How To Create A Yoga Habit, with Tara Stiles from Strala Yoga ↓
Tara Stiles is a yoga instructor, author, model, mother and founder of Strala Yoga in NYC. She’s worked with the likes of Jane Fonda and Deepak Chopra and I wanted to get her take on what it takes to start and stick with a yoga practice…
What common yoga myths do you encounter?
A lot of the yoga myths unfortunately have truth to them, so it’s understandable why a lot of people feel like yoga isn’t for them. From dogma, to abuse, to body shaming, yoga has had its share of criminal leaders, but it doesn’t need to be that way. There are a lot of great teachers and people sharing yoga out there in a healthy way and that’s really what we all want yoga to give us, a way to feel better. The future is in helping each other feel better and do better.
The number one reason I hear from folks for not practicing yoga is “I’m not flexible.” Of course you don’t need to be flexible to practice yoga and the goal can be about feeling better and connecting with yourself, but when yoga is taught as accomplishing a flexibility based goal or what we see as “good yoga” is a picture of a super flexible position, that’s a problem.
I believe it’s about doing yoga in your own way, connecting to yourself, moving in a way that feels good, and if you practice with a teacher or a group, finding a group that supports your goals. A lot of people have been injured with yoga by pushing themselves or being pushed into poses and that’s not right. Teachers need to be better and evolve out of the dogma that has led to so much abuse. There are a lot of really great teachers sharing yoga in a better way now. We believe in a better way.
What mistakes cause people to give up on yoga?
If your practice is about poses, eventually your body or your mind will break down, or you’ll get bored. If your practice is about dogma, eventually you will be abused or abuse someone. If your practice is about connecting with yourself and feeling better, you’ll have a lifelong practice that will support your goals that you will also look forward to practicing every day.
Yoga is useful when it’s a tool for your life, not just a practice to get good at. This can be a bit confusing if the goal becomes putting your body into a pose, instead of becoming more usable to yourself.
For yoga, it’s about setting goals that support your life like connecting to a sense of purpose, having a calm and focused mind, and a body that works well for you. It’s about changing how you practice so you focus on how you feel every moment along the way and work on moving better, not more contorted.
In life the same problem happens. When you focus on a superficial goal, like making a certain amount of money, it’s almost impossible to be satisfied once you actually get there, if you do. Every step along the way also becomes filled with restlessness. When you make your goals point toward how you want to feel, you actually get much further and are more satisfied every step of the way. This is really one of the biggest challenges I see with yoga and it’s plain as day to see in life too. Once you train yourself to be in the process and have feeling based goals so much more becomes possible.
How do you help people who’ve had bad experiences in the past?
The main reason I got into leading yoga was to help people who have had bad experiences find a better way and to prevent people from having bad experiences in the first place. Teachers can be very helpful to people when they show how to do yoga well and empower someone through the practice. The courage can come from being a good example instead of trying to convince someone with language. If you help someone feel better, that’s a feeling they’ll get hooked on.
Do you use any form of gradual exposure to ease people into yoga?
How you do one thing is how you do everything. It’s really great to change how you do a simple thing like standing up and sitting down and crawling with as much ease as possible. I love the concept of wu wei in movement and everything else. Use what you need to use to accomplish the task at hand.
We are so used to stressing ourselves out as a sign of success instead of working efficiently while we do everything. Yoga has a reputation for being rigid and tense and the reality is, energy can’t flow through what’s stuck and your body doesn’t work well when it’s tense. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of overworking to prove to yourself and others that you’re doing a good job, when the amount of energy you overspend is preventing you from achieving your potential.
As the level of challenge goes up it’s important to continue to find the most efficient way of moving and being. I love showing this in the yoga form and people draw all sorts of parallels to their work and life. You simply change how you move, connect your breath and body as one, move with efficiency, and so much changes. Creativity, productivity, wellbeing, all of the things we desire rush in.
How can people get back on the bus if their yoga practice has stalled?
With creating a regular routine, whether that’s for wellbeing, work or a life goal, I really believe creating a schedule is essential. It sounds so boring maybe, but success only looks glitzy in those moments of celebration, or even moments that have nothing to do with you.
Having a daily practice for me is essential. It sets my mood, wellbeing and energy for the day. If you fall off a routine, try setting one habit first, instead of dreaming up some big overhaul. A simple morning yoga routine might just be the perfect beginning. My morning yoga routine is essential. I know myself enough to know I need that time for myself to be alone, do my meditation, move how it feels good for me, and reset my whole self. Even 5 minutes of getting down to the floor and connecting your breath and body together can be a massive shift for your life. When you feel better you do better.
How do you help people persist with yoga in the awkward early learning period?
When leading trainings, I like to share with people the only way we learn is by making mistakes. It’s great to experience doing what you do naturally and seeing how it works or doesn’t work and if you have someone to give you a suggestion on how to improve, that’s gold.
If you see mistakes as a weakness, you’ll never improve. For me success isn’t being great and that’s it, it’s a practice of constantly evaluating what went wrong and improving the next time. You can hear the perfect advice for you and it won’t improve your life if you aren’t willing to actually change your habits.
What should people focus on, and what should they forget about, when it comes to yoga?
Focus on your breath/body connection. Focus on how you move. Focus on how you are. Forget about the pose as the goal. The pose is one frame on a forever continuum. Focus on how you feel.
Yoga is about nourishing your needs and paying attention to what works for you at different moments in your life. Some days you’ll need a stronger practice. Some days you’ll need a more restorative practice. You’re different every day, every year, every decade so your practice needs to adjust accordingly. Softness and moving well should always be the foundation, but the forms and sequences can be easily arranged to suit you.
How do you recommend people measure their progress in a healthy way?
Measure your energy levels. How do you feel? How is your mood? How is your life? Does your day go smoother or more rough? Do you feel like taking better care of yourself or are you being destructive? If you practice feeling better when you do yoga, you’ll point yourself toward real progress in the rest of your life.
How quickly can people start to experience results with yoga?
There is an instant result of feeling connected to yourself. That’s a huge win. With practice, your body can change if it needs to come into balance. Your life can change if it needs to come into balance. It all begins with you and your mindset. The rest of you will adjust accordingly.
What are the benefits of yoga?
Feeling more connected. Connecting more with purpose. Feeling more creative. Achieving more productivity and better thinking. Moving more efficiently. Getting injured less from other activities. Lifelong wellbeing. Stress management. It seems ridiculous but when you connect with yourself as a whole self practice so much is possible and happens naturally.
What are your favorite yoga resources?
It’s so easy now and also challenging in some ways because of the internet. If you try a class online and it doesn’t feel like a good fit, ask some friends what they like and you might enjoy that also. Of course we have a vast library of practices at stralahome.com and our Strala Yoga app. I love sharing and everyone is invited.
A few good books if you’re interested in the overall feeling and energy of the practice…
Embrace Tiger, Return to Mountain by Al Huang.
Beyond Religion, The Dalai Lama.
7 Spiritual Laws of Success: Deepak Chopra.
And I should mention my book, Clean Mind Clean Body, that aims to simplify the ancient wisdom of tai chi, shiatsu, ayurveda, yoga and meditation to help people feel better, sustainably.
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Interview by Paul Montreal. Special thanks to Ashley Sandberg at Triple 7 PR.
"The future has not been written.
There is no fate but what we make for ourselves."
© 2019, 2020, 2021 Paul Montreal.