Zibby Owens: Tara Stiles is the founder of Strala, the revolutionary approach to being, moving, and healing. Strala teaches yoga, tai chi, and traditional Chinese medicine to help people release stress, let go of bad habits, and move easily through all kinds of challenges. Strala is practiced in more than a hundred countries. Thousands of guides are leading Strala classes daily around the globe. Tara has authored several best-selling books including Yoga Cures, Make Your Own Rules Diet, and Strala Yoga. She’s been profiled by The New York Times, The Times of India, The Times in the UK, and featured in most major national and international magazines. She is a sought-after speaker on topics of entrepreneurship, health, and well-being. Harvard even profiled Tara’s work in a case study. She has spoken with students at Harvard and NYU about her experience and approaches to creativity and leadership. She currently lives in New York City with her husband and their daughter, Daisy. Her most recent book, by the way, was helping advise on National Geographic‘s book of animal yoga poses, which is amazing.


Tara Stiles: Hey.

Zibby: I’m excited to talk to you again. I know we discussed Yoga Animals on Instagram Live, which I have here. I think I didn’t have it front of me last time even though it was upstairs. Anyway, now at least we can chat for a few extra minutes and hear more about all the rest of your stuff and not just this book. For listeners who don’t know about Yoga Animals, which is a National Geographic kids’ collaboration that you did, you were the yoga expert for them on this book, the subtitle of which is A Wild Introduction to Kid-Friendly Poses. Tell everybody a little more about your role in the yoga community and then how you ended up being a consultant for a place like National Geographic, which is pretty awesome.

Tara: Yeah, that is pretty wild. Pretty simple, I started a tiny little studio in 2008 in my boyfriend at the time’s apartment. I ended up marrying him. He was nice about it. The idea was to move in a way that felt good to you. That was really, if you can believe it or not, scandalous at the time within the yoga world. I was playing soft, feel-good music that people could identify with. That was also very scandalous at the time. I wasn’t trying to start all these problems. I learned about yoga as a young kid in a dance program. My first thought was, this is incredible. This is amazing. I had a really good teacher. My second thought was, why don’t my friends do this? Then I just started walking around and talking to people about yoga. Then I realized all the misconceptions. People felt like they weren’t included or they weren’t flexible or it was against their religion. I get it. There’s all these different kinds of communities. I just saw, I wouldn’t even say an opportunity, it kept pulling me in. I just started sharing yoga with my friends in the apartment. One thing kept leading to another. It’s a global thing now with what we offer.

We have a community of guides. We call our instructors guides. I never liked the word teacher. I was twenty years old teaching yoga to doctors and lawyers and all these smart people. I knew how to lead them through a yoga practice safely, so the word guide really made a lot of sense. My husband, then boyfriend at the time, was a mountain climber. He was saying, “A guide, you walk up the mountain, and it’s the person who’s done it before, but you’re also doing it too.” I’m like, oh, let’s just say that. It was more of a self-deprecating move. There was a lot I had to say and a lot I wanted to express for people to experience yoga in a way that felt like them and a tool that you could use instead of this thing that you needed to live up to in a way. It kept bringing more opportunities into my life. I had no choice but to keep saying yes. Ten years later, it kept going. One thing kept leading to another. Got an email from National Geographic and thought it was a joke, deleted it a few times. Happy to help them. If I can offer, especially with the language in the book for the little ones, not to have them read language or be read language that makes them feel like they’re not able to do something, so instructing in a way that’s about moving your body in a way that feels good for you and nice for you instead of trying to push your body in a certain way or make a certain shape as the goal. That’s really been the basis of what I’ve been sharing for the last couple decades.

Zibby: Amazing. What does yoga do for you? What makes you so passionate about it that you want to share it with everyone that you know and you don’t know and everything else?

Tara: Basically, it helps me feel better so I can do better. It’s this lock and key for everything that I am. I feel like if I don’t do it, if I don’t have a period of time where I’m thinking this way, I’m doing these things, then I can become distant from myself. I just know that from my own experience. It’s not about the poses. It’s not about the length of time. It’s just about getting on the floor, connecting with myself, doing that for a few moments every day at any part of the day where I feel disconnected. I automatically, it works every single time, feel better. It’s like magic fairy dust in a kind of corny way. If I need to rest, it tells me to rest. If I need to speed up, it tells me to speed up. If I need to read one of the books you suggest, it says, go do that now. The intuition becomes a highway instead of, maybe I should follow that. It’s like, nope, you’re following that. I feel like I’m put on a train and going in the right direction when I practice. I think that’s because I do yoga in a way where it feels good for me and I refuse to do yoga in a way where it’s about contorting my body into a certain pose. For me, I know that that works really, really well. When I share that, people seem to have it work well for them too. How can I not give that to people once I’ve had that experience myself, or at least show them that they can do it themselves and guide them so they can become guides of their family? It’s simple. We all can do it. It’s just like reading. If I could have forty more years doing this and get to a point where I’ve convinced enough people that yoga is the same as reading, you just open up a book and do it, you just get on the floor and do it, then I think that’s a good thing.

Zibby: How about yoga while reading? Maybe we could combine forces here and put downward dog with a book here. Two birds with one stone.

Tara: Absolutely. Especially, I think it’s important with yoga to always be comfortable, always be changing your position. If you’re sitting and you’re reading and you’re just sitting and taking in information into your mind, taking that information into your whole self with your breath and allowing your body to move, yeah, let’s do that. We could do a class.

Zibby: It’s one thing for you to teach yoga and then create a whole network of guides to teach other people through your philosophy. Writing about yoga, I would think, is a challenge. I tried at one point to write about all these different fitness moves and I remember thinking, what do I say now? Move your foot to the right. Not that they’re always so prescriptive, but you’ve written a lot about yoga. What are some of the tricks of the trade to make it easy for people to follow and understand and get your overall message as well?

Tara: Honestly, it’s funny because you’re such a book industry person. For me in the beginning, it was getting the editor out of the way. The first yoga book I wrote, it was still before there was a lot of yoga books. There was some instructions in there. There’d be the person who’s the fitness expert that wants to make it about the physicality. Yeah, you need to say where to put your foot. That’s absolutely important, but it’s also important to not say, squeeze your thigh. It’s important to talk about the movement. My background is in dance, primarily. Describing yoga as movement I feel is much more open than describing yoga as poses that you should be able to do exactly. It’s like, yeah, obviously you’re going to bring your foot forward, but before you do that, you should lean to the side and then bring your foot forward so you have some room for that foot to come forward. My descriptions tended to be, especially when I was figuring it out in my first few times writing about yoga, it was a lot longer. Then I would infuse way too much language of “if it feels good” or “when you’re ready.” Then I realized that if you just describe things like Hemmingway, as clearly, as simply as possible, then there’s so much beauty in that, and that will be conveyed. How I came about learning about writing in general was through writing yoga movements or little prescriptive five movements for a headache or whatever and figuring out how to do that in a way that wasn’t just about moving your body around.

Zibby: Tell me a little more about your dance career and where the main challenges were and the best parts and how you ended up getting off that path.

Tara: I’m from this tiny little rinky-dink town where there’s one little dance studio. You go and do these really terrible competitions where your parents put blue eyeshadow on you and send you off. I didn’t love all the blue eyeshadow, but I loved going to these places outside of my small town and learning from the best choreographers in New York and Europe and everything. Then I’d get little prizes. People would say, “You should do this for your living.” I’m like, just leave me here. I always had to go back, which was fine. My parents were like, “You can’t leave when you’re sixteen. We’re not going to move to New York.” Anyway, I ended up going to this dance conservatory after high school for a little bit. It was wonderful. It was a whole world of everything I wanted from age five, but long after that.

My ballet teacher was with American Ballet Theater in New York in the seventies when yoga was having its first moment in New York. He brough in, which was kind of new in ballets programs, but he brought in yoga on Fridays for relaxation. That was the first time I took a yoga class. It was this guy sitting in the front of the room. He was sort of happy for no reason at all. I remember just being so amazed and confused. You can’t be getting a lot of money for doing this. Nobody’s even paying attention to you, and you’re still happy. I was just super curious. I wanted to learn everything about it. I loved the experience of the physical practice. It was super simple. It was before all the yoga explosion of styles and all of that. It was just a normal experience. I felt like I was in my own spaceship where I could connect to myself. I remember my first thought, this is incredible. Then I opened up my eyes and I’m like, why doesn’t everybody do this? I was like, what’s going on? It was sort of like discovering reading if you’re the only one in the world that reads. I was pissed, to be honest. I’m like, what am I going to do now? There was no yoga teacher that I knew. I thought this guy was from a spaceship or something sent down from planet Zoltar. There’s nobody like him. He’s got to have another job. He was a secretary at Sprint or something. Who’s knows? This was not a career decision. I was dancing. I thought that would be my job. I moved to New York, was dancing in some small companies.

I wouldn’t take a job for a company full time because I had this hesitation of I wanted to be open in some way to do other things. I think that was the early stages of yoga pulling me in a little bit. If you say yes to the company, then you’re on tour. You do the whole thing. You’re stuck with that until they fire you, basically. Then you work in the costume department there or something, which would’ve been fine. I kept getting these other gigs and opportunities to dance in a Matthew Barney film or a strange Whitney Houston video or something. It was always these things that would give me a little bit of money to pay my rent and be a fun opportunity. It kept pulling me out of making that decision to join these more well-known troupes and things. Somewhere along the line, yoga kept pulling me in. I’d find my way into some class or some workshop or some talk or some poetry reading or finding all the people imparting wisdom. They’d be on flyers somewhere at that time. It just kept finding me until I couldn’t take it anymore. Then I just started sharing it with friends. Anybody that I would meet that would have back pain or stress, I would show them a few things they could do. They always felt better. That made me feel good. I still thought it wasn’t a respectable way to spend my time or anything I could be able to earn a living at or would even want to earn a living at. One thing just kept leading to another. Starting this small studio was still just a hobby. It was fun. It just started to take up more and more of my time.

Zibby: How big is the whole thing? I know you’re everywhere. You have all these classes. Tell me what it’s grown to. I know it’s the pandemic time-ish, but before, pre-pandemic let’s say.

Tara: It’s cool. It’s very decentralized, which I’m happy about because I never wanted to be like, I’m this yoga person, follow me around. We’ve led trainings over the years and things like that. There’s a few thousand guides around the world doing this. It’s cool because we all are in this community together. We all know each other and support each other. Everybody’s doing their own thing. We also have partner studios and partner online studios now. A lot of them have gone online. It’s pretty global. It’s in a hundred countries, if we sat down and looked at where everybody is and everything. That’s what’s cool about it. It’s people that have the same idea of yoga should be something that feels good for you, and they want to share that. I think that’s spread as it’s gotten — a lot of people just want to feel better. They want something that helps them feel better, something that doesn’t make them feel worse, essentially. It’s a bunch of partner studios, thousands of guides. They’re everywhere. They have their own studios. They teach in gyms. They teach in other people’s yoga studio. We’re very open in that way. It’s not like a SoulCycle where Strala Yoga only happens in this place. We also don’t care if people do the training and they don’t call it Strala Yoga, they just have a yoga class somewhere. I’m just much more about showing people a way to do this that feels good. A lot of people want to stay within the community. A lot of people want to take it into their life in a different way. I’m just happy that I get to be a part of that.

Zibby: I know a lot of former dancers have all sorts of pain or physical leftovers from the past, or a lot of athletes. Do you have any of that? Do you feel like your integration of yoga into your day-to-day life has sort of mitigated any of the lasting pain that you could’ve sustained?

Tara: I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but the only time I ever hurt myself was when I was trying to be a goofball and jumped over a ballet barre and broke my toe. I was trying to show off for my friends. It was, of course, right before a performance, so I had to perform with a broken toe. Your broken toe never quite heals. I guess I just got lucky. Mainly, I had really great teachers. They weren’t telling us to force ourselves. They weren’t telling us to be bad to our bodies. They were professional dancers. Our modern teacher was Eileen Cropley. She was in the station wagon with Paul Taylor, one of the first dancers. She’d get mad if we were working in a way where we would injure ourselves. She was like, “How are you going to have a career like that?” I know a lot of people have that experience of injuring themselves so much in dance. I never fell. A lot of my friends, they would have falls from some boy dropping them wrongly or something like that. I was also so tall that I didn’t do a lot of — I did some partner work. I was as tall as the guys, so there wasn’t a whole lot of lifting of me happening.

Zibby: How tall are you? It’s hard to see. It’s hard to tell.

Tara: I’m 5’8″ and a half.

Zibby: There are taller girls.

Tara: I’m not six feet or anything.

Zibby: Literally, I thought you were going to say, I’m 6’3″. I was going to say, oh, okay, which is fine. You just don’t know when you’re on the phone or whatever. That’s funny. What about collaborating with your husband? How has that been?

Tara: I joke with him, I say, “You’re the first straight guy that I met that did yoga, so that’s how I said yes.” I met him at this yoga thing. He was the first straight guy that I ever really talked to that did — all my friends in dance were gay guys, basically. Those were my friends. Those were my male role models growing up. They’d take care of me. It’s funny because he has whole upbringing in tai chi and martial stuff and all this stuff that he doesn’t talk about because he can’t talk about it. I’m kind of unsure. I’m like, are you in the CIA, or are you just making this up? It’s very body-oriented things, specifically with tai chi. That’s been really cool. I’ve learned a lot about and had a lot of synergies with my experience with dance and his experience with tai chi, especially that I got him talking about tai chi more and sharing tai chi more in this way. When I met him, he had some startup that he didn’t care about at all. I’m just like, “Why are you doing something you don’t want to do?” I just don’t understand that for my own life. It’s not really an option for me to do something I don’t want to do. Just qualification-wise, I don’t know if I could get a job. Eventually, he just kept coming around. We started working together. It was fun, and then not fun, and now it’s fun again.

Zibby: That’s awesome. If people listening want to do what you said before, they have a terrible headache or they’re feeling super stressed today or this is the worst day ever, where can they find those moves of yours to help them through?

Tara: Even without going to our website, doing our videos and all that shenanigans, I think just coming down to the ground and letting yourself crawl around a little bit and slow down and start to breathe a little bit more full, a little bit more deep to the point where you’re letting your breath move your body instead of trying to move your body with yourself, with your own muscles. From right there, that’s kind of the foundation of everything that we share. That can feel better instantly without logging online and going to our videos and the app and all that stuff. We have all that stuff. A lot of it’s free. I think that that’s super important and everything, but that’s really the basis. If I could just get on the floor, breathe, roll around, your body will start to show you what it wants to do. Then I think that’s what’s so great about yoga treated like a vocabulary of movement. If you learn a few different movements, then you’re going to, just like reading, know how to put a sentence together, know how to write a letter, or whatever it is. I hope to empower people to be able to feel confident enough to do something for five minutes on their own in a way.

Zibby: What’s coming next for you? What do you have up your sleeve aside from our new hybrid yoga-reading situation?

Tara: I think that’s going to be the main priority right there. Oh, my gosh. We finally had time now because of our current situation to do our app which we had on the backburner because we do so much in person. It’s just so fun to be in person with people. We love to travel and see everybody and go to all the partner studios. We just hadn’t prioritized doing that. That’s coming soon so people can practice with us. I’ve been doing this silly class on Instagram for almost a hundred days now, every day. It’s free. The live element has been really cool to do with people. That’s really what the app’s going to be about. It’ll have all of our decades of videos and collections and things that people already do, but it’ll also be more of a live digital home studio. We’re excited about that one.

Zibby: That’s awesome. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors having collaborated on this children’s book, Yoga Animals, and then all the other books that you wrote?

Tara: Oh, gosh. I’m so grateful I get to do it. I feel like I’ll keep creating books as long as any publisher will say okay. I think that’s the spirit of doing it as progress. A lot of people that I meet that want to write a book are waiting to write a book instead of just doing it. Sure, it’s nice to find a publisher that wants to do it, but it’s always nice to have something to show the publisher instead of what’s in your head. If it’s in your head, it doesn’t count, I don’t think, at all. You have to just sit down and do it like a practice every single day. It’s not my number-one main job, but I do love it so much. I love the process of writing so much. I love getting better at it. I love reading. I love improving. I love figuring out how to explain things differently and with more maturity as the previous book or whatever it is. I think it’s just really important to sit down, put everybody else’s books aside that are your familiar people that are kind of like you or that you think are like you, and just sit down. For me, it’s making an outline. If I don’t have an outline, I can’t do anything. It’s sort of like I need to know that I’m going to do yoga before I do yoga.

I think that’s really important, creating an outline and writing an introduction, and then just getting to work, doing it. Then sharing it with people that have more experience than you. In my experience, especially with writing and everything, is people want to help. People are so happy to help people that are already doing the work. I have friends that tell me about their books. I’m like, “Okay, show it to me.” They’re like, “No, no, it’s my idea.” I’m like, oh, god. I can’t. Just write pages. Do something. Get it together. Then rewrite it a bunch of times. I’m not the gatekeeper to getting your book published. Then start showing people after you have something down. If you’re not proud of it, just keep rewriting it. Keep showing up. Keep doing it. Don’t wait until you have the perfect hair day. Don’t wait until your stomach has the right amount of food in it or whatever it is. There’s so much. I fall to that all the time because it’s not my only job, writing. I do love it so much that I’m always working on it. I notice that’s a bad habit of mine, thinking, I’ll do this tomorrow. I’m like, no, I can’t. If I want to work on a new project, it has to be, for me, at least some point every day. I have to sit down and do it. Then that’s it.

Zibby: That’s great advice. I love it. Thank you. Thanks so much for coming back on another piece of my platform here and talking on the podcast about all of your great work. Like last time, I still feel so inspired to now do yoga after I speak to you. Then of course, two minutes later I forget. I’ll have to put reminders in my calendar to interview you every couple months.

Tara: I would love that. When we first met on your Instagram, I was like, I want to be friends with this woman. She’s so cool. We could do yoga together. She’ll tell me all the cool books to read.

Zibby: Totally. That would be awesome. I know. I would love that. One day when we’re out of here. Thank you so much for coming on. Have a really great day and everything.

Tara: You too. Thanks so much.

Zibby: Bye. Thanks.