January 25, 2011

Tara Stiles: Rebel Yogi? What the NYT Didn’t Tell You.

I just got done reading the “Rebel Yoga” article profiling Tara Stiles in the New York Times.

I see that some people are all aTwitter (literally) about her seeming irreverent attitude towards yoga and her products that, for some smack more of sex and image than a depth of yoga knowledge.

And…I get it.

I too have been accused (or congratulated for) diluting the one way, truth and light message of some yogis in favor of my Bon Jovi Chants, eschewing of the vegan lifestyle (for me, personally not for you), my dismissal of much of the current teacher training and regulation as an overpriced, usually ineffective way to tell where the good teachers are, my creation of certain asanas (my fave: Charlie’s Angel’s Pose) to be much more fun, effective and interesting. When it comes to being a “yoga rebel,” I’m so on board.

I don’t care that Tara is a model, though I’d love to have those legs. Pretty, skinny people can teach yoga and change the world just like anyone else. I don’t even mind that she trained for, say, 100 hours, dissed it, then started doing her own programs–though I do take issue with anyone charging $2500, or $1500 for that matter, for 4 weekends of yoga training, unless they’re Shiva (the god, that is, not the Rea).

She can call her training “crap” if she wants to. She can wear unitards and arch her back all day long for American Apparel–I would too, if they asked me. That’s her truth, and so what? I also know a hell of a lot of people who love her, and who say their worlds have changed for the better under her instruction, so for me, that’s the mark of an effective teacher.

But something about this whole thing has been bugging me, and I’d like to get it off my chest.

I think that it’s only fair that I bring into the light something for readers about the state of our yoga industry–something even the most altruistic amongst us must admit it’s–in part–become. I’m surprised that the NY Times didn’t mention the following tidbit of information along with the list of commercials, sponsorships and products Tara has compiled. I’m even more surprised that Tara herself hasn’t mentioned it, at least, not in the most influential newspaper in the country:

Her agency.

No, I’m not talking about Ford. I’m more interested in her other one, one of the biggest talent agencies in the country. I know she was represented by them at one point, and still may be, but let me use this example to paint a larger picture.

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. With only 9 percent of the country currently doing yoga, this agency and others like them see a market to be expanded. This is what they exist for–to sell celebrity products, tours, speaking engagements and TV shows to people who will buy them. That’s what they all do.

How do I know this? I’ve had multiple conversations with these agents and here were the exact questions they all had for me: ‘Yeah, yoga…but where are the products? I don’t do yoga, or even like it, but help me understand what the mind/body community wants so I can do my job better’…you get the gist. I left feeling a little grossed out, as if I’d reached under a park bench and come away with something sticky on my hands that would only come off, not with the most abrasive soap even, but only in time.

I also felt hopeful that these mega-agencies might learn something from me, and help support their rising yoga personalities to change the world–not just sell it to them.

I got the distinct feeling that it would be hard, should I sign with them, to maintain my integrity in the face of the wheeling and dealing at that fast-paced, money-first level. I wish wholeheartedly for Tara that she, and others like her who might choose that path, are able to continue walking on theirs at the same time.

Yes, to be fully open, I’m an agency woman myself. Luckily, and also because I chose them consciously, my agency is YAMA Talent, built by yogis for yogis. They don’t try to muscle me into doing things slightly beneath my preferred state of being in order to sell books, or DVDs. I direct them, a new paradigm in navigating the business of yoga. (That’s Ava Taylor, my manager and owner of YAMA Talent, in the photo.)

Many people can’t tell the difference, though, so I get the same flak as anyone whenever I mention it (cue the haters!). But mention it I do.

I’ve always been very clear that I do what I do not by myself, but with the help of a professional and conscious team. I have a manager, an organizer, a PR person, and soon, a personal assistant. I welcome them with open arms, and let you know about them just as freely because I think it’s important for my students and fellow teachers to know I’m not a one-woman show.

It honors the people who work so hard on my behalf behind the scenes, and also honors the intelligence of my fans who can tell that what I offer is from my heart and soul, and that I have an agency to do my other organization for me will never and should never dilute my message of living from the core.

And, just to give an example, if Deepak Chopra (http://www.caaspeakers.com/health-speakers/ ) was also a part of my agency, and lots of people questioned why I’m his yoga teacher, why he’s giving quotes on my book, etcetera, I would feel an obligation to my peeps to reveal that we are part of the same machine, who is working to promote us both. Yet, I might add, we are truly teaching and learning from one another, and no amount of cross-marketing can change that.

If you ask me why Duncan Wong or Hemalayaa or Brock and Krista Cahill and I are friends, I’ll tell you that we met through our mutual agency, but we ended up forming a very real bond. But I won’t act like I did it all on my own merit.

From what I know of Tara, she seems to be a sweet, kind, well-intentioned person. She’s a young teacher and has plenty of time to develop and deepen her craft. Her strength lies in being a cool girl, one who is making yoga more accessible to the masses, which I am always in complete support of. I’d love to make it to Strala someday and practice with her.

I just caution her not to downplay her network, lest it come out in other ways and appear that she’s been less than forthcoming. I had to have this same conversation with myself, having no mentors in the field to speak to, but perhaps I can be that voice to her and others like her.

I wish articles like the one in the NY Times didn’t sweep behind the rug the whole inner workings of our newly minted yoga biz, and the teams which all the well-known teachers are involved with. It’s, to me, akin to taking all the credit.

I’m in favor of those of us who are at this level being transparent about our partnerships, support networks and marketing relationships or, in other words, being honest when people ask what’s really going on. If people need to throw the baby (our teachings) out with the bathwater (our agencies), then that’s their choice. But I would rather you know the whole me than just what you can see on the surface.

Giving credit where it’s due is freeing, and helps give our audience the full picture– even if we’re afraid of what people will think when we reveal the way this whole crazy, beautiful yoga world really works.

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