Tara Stile, who has reinvented what it means to practice yoga, is drawing flak from traditional practitioners for her unconventional approach.
The 29-year-old former model-turned-yoga teacher does not talk about sacred Hindu texts, personal intentions or charkas in her class. She does not even ask her students to chant, reports the New York Times.
AdvertisementShe also dismisses the ubiquitous yoga teacher-training certificates as rubber stamps, preferring to observe job candidates in action.
In her classes, videos and how-to book, 'Slim Calm Sexy', Stiles just focuses on the physical and health aspects of yoga, not the spiritual or the philosophical aspect.
And for the traditionalists, this is heresy, reducing what they see as a way of life to just another gym class.
However, she shrugs off the criticism from purists by asking, 'Who made these rules?'
Stiles, a native of rural Illinois who owns Strala Yoga in NoHo, has built a powerful yoga brand, with no less than Jane Fonda and Deepak Chopra among her devotees.
In the decade since she came to New York, she has built a business out of breaking those rules.
She rejected the city's yoga scene as exclusive and elitist. She refused to pledge allegiance to one teacher, one studio or even one style of yoga.
She charges 10 dollars a class. And her short online videos have catchy, user-friendly titles like 'Yoga for a Hangover' and 'Couch Yoga'.
"I feel like I'm standing up for yoga. People need yoga, not another religious leader. Quite often in New York, they want to be religious leaders, and it's not useful," she said.
"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," she added.
Besides running the studio, Stiles also posts a short video most weeks to YouTube.
She has a channel with nearly 200 videos that have drawn about four million views.
Stiles credits her unorthodox approach to her parents who are 'straight-edged hippies', independent thinkers who designed their solar-power house long before it was fashionable and who seldom touched the peach schnapps, the lone bottle of liquor in the cabinet.
Her down-to-earth demeanour sometimes clashes with her sexy cover-girl look. Some of her ads for yoga wear, including one for American Apparel, have raised eyebrows among the traditionalists, who say it cheapens yoga.
But Stiles, who is beanpole thin, makes no apologies. "We should not be hiding behind our bodies. Our bodies should be empowering," she said.
Among yoginis, Stiles's own training remains an enduring mystery.
Her training program emphasizes practical knowledge and looking inward for strength, not toward a guru or leader for empowerment.
The classes are not hard or boring, they move at a relatively slow and comfortable pace. And there is never any pressure, subtle or overt, to push harder.
Like many teachers today, she takes a hands-off approach, rarely physically adjusting a person's position in a pose.