Back in 2011, The New York Times profiled Tara Stiles, a former model turned yoga instructor. She’s a “love-her-or-hate-her” yoga teacher based in New York City. Yoga traditionalists, quoted for The New York Times, say she ought to be ashamed of herself for her “yoga for the masses” approach. For these traditionalists, Stiles has shamelessly turned modern yoga into “just another gym class.”
Stiles, however, is crying all the way to the bank. She runs an immensely popular yoga studio in New York that draws over 150 people to 40 classes each week. She published a book, Slim Calm Sexy, which remained the No. 1 Amazon yoga book category for months. She put out a yoga video with Jane Fonda that sold out in Target, and her 200+ YouTube videos have millions upon millions of views.
While many of New York City’s best-known yoga instructors consider Tara Stiles nothing more than a sellout, Stiles considers those other yoga instructors to be elitist, snobby, and just plain mean. New York’s yoga scene, the 2011 New York Times article says, reminded Stiles of the exclusive popular girls in high school, “only with incense and bare feet.” Furthermore, Tara Stiles does have at least one surprisingly spiritual fan; Deepak Chopra considers Stiles to be his personal yoga instructor.
Does Tara Stiles Represent Everything That’s Wrong with Modern Yoga, or Everything That’s Right?
As far back as the third millennium BCE, people in the Indus Valley had started practicing early forms of yoga. By 900 BCE, yoga was starting to become an integral part of the Vedic tradition; by 200 BCE, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism were all practicing various types of yoga-like physical postures, breath control, and meditation.
For these ancient yogis, the practice of the physical yoga asanas was only a small part of their overall spiritual diet of yoga, meditation, and spiritual contemplation. Today, however, that equation has been reversed; most Western people think of yoga as primarily physical, with an optional side dish of spirituality. How much spiritual practice is included in today’s Western yoga classes largely depends upon the instructor; some classes might include a little bit of chanting or meditation at the end of the routine, while other classes don’t include even a hint of spirituality. At places like the YMCA, and other mainstream gyms, many yoga instructors intentionally choose to stay “spiritually neutral.”
Tara Stiles, for her part, is fine with divorcing physical yoga from its spiritual roots. As she told The New York Times in 2011: “People need yoga, not another religious leader.” Her attitude rings true with many modern students of yoga, who get their spiritual nourishment from another spiritual tradition, or who reject spirituality altogether, but want to use yoga to stay fit.
Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Is it just a matter of personal preference? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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