Who the heck is Tara Stiles?

In an email exchange several months ago, I mentioned my long interest in yoga to Michael, a magazine editor friend. “The path of the yogin is a difficult (and impecunious) one,” he wrote back. “You could always do what Tara Stiles did and become a YouTube sensation.”

Tara Stiles? Who the heck is Tara Stiles?

20080125ford2I Googled her name and found her website, her HuffPost blog, her Couch Yoga video on YouTube (which has garnered almost 115,000 views to date), and hundreds more listings. Born in 1981, Stiles grew up in rural Illinois before claiming fame as a Ford model cum yoga sensation.

I watched a few of her videos, from Couch Yoga to Hotel Room Yoga to Meditation tips. Lithe and leggy, Stiles has a laidback manner and treats yoga in a matter-of-fact way. With her conspiratorial tone, body-swaying gestures, and uniform of short shorts and boy-beater tanks, she makes yoga interesting to the uninterested masses.

Comments on Stiles’s videos run the gamut (here are some G-rated examples from Hotel Room Yoga):

Yoga is 2,000 years old. What does this dum young full of @#!~$ know. Shut up! … What is this dum dum talking about? – A few too too many hotel beds…I think. LOL (acm19751; USA; age 34)

Chicks + Underwear + Stretching = hot 🙂 (iluvebeer; Oslo, Norway; age 19)

hotness (LukeWhitaker; USA; age 26)

Most are akin to the latter two. Of course.

In addition to skimming Stiles’s videos, I read a few of her HuffPost blog posts. She displays a likable, inclusive manner (her motto: anyone can do yoga) and the knack for boiling advice down into five points (or less). As a yoga instructor, she is probably better, or at least no worse, than the hundreds of 20-somethings out there. There is no comparison between this contingent and the wise senior teachers who exist everywhere (keep your eyes peeled; they’re often under the radar)—so I won’t compare.

But Stiles’s yoga is all about sex. Don’t get me wrong: Sex is always in the picture. Walking down the street in skintight pants (or in grubby tee and shorts, no matter), it’s fair game for any onlooker to get an eyeful. You can’t control if others view you as a sex object. And, let’s face it, if you’re human, you have a stake in your own sexiness. So, in non-yoga settings, wear a bikini, go braless, go nude, whatever.

It’s another matter purposely to create yoga videos that bank on sex appeal more than on yoga itself. To me, it’s cheesy: a guaranteed attention grabber for extraneous reasons. (I’m reminded of Jerry Seinfeld’s decision not to use swearing in his standup act; he considered tossing off f-bombs too easy a way to get laughs.) The phenomenal supermodel Christy Turlington is another model-turned-yogi, but she wrote a book (Living Yoga: Creating a Life Practice, published in 2002) and is now working on a master’s degree in public health at Columbia, forgoing her own chance to make blockbuster yoga videos for YouTube.

The irony (and this is real irony, not the ironical tone favored by Stiles and her ilk): With her looks, savvy, and head start in yoga, this Tara Stiles could probably do just fine … without lolling around in bed.

Related post: “The Call of the Fame”

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24 thoughts on “Who the heck is Tara Stiles?

  1. Interesting post! I won’t comment on Stiles’ abilities/knowledge as a teacher, because as an educator myself, I know that there is always room for improvement, for more knowledge to be learned and shared. But I will agree with you that her overt sexuality is unnecessary. The picture you posted reminded me of the ads I see in yoga publications for Ana Brett’s DVD’s. She may be another one who’s a solid teacher, but I’ll never know because I was so put off by her appearance (short, tight boy-shorts, bra top) that I have no interest in finding out.

    A friend of mine who’s a yoga teacher – trained in the Sivananda tradition – was telling me about being at the ashram recently and how the “younger” (i.e. 20-something) female participants there had to constantly be reminded to dress in a less revealing way when entering the temple.

    So I don’t know, is it that it’s become a generational issue (which I loathe saying since the implication is that I’m officially on the other side! LOL) or is it part of the further “Westernization” of yoga (whatever that means) or is it yet the overall sexualization of *everything* in our culture??

    1. Thanks for commenting. More food for thought…

      Hmm, age is probably a factor, but not necessarily. I am aware of many teachers (and others in positions of power) who use sexuality as a tool—male and female, any age. And I’ve also seen folks of all ages disrespect other cultures’ more-modest standards (think pot-bellied old men wearing Speedos sunbathing in Dubai or Orange County cougars showing cleavage while sightseeing in India). It’s more the attitude than the age.

      Here, my focus is on Stiles’s (and any yogi’s) behavior when acting as a yoga teacher. As a student, I wear skimpy getups. As a teacher, I’d be a lot more discreet.

      More blogging to come. Stay tuned!

    1. Many thanks for your comment and the link. I am mixed on AA: I myself wear their tanks and tees, after all. Some ads are risque, but the real-people models are just girls who want their 15 minutes of fame. They’re not … yoga teachers.

      I have no major qualms with Stiles or anyone posing for AA in any manner. As a model, Stiles is paid to pose; that’s her job and I respect it. I just prefer a brighter line when one wearing the hat of Yoga Teacher.

  2. As an Iyengar teacher we are required to wear tshirts WITH a sleeve (tank tops not really acceptable)and a pair of tights that go to the knee, but preferably don’t cover the knee, so we can demonstrate the workings of the knee joint adequately. We are also guided away from wearing black, as this color makes it more difficult to see the workings of the bones, muscles , joints etc.A skimpy outfit, definately not acceptable as it is distracting.That being said, the Pune bloomers that I see some teachers wearing are distracting on the opposite end of the spectrum.
    Stiles is endowed, crafty, young, timely and cashing in. What more can I say?

  3. Dear Yogadork.

    I love your straight forward writing style. I would really appreciate your opinion about my yoga videos on youtube. Please take a moment and visit my channel: http://www.youtube.com/dashama or go to my website: http://www.dashama.com
    This year, I am excited to announce, I am partnering my Global 30 Day Yoga Challenge (http://www.30dayyogachallenge.com ) with National Yoga Month (www.yogamonth.org ) to bring yoga to the masses in a straight forward easy to follow video format, combining healthy diet, yoga and meditation.

    Although I was born the same year as Tara Stiles, I feel my approach is a bit different and it is being fine tuned all the time.

    I appreciate your honest feedback.
    Thank you.
    Namaste,
    Dashama

  4. Good morning and namaste yoga spy,

    I am so sorry,
    I did not mean to confuse you with yogadork!

    I appreciate you pointing that out:)

    Any feedback you are interested in offering would be openly welcome:)

    Sending Love All Ways,
    Dashama

  5. Dear whoever,
    I am a yoga teacher RYT, same age as Tara, but have 2 young children. I was down about trying to find a job (non out there), and i found Tara on youtube. She has the same personality as me, and she inspired me to get back on my mat, more,and more. My husband even wrote on her facebook thanking her, as did i. And within 2 hours, she replied to our posts. She seems down to earth, funny and likable. Im going to Strala on Monday to take her class. Every teacher has there own style. Dont hate her cause she is who she is and you are jealous. Not very yogic of all of you.

    1. Our reactions to yoga teachers (and to all people) are indeed subjective. Thus I try to keep an open mind, to analyze with fairness, and to carefully to consider all opinions. So, thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Note: for the record, I don’t hate Tara and never implied so!

      1. I do think your wrong about the whole “Stiles yoga is all about sex”. Its not, she’s not. She dresses like any other woman who does yoga. If you watch alot of other videos of hers, she’s wearing a longsleeve shirt and hat. She has the body of a hardworking yoga teacher, who is a concious eater, and healthy lifestyle. In the pic above shes in a TEE SHIRT!! More dressed than some teachers of “hot” yoga. Do u consider Hot Yoga all about sex? You truly must be a guy or a lesbian with good taste. She is truly lucky to have that body. She worked for it (and genes ) and i didnt imply YOU hated her. She’s smart. She is helping others (like me) and is making money and supporting herself. If anything, she is a rolemodel. I think she has a great spirit.

  6. Ohh, and the 1st comment up top that you posted about the Hotel Yoga, that person who wrote that IS the DUM DUM…Yoga is 5,000 years old, not 2,000. Go study the Sutras or the Gita, Dum Dum…..Smile and have a wonderful, magic day. From Nepal to New Jersey…xoxo NAMASTE’

    1. When I read that, I had to pause for a minute or two, to wrap my mind around whatever her point was… Then I decided that I had better things to do! Welcome back from Chennai, Linda-Sama. As soon as I am settled after moving (plus post-move Mac glitches), I’ll return to your blog, where you’ve probably shared some thoughts on your latest study with Mr Desikachar.

    2. That wasnt an insult. Its just a matter of fact. Either a Guy writes this or a woman who like woman or a woman who is jealous. Beacause if all you see is “sex” when you see Tara Stiles and/or her videos, it must be a guy or lesbian. or a jealous person. Thats all. Have any of you taking a class with her personally?? nope. Didnt think so. We all have a right to our own opinions, true, but dont write about someone because of 1 picture or 1 video you saw. Its just not very cool. Now blogging about that Bikram guy in a speedo, now thats disturbing..How about bloggin on that!!!

      1. Hi Heather:

        Let me soften my original statement: I don’t think that Tara’s yoga is all about sex.

        If you read my post closely and carefully, you’ll see that I actually commend Tara. My point is that she need not emphasize sexiness in her videos. (You’re right that I have never taken a live class with her; her teaching style beyond videos might be different.)

        In my opinion, yoga teachers must come across neutrally in class. No matter how smokin’ hot I might be 😉 I tamp that down when I teach. As much as possible, a yoga class should be free of that “vibe.” (And, no, I’m neither male nor lesbian (good or bad taste notwithstanding!) nor jealous.)

        Tell you what… Next time I’m in New York, let’s meet to chat and then attend one of Tara’s classes. I didn’t write that post maliciously; it was just my opinion upon viewing her videos. I’m open to further research. I’m open to changing my mind. In fact, the whole point of my blog is commentary–to spur discussion, debate, and true understanding. Deal?

        Sincerely,
        YogaSpy

        PS I agree that Bikram in a Speedo (and arriving in one of his 40 Rolls-Royces and Bentleys!) is disturbing.

  7. “boy-beater tank top” What is that, some kind angry lesbian slang? I find that term sexist and heterophobic!! Respect the differences!

    1. Is this a joke? That’s simply what American Apparel calls their cotton tanks for women. It’s meant to be funny. Tara wears them; so do I. Lighten up!

  8. I am finding great joy in reading all these older entries and comments. My question is will Tara Stiles still be practicing yoga when she is no longer considered “slim, calm, or sexy.” When you play that card in time there will always the new teacher who is “slimmer, calmer, and sexier.” Also, is commenter Heather still practicing yoga?

  9. I first came across Tara Stiles in one of Elle magazine’s Make Better DVD series. She was in a yoga workout DVD with Brooklyn Decker (whom I love). There are two workouts, both about 20 minutes long. Normally I like workout DVDs with a voice over, but Tara droning on and on and onnnnnn in a monotone voice was really irritating. I would have preferred Brooklyn do the voice over, as she has a more lively, engaging tone and so much nicer to listen to.

    I’ve been doing yoga for awhile, and I don’t really do it for meditative benefits (more to keep me flexible), so I don’t mind that some yoga teachers don’t do the chanting in class, but I really disagree with Tara’s style of teaching. The other DVD I had was ‘Anywhere Yoga’, which was ridiculous!!! The way she was dressed was horrible. Her long hair was out, she wore thigh-length leg warmers, singlet and very very very short shorts. I’m no prude. I’m the ‘if you have them, show them off’ type, and I love looking at women with beautiful bodies (I’m a straight female, by the way), but this was so totally inappropriate. Tie your hair back! We know it’s long, you don’t need to have it down and let it be so distracting when you’re doing a downward dog with your very long hair down the side, touching the yoga mat. I could see the crease where her upper thighs met with the abdominals. Is that necessary??!!!

    The way she posed for the American Apparel, I swear, I have seen many screen captions with teenage girls in porn. Just look at the way Tara is posed, slithering on the couch like that. Again, I don’t have a problem with willing, consenting adults making adult films, but it is absolutely NOT something I want to see when I’m working out, especially yoga!!!

    Laluna – YES! Ana Brett is dressed so inappropriately in her DVDs. Thin, white singlet without a bra, so you can clearly see the nipples? WHY??!!!

    Brooklyn, on the other hand, was dressed appropriately, and guess what? You can still see her lovely body!!! Her hair was pulled back into a bun, and although she was wearing tights and a navel-revealing singlet, she still looked appropriate.

    Yoga is not about ‘showing off’. You have a slender body and you’re flexible, I get it. Wear a bikini at the beach or at the pool and be naked around your husband. Just cover yourself up in your yoga classes and if you’re going to continue making DVDs, have some decency and dress appropriately.

    1. Janet: Thanks for commenting. I wrote this post a while ago, but you’ve reminded me of the way yoga continues to be commercialized in the West. You’ve also highlighted a good point: Attitude. Wearing close-fitting or revealing clothing for a legitimate purpose (e.g., to demonstrate good form) is very different from showing off the body for self promotion. Thanks again, Luci

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