On Sunday, January 23, the NY Times, in its Metropolitan section, had a front page article concerning “rebel “yoga”, as practiced and taught by Tara Stiles. Ms. Stiles is a yoga practitioner and instructor in Manhattan.
Most people associate yoga with the doing of various poses, or postures, that are designed to invigorate the body and provide for very good stretching. In addition, yoga is also associated with chanting and other “spiritual” aspects- and these latter aspects are often stressed by many yoga instructors. The NY Times article made it quite clear that Ms. Stiles does NOT put an accent on the spiritual- at least in any outward manner. Rather she shows students how to do the physical side of yoga.
It is very clear, when viewing the excellent photos in the Times article, that Ms. Stiles is in very good shape. She is thin and lithe, and one can tell from reading the article, that Stiles is very, very into what she is doing- and that is, the teaching of yoga, from her particular vantage point.
And what is also made clear in the article is how very much against Ms. Stiles are her opponents- fellow yoga instructors, who would rather accent the “spiritual” side of yoga. These detractors seem to be quite militant in their feelings toward Ms. Stile and her brand of yoga and teaching. They refer to Stiles’ teaching as “yoga for the masses”, and that “yoga is not about making the body beautiful.” In other words, these mainstream teachers think that their way- that of a more spiritual one, is THE way to go, and that Ms. Stiles’ yoga instruction is very superficial and actually harmful to the way of yoga.
Ms. Stiles, for her part, has clearly made yoga her life, and she has an increasingly growing following- of “average” people- who just want to get into better shape. Stiles has, according to Jane Fonda, made yoga more accessible to the regular person- she has “de-esotericized” it (yoga).
As a karate student and instructor for many years, this all sounds somewhat familiar- this view by mainstream instructors that there is something renegade- something “wrong” and unpure, about an instructor doing or teaching in an unorthodox manner. It recalls memories of that late, great master, Bruce Lee. When Bruce Lee first started teaching, back in San Fransisco, in the 60′s, there were many “masters” who were against what Lee was doing. But Lee continued, and he created a “style”- known as Jet Kune Do, which put an accent on simplicity. As with Stiles, Lee did what he thought worked best- and that was getting a person to the heart of what kung fu was about- and that was DOING.
Lee’s philosophy was based on chopping away at the stuff that clouded what kung fu and the martial arts in general were all about- and that is getting to the truth- arriving at the goal- which in his case was fighting- but really something more- and that is, clearing the clutter from one’s being and hitting the mark without any fetters.
And Lee’s approach, and I submit, that of Tara Stiles, is the essence of Zen. There are NO LABELS- there is NO divide between the “spiritual” and the “physical”. That non-divide- that is what Zen is all about! Tara Stiles is offering, to this observer, a direct approach ot yoga. The postures, along with proper breathing, and all of the other qualities of yoga practice- these purely “physical” practices- they themselves can bring any person to a greater awareness of themselves. There is NO dichotomy at all between the mental and physical. That IS the whole meaning of yoga practice- and, Zen. The non-duality of it all- of being. It may very well be that these “mainstream” instructors have an ego investment or, perhaps, THEY have missed the point entirely. Yoga is Zen and Zen is Yoga. It is all very, very simple.
Tara Stiles certainly does not need defenders, as it is clear that she is quite happy doing what she is doing. I am happy to think that she has students who will getting great workouts and who will be getting well acquainted with the many great aspects of yoga. It brings a certain joy to know that there are great yoga instructors right here in Manhattan.