bed each morning.”

3. Bend the rules
“When I was interviewed by a woman from The New York Times, she told me she liked my approach because it was yoga without all the hoo-ha. She was trying to get me to articulate exactly what I was doing, but I didn’t want to anger any of the other people doing yoga out there. She said, ‘But you’re breaking all the rules.’ And I said, ‘Yes, I know, but my intention is to allow people to find their own rules. Who made these rules?’ Sometimes if you have too many rules in your life it can attract a mindset that makes you live more dramatically.”

4. YouTube your workouts
“I started my YouTube video routines so people could do them at home. But if you don’t like my style, there are a ton of YouTube videos out there that show you how to do all kinds of exercises. It’s like online shopping for fitness. If you’re nervous or just starting out, it’s a great way to get comfortable. Ask your friends to come over and do them with you. You can turn your living room into your studio.”

5. The practice is the reward
“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 good,’ I tell them, ‘You made yourself feel good!’ Maybe I showed you a certain pose or suggested your could breathe deeper or avoid hurting your knee by turning it this way, but you changed your life just by giving it a try.”

6. Move every day
“Make sure you do something every day. Make it a routine. You don’t need to do an hour class every day, but find time to move – even if it’s just for 10 or 20 minutes. And the great thing is, the more you move the more you’ll want to move because you just feel so much better. Pretty soon you start seeing results, and you keep moving not because you want to look better but because you come to crave that good feeling.”

7. Yoga may help you tap into the matrix
“Yoga helps manage stress levels and it rewires your brain to feel better. There’s a part of your brain – yogis call it the third eye – and it’s responsible for creativity and intuition. When you meditate, or do yoga (which is moving meditation), you strengthen it like a muscle. That’s why people feel more creative or inspired after yoga classes. You start feeling more connected. Your body works more efficiently. It’s sort of like becoming Neo in The Matrix. You start seeing more possibilities. And it works for everyone, because you can feel your way into the poses and find your own version. It’s not doing repetitive bicep curls or lunges that only work a particular area. Yoga requires you to move every single part of your body as you try to find balance.”

8. Knit for stress relief
“I unwind by knitting. It started when I was writing my first book and I was procrastinating. I walked by a store in Soho and these girls were knitting inside. Their yarn was candy-coloured and super pretty. So I went in and got a kit and now I’m hooked. It feels pretty meditative as well.” (Check out her latest collaboration with Wool and the Gang.)

9. Indulge in healthier desserts
“For a snack, I love blending a banana and clementine oranges together into a smoothie. It’s just like a creamsicle. I always keep a few peeled bananas in the freezer. Sometimes I throw a frozen banana and some peanut or almond butter with a little cocoa into a high-powered blender. It’s tastes even better than soft-serve ice cream.” Watch this video to see how it’s made.

10. Exercise is a work in progress
“I feel like everybody gets the gift of strength or flexibility. And you spend the rest of your life working on the other one, which is cool. I’m naturally flexible and can be in the splits all day long. But when it comes to running a flight of stairs or holding plank pose – that stuff is really hard for me. So I make time to practise it. Have patience with yourself because it’s all a process. You’re always getting better.”

Tara Stiles standing bow pulling pose

Tara Stiles takes standing bow pulling pose (Photo by Leah McLean)

Check out our fall issue for more from Tara Stiles.