Tara Stiles Goes Back Home to “Small Town America” /// Interesting Socio-Type Questions Abound!

Good morning! Last Friday’s post on the basic ridiculousness of MC Yogi has been giving us some really extraordinary comments regarding “democracy,” and the varying differences between the concepts of the “United States” and “America.” Also, be sure to check out Earth Energy Reader’s Kaminoff rebuttal in the comments of yesterday’s article. So, if you wanna learn something, check those mentions out. If you wanna remain stupid, and perhaps even lose a brain cell or two, please read on….

But first watch this. Or, skip around, ’cause it’s kinda long.

So, what do we got here?

Basically, Tara Stiles went back home to show “Small Town America” what yoga could be.

Or…

Basically, Tara Stiles went back home to do the laundry and pull some old CDs out of the attic to sell on Craislist, and decided to turn it into a publicity stunt.

Or…

Basically, Tara Stiles went back home, because there are still as of yet untapped markets for selling brand-Tara.

Or….

Basically, Tara Stiles went back home to show people that xenophobia is OK so long as you sweep other cultures and their connection to the traditions you practice under the rug. That way no one has to confront anything. ‘Cause everyone knows that yoga isn’t about confronting anything, but rather about taking whatever you already do and feeling good about it.

Paint it good, Huck (or is that Tom at this point?)….

Ahhhh…. This life! Well, there are a number of points to consider with regards to this video:

  1. What the hell does it mean to make “yoga for everybody?”
  2. Tara’s initial ambitions involved acting in commercials. Now she presumably acts as a yoga ambassador?
  3. Is the trope of wonky “Small Town America” being overly relied on in order to make yoga “win” in the end? “Shooting fish in a barrel” type stuff?
  4. Wait, is this video and was this event set up entirely to promote Tara Stiles? It certainly does spend a lot of time showcasing our host.
  5. Why, during minutes 18:49 through 19:05, does Tara agree with the woman who refers to yoga as “crazy,” “Oriental,” and “Mideastern?” I mean, obviously she doesn’t really agree, right? She’s just agreeing with the commonly held racist sentiment that things done by brown people from other countries are usually razy, right?
  6. I love that at minute 19:22 Tara karate chops the “yoga community” for pretending to be “superior” to everyone else. Nice! You go!
  7. I also like that at minute 19:50 Tara gives us a lesson on what yoga is and is not. Now, I’m all for putting a little pressure on the “what is yoga?” debate. I’ve got an idea, too! Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with whatever the hell Tara is teaching. I guess we’ll both just have to figure out a way to get along some how. Especially, with all those differing viewpoints floating around bumping into one another.
  8. At 22:28 we see Tara’s mom being awesome, sounding just like me own mumsie. And, just like my mom would have done, she misses the fact that the skinny little ladies she thought she was gonna see at the event, but didn’t, were, in fact, sitting right up front represented exquisitely by Tara herself!

Oh, Mom’s. They really do LOVE their kids.

And, I love my mom.

Afterthought regarding the insipid “yoga is for everyone” trope: WHAT IS IT?!?!?!?!?! with (particularly white, [sorry but it’s true]) Americans thinking that everything under the sun must be made available to them?!?! Do people not realize that that sort of mindset is actually unique to the culture of this country, and in many cases would be considered a psychological pathology if taken out of the collective context and placed on a single individual. Do you think every *thing* that has ever been practiced should be made available to you?

____________________

Thanks to the very up-rockin’ Anya Porter for forwarding this along and initiating the conversation on her Facebook page.

32 comments

  1. Yoga Whelp

    Rich stuff. The market for yoga in urban metropolises is largely saturated, Tara’s trying to conquer well…Tara…


    Scarlett O’Hara” “I’m going home to Tara!”

    It’s part of the new demographic terrain that yoga needs to conquer if it’s going to survive. Tara reminds me of people I know who do the small town advance work for national politicians. She’d be great for some future candidate running for office. Maybe even herself?

    Really love the hay bales! Could they become the new “rural chic” for the urban yoga studio?. I can just see all these New York lofts ordering them, hoping to import the soulful authenticity of the Heartland.

    Come practice “Hee Haw Yoga”! We’ll have a picnic with hot dogs.

    I also love the woman who says she felt “medicated”: after Tara’s town square yoga. Never underestimate country folk!

    HEE HAW Variety Show

    • Didn’t Bath & Body Works used to do Heartland Chic back in the ’90s and early 2000s in their stores?

      Ludicrous … it didn’t sell home spa/bath/beauty products too well, so they’d dropped that store motif … the heartland is too connected now … and, FYI, Chicagoland has NEVER been considered “flyover country” …

      • Yoga Whelp

        Funny. I love the idea of Tara “going home” to “give back” something to the “community” that “raised” her – only to come off like a carpet-bagger.doing the low brow version of the Shakti slut walk. Dumping some of her old swag – that’s a nice touch, too. Girls Got Game. No question.

  2. Greenpoint

    it’s sad as she is really makin’ fun of everyone in the video, whether she is aware of it or not…

    • Chai Fan

      Yes, I kept having moments where I felt like I was watching some of the characters in “Waiting for Guffman” or something (“you know, his uh…dramatical work”). The lady who says “medicated” is pretty awesome though..

  3. Thank you for the mention Babs :-)! I love you too!

    I’m not sure how I feel about this.
    On one hand I can appreciate how she’s trying to introduce yoga and how great it can make people feel to folks who don’t know anything about it. The toddlers doing yoga were cute. On the other hand, I see a lot of condescension to 2 groups:
    1) it exacerbates the whole urban/rural divide and cliches
    2) it’s another whitewash of something “brown” or “exotic”

  4. Yoga Dude

    “brown people from other countries are usually razy”

    I raffed out roud at that!

  5. The Buffy Project

    I get it. Cultural imperialism is a big issue for me, too. But you know what? Get over it. She’s not bringing the Bhagavad Gita into her class, quoting Patanjali in some strange accent that’s supposed to be correct Sanskrit, making puja in front of Ganesha, or any of a hundred other things that I’ve seen and heard yogis do with complete and galling sincerity. She’s teaching a system for physical and mental health pulled from the yogic tradition. No one is under the illusion that this is what the ancient yogis in India did. (And, any time I hear someone talk about what those guys did or did not do I roll my eyes. The scholarship on that is questionable and suspect.) The only “authentic” part of the conversation is that practitioners have been coming as close to blows over the question as their commitments to ahimsa allow.

    As for the whitewashing? To a certain degree that concept alone is racist,condescending and fascist, as it assumes there is something pure and original and ideal compared to which we fall short and fail. It assumes someone else is qualified to judge. It also assumes we are holding ourselves up for judgment and comparison. And yes, that is also an American and Western idea. So what??

    What I like about the idea? Get people to see that other countries have something to offer. Get people to move their bodies and breathe. I don’t care what you call it. “Authentic”? What does that even mean? There is only change.

    Me, I could have had less Tara and more other people talking about their experience with yoga. But she’s running a business. She’s a yoga teacher bringing health and ease to a wider audience for money. Personally, I wish I could quit my day job and make as much money teaching yoga. Considering I prefer teaching people in at-risk communities, that’s not going to happen.

    As long as she’s not selling magic beans like some others in our community I wish her success.

    • kc

      “Get over” cultural appropriation? You don’t get to pretend to be an ally to “at risk” communities, yet quickly dismiss the concerns of people of color.

      Angry white lady is angry…

      • __MikeG__

        No where did Buffy “dismiss the concerns of people of color”. Buffy stated that “I prefer teaching people in at-risk communities”. But you use the word “pretend”. You need to look up the definition of pretend because it does not mean what you think it does.

    • The P

      “Get people to see that other countries have something to offer. ”

      And, exactly how is Tara facilitating this when she has made a point of scrubbing every little bit of culturural suggestion out of the yoga she offers? In the video offered above she seems to be reassuring the good folks of Newton that real yoga doesn’t have anything to do with some crazy, over there, “Oriental” culture (or the mean-meanies who pretentiously respect that), so don’t worry.

      You do get that this ploy of being anti-pretentious and poo-pooing those yoga people who think they are superior to everyone else is nothing more that straight-up marketing, right? That is her schtick to sell her brand. If you want to quit your day job and support yourself on teaching yoga you need only get a schtick that sells. Try weight loss + something trendy; that’s a sure bet..

    • Yes, whitewashing.
      No, it’s not about feeding the Gita and samosas with tamarind chutney to mid-westerners and “browning” them in the hopes that they’ll see how great Mother India is. It’s about taking a practice, stripping it of it’s “otherness” completely, the people, the culture, the history, the philosophy which comes with it and in doing so, denying those peoples, that culture, that history and that philosophy completely and in this instance almost walking a tight quasi-imperialist rope which was pointed out in #5). It is that very denial which perpetuates these divisions.

      • I’ll jump back in here for a sec.

        You can, if you like, just jump here:

        http://www.hafsite.org/media/pr/takeyogaback

        and listen to Hindu people tell you themselves what they think.

        The debate about “authenticity” is itself inauthentic and peculiarly Western. When yoga was brought to these shores, it was stripped of many of its original trappings in order to be made palatable to the Western audience and it order to earn its purveyor a living. Bikram? Invented by a guy named Bikram. Iyengar? Invented by a guy named Iyengar. Ashtanga? Built by Jois based on Krishnamacharya (also an influencer of Iyengar). Each of these innovators taught what they believed wastrue yoga yet each is different, and arguably different from what they learned themselves. None requires that you be Hindu, or follow all Hindu practices to practice yoga. Where did each one of these great innovators make their fortune? The West. So, it’s ok for these guys to whitewash yoga because why?

        Another comment:
        http://www.npr.org/2010/12/29/132207910/yoga-a-positively-un-indian-experience

        What I find offensive about this discussion is this idea of “purity”. It is not a post-racialist world, but it is high time that we turn the critical lens on ourselves. “Whitewashing”? Talked to any practicing, believing Hindus about what they think about the “om” tattoo on your back? You chanting in Sanskrit and interpreting Patanjali and Hindu religious mythology to each other? Kirtan? You think that’s respectful? Saying “om” or “namaste” at all? Chanting the sutras if you are not Hindu is not respect. It’s pageantry in a tie-dye disguise, and edging really close to mockery.

        At the end of my classes, I do say “Namaste.” And, every time I explicitly state that this is in honor of what was brought to me, though I am not Indian or Hindu. This is where this tradition came from. My students are smart enough to know that practices and traditions change over time. How many traditions did your grandparents practice that you no longer do? Why bother teaching the importance of letting go of attachments if you’re going to remain so enmeshed with the inherently racialist idea of ideological purity?

        This conversation is ideal for this forum as it revolves around the question of marketing, branding, and the semiotics thereof versus the practice itself and the value it brings to people and community. Don’t say it’s about whitewashing and respect. Please. It’s only about respect until the next custom on the road towards converting to Hinduism becomes too Other. Then the conversation changes to defining “What is yoga, anyway?” or “I don’t need to be Hindu to do yoga (study Patanjali/chant in kirtan/pursue moksha)” which is just total cultural imperialism.

        Is what I teach yoga like Patanjali knew it? No. Do I have to call it yoga? No. But I call it yoga out of respect for where it came from. I teach a Western practice derived from a Hindu tradition. And by doing so I come from a long line of innovators stretching right back to the first Indian innovators who brought a Westernized form of their tradition to these shores. I teach my best understanding of what I’ve learned, without coopting the cultural trappings in an attempt to legitimize myself through marketing. Yoga and I dare say Hinduism do not need me. I need yoga.

        To rephrase an earlier point: whatever else you may think of his style, would you accuse Bikram of whitewashing?

        Side note: I’m an unpaid volunteer.

  6. Yoga Whelp

    Personally, as an industry analyst/researcher, I am more interested in what’s going on here, market-wise, as Tara is a recognized innovator, and “early adopter.” How serious is yoga about reaching beyond the upscale “LOHAS” market to capture the broader middle class — most of which wouldn’t be caught dead in a yoga studio? And what will it take to re-position and “re-brand” yoga to exploit this much broader market.

    Tara’s enggaed in a “probe” of sorts, but there are lots of other similar things going on. Federal health agencies want to to bring yoga under the broader “alternative” medicine and “wellness” rubric and are sponsoring new research studies to allow yoga to pass muster and get the AMA seal of approval.

    Yoga Journal is shooting for the mass market with its new covers — using everyday people and its new supermarket check-out counter, attention-grabbing headlines — as Baba noted in an earlier post.

    Clothing retailers like The Gap and Nordstrom’s are trying to copy the Lululemon model – including in-store classes and Ambassadors – but at much cheaper prices that the middle class can afford.

    Yoga’s going to tank – or it’s going to grow, but it can’t stand still. The last Yoga Journal market research study, published in 2008, showed that the number of adults practicing yoga had actually declined by almost a million people since 2004.

    However, the same study showed that gross revenues had doubled from $3 billion to $6 billion. Fewer people, but more revenues – it was a sign that the industry was intensively exploiting the same consumers. You don’t just get them to do a class, they do workshops, they do a retreat, they buy CDs, videos, blocks, mats, they take expensive – and for the studios lucrative – teacher trainings, they enroll their kids in tots and tween and teen yoga.

    But it couldn’t last forever. All that super-exploitation of the core market assumes a lot of disposable income but also and a decent economy. Instead, in 2008-2009, the deep recession hit and what happened? Now even some of the rich people scaled back. Yoga Journal is sitting on its latest 4-year market research study, probably because the news is not so good The report was due out in late spring, then summer, then Labor Day, and it’s still not out. Now they don’t even answer queries about it anymore.

    They would have to explain the current market decline, especially relative to jogging and other forms of exercise and fitness that appear to be taking off again.

    So the search for the new mass market has begun in earnest. it has to. In capitalism, you’re growing or you’re dying. There are only so many of these cutesy mini-niches – prisoners, hip hoppers, dope smokers, cruising gay men – that yoga marketers can tap – or invent – to make up for the decline of the original high-end core market.

    Roll out the hay bales! Time for a Hootenanny! One big question: How will conservatives Christians in the Heartland respond when it’s not just something that their preachers scream about from the pews? Now the Devil’s down at the frigging gym! And they say they want to rent out the church for God’s sake!

    Call it Yoga’s “Green Acres” Challenge. Maybe the distance between Yoga and Middle America is no longer so great.

    “Fresh Air….Times Square!”

    • amphibi1yogini

      She’ll be hard up against that great big Christian Yoga market. Which is holding its own, if not expanding.
      That’s one spirituality that is a force to be reckoned with … can’t wait to see the fake fur fly …

      • Yoga Whelp

        Good point. No one in the “secular” yoga world – and the people in that world think they’re the only world – knows how to deal with the different branches of “Christian Yoga.” There are a couple of different currents, from Praise Moves to the more straight on Christian Yoga. Some – but not all – want to de-“Hinduize” yoga completely, and re-name and r-ebrand everything to conform with Christian doctrine. “Salute to the Sun” becomes “Salute to the Son,” for example. In general, I see a huge world of informal and hybrid “yoga” practice being embraced by real people who don’t live in the self-contained, esoteric, snobby and self-promoting world of the yoga blogosphere, which from a spiritual perspective should probably just be labeled the “1%.”

  7. Emily

    Honestly, I think anyone who wants to micro-brand yoga to fit whatever demographic slice they’re trying to reach (Christians, circus clowns, oenophiles) is free to do what they want. The problem for me with Miss Tara is that her particular stream of marketing seems SO manufactured. She’s a Times-sanctioned “yoga rebel” because she doesn’t use Sanskrit? She’s Deepak Chopra’s guru? I mean, come on, who believes that? At least people like Rodney Yee and John Friend (putting aside their predatory nature) spent years building student bases and honing their skills. Where did this super-flexible model come from? A marketing focus group petri dish?

    • I think she trained with Tao Porchon-Lynch, so she seems to have dance chops and some kind of diversity chops … but that may not be enough for the Christian Heartland, the sunbelt, the Bible Belt, and even the prairiesflyover … though it might be enough for the Denver/Boulder area or the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex …

      • amphibi1yogini

        Even I had lived in Arlington, Texas for a short time. I know whereof I speak.

      • Emily

        There is no way she trained with Tao, because she gas repeatedly said that her 200-hr program was “crap,” and I have seen her at events with Tao, acting as a demonstrating flexi performer. In fact, she has refused thus far to say where she was trained, claiming it’s unimportant. I happen to disagree– but since Deepak Chopra and she share an agent, who cares?

    • Yogadear

      Her husband is mega-rich, bought her a studio and a publicist. That’s where she came from.

      • And, yes, it’s true: she’s absolutely NO relation to movie star Julia Stiles, although Julia has visited her studio …

        • amphibi1yogini

          And her husband, Michael Taylor, is the real deal–spiritually, academically and every whichway … she is to his take on yoga the way bands have the sultry female blonde lead singer …

          And her connection to Deepak Chopra has got to be a match made in P.R. heaven … well, he’s a revisionist anyway …

  8. Sigh. I wanted to hate it. But I did not.

    How is this different from Eddie Stern’s videos? Just rural/small-town vs. urban/underserved neighborhood? I’m usually with you guys on most things–but it’s really powerful seeing Uncle Norm talk about yoga (even if it’s just breathing and stretching to him) and that it makes him feel better.

    Maybe we shouldn’t call that “yoga.” I don’t know. Whose call is that to make?

    I love feeling connected to the Hindu/India/history of yoga. But I’m not against people who don’t. I hope they respect it once they learn about it, but I don’t need them to dive into that. What I am against is the commercialization of yoga and the use of yoga to “solve” the world’s problems, and this video isn’t any of that.

    And as an aside – did you see the wife’s face around 14:20 when the guy mentioned he watched Tara videos and started emailing her and such?

    • Hey, Colleen. It’s a totally valid point you make. Personally, I think there’s a major difference in the sort of missionary approach Tara takes, seeking out these supposed poor backward people, and the Eddie video in which he seems to have been asked to help by someone already in the community. Obviously, I don’t know the specifics of the Tara scenario, but that is certainly not how it was presented. There is also this free giveaway thing going on which kinda commercializes the whole experience. Not to mention the video comes across as being entirely about Tara and her ability to transform others, rather than yoga as a practice doing the work. Also, there’s her constant reinforcement of her specific take on yoga. She’s essentially proselytizing a secularized yoga. You don’t really get any of that in the Eddie video.

      Of course, these are just my own feelings on the matter. I could see a counter argument being made.

      • Colleen

        I don’t necessarily disagree! I just worry when we all start to get too knee-jerk about particular individuals that we can’t acknowledge when they do something somewhat-less-evil 🙂

        I do love those Eddie videos – you’re right that they’re something very different and very special about them.

        • No, I get you, Colleen. I have to try and watch that tendency myself. I gave her a little props in one of the numbers about karate chopping the yoga community. That wasn’t meant in jest.

          But, yes. Keep us in check if you see any of that knee jerk stuff.

  9. Another great article on the debate surrounding “original” yoga.

    http://www.himalmag.com/component/content/article/3550-owning-yoga.html

    Look, I know I’ve already talked a lot but my personal stance is outside the debate. Mostly, I side with the HAC. But within the larger context I side with the people who need what we have to offer and with bringing it to them in any context they can grasp and with the hope of showing them the amazing things other cultures have to offer.

  10. dummy for money

    Tara’s always felt like an outsider because the deeper facets of yoga that she has no interest whatsoever in learning have left her outside.
    She wants to reach the most people possible so instead of working super hard to bring deep, esoteric, interesting stuff down to earth, she avoids it completely and drops down to the lowest common denominator and panders to the doubts, critcisms and, quite frankly, ignorance of the masses. Yea ‘whatever gets people to do yoga’ but also NO, not by further ingraining intolerance and materialsim.

    She’s dangerous because she’s deeply ignorant. (Not to be mean. )

  11. Namastellen

    DFM; very insightful. She’s awfully young & almost certainly doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. I keep hoping in 10 or 20 yrs, she’ll have that D’Oh! moment & realize how much about yoga there is yet to learn/experience.

    • amphibi1yogini

      If it didn’t happen to Sadie Nardini, it’s probably not going to happen to her. BUT, there’s possible hope in the scorecard below:

      Scorecard: Slim, Calm, Sexy Yoga 0
      Yoga Cures 1

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