Yoga teacher and book author, Tara Stiles, is finding herself in the middle of the seemingly ongoing debate about the authentic teaching of yoga. Stiles has come under fire for her nonchalant, non-conformist attitude and her capitalization on the business of yoga from fellow teachers and practitioners. And for Stiles, it seems, this is controversy is no big deal. “People need yoga, not another religious leader,” Stiles said. “Quite often in New York, they want to be religious leaders, and it’s not useful. Here, people want to sit and talk about yoga; it’s very heady. It’s very stuck, very serious. I was never invited to the party anyway–so I started my own party.”
The “Slim Calm Sexy” author made her mark in New York City breaking the yoga rules of engagement. There are no chaturangas. She calls them push-ups. She doesn’t ask her students to chant or make a pledge to caring for the animals or the planet and there is no talk of ancient Hindu texts. Her language is plain and her goal is simply for better physical health. And Stiles, herself, asks the question, “Who made these rules?”
It’s obvious Stiles is no traditional yoga teacher, however, she’s accumulated a large group of people who follow her teachings at her NY studio and on YouTube. They buy her DVDs, her iPhone app and her book. Obviously she’s hit a certain demographic that is listening and enjoying some benefit from her teaching as Stiles has reached a certain level of notoriety and fame with her particular brand of yoga. So, why exactly, is this considered “inauthentic?”
Deepok Chopra says, “A lot of the resentment comes from her rapid rise to success.” He goes on to throw his weight behind Stiles when he commented about her teaching methods, “Taking lessons from her has been more useful to me than taking yoga from anyone else.”
Isn’t that what we want to hear from the students that walk in and out of yoga studios? I certainly do. To hear that yoga has impacted someone in some way for the better is what makes it all worthwhile. Does it really matter what medium or from whom?
The big issues with Stiles are numerous. They include her unwillingness to pledge allegiance to a guru, a lineage or even a style of yoga. She doesn’t list where her yoga training came from and says that teacher trainings do not equip yoga teachers to teach – all that plus the fact that she’s represented by a talent agency that isn’t in the mind/body/fitness genre.
Fellow yoga rebel/superstar Sadie Nardini commented recently that the only thing that bothered her about Stiles unwillingness to adhere to traditional yoga standards is that she wasn’t fully disclosing the agency that represented her. “No, I’m not talking about Ford (modeling agency),” Nardini said. “I’m more interested in her other one, one of the biggest talent agencies in the country.”
She goes on to say, “This mega agency is trying to break into the mind/body field, because they are consummate business people and they’re whip-smart. They see the incredible financial potential wrapped within our kula, now a multi-billion dollar industry”
Whatever people think about Stiles and her unconventional yoga methods, her story is clearly representative of our culture and the western mindset. Is this a bad thing or a good thing? In my opinion, it’s still too early to tell. We are young and new to yoga as a culture. But, in the words of Stiles, herself, “There are no rules in life.” Since yoga equips us to deal with life, who knows, maybe she is on to something…
Is practicing with a yoga teacher who demonstrates authenticity important to you? How authentic does a teacher’s yoga need to be?