As a child, yoga teacher Tara Stiles used to tell her parents the trees in the woods near her home were connected to the people.
They’d laugh her observations away. But as she grew older, Stiles realized she was experiencing things differently than other people. She now calls what she has ‘synesthesia,’ a condition in which senses can be joined together. When she’s calm, for example, she said she can see colors that others might not.
Stiles, a former model and the owner of Strala Yoga in New York, talked about how synesthesia affects yoga, meditation and the one yogi she’s still longing to meet. (Here's my previous interview with Stiles.)
Q: Do you meditate regularly?
A: When I was a little kid I was drawn to it at certain times. I’d just have to sit down and do it. I can feel the storm coming. It’s an instinctual thing.
Q: Meditation is actually really hard; how did you learn it?
A: People think they are supposed to get rid of all of their thoughts, when the reality is thoughts come and go all the time. It’s if and how we decide to attach or not attach to them that brings us into a meditative state that makes all the difference. I like to think of it as lying on the grass on a perfect summer day, watching clouds go by in the blue sky. The act of ‘watching’ gives our mind something to do instead of thinking. Every time we have a thought we can simply guide our attention back to our breath, just like another cloud passing by.
Q: Can you describe these energy fields you see?
A: It’s a color spectrum that’s slightly different. I can see it in trees, grass and rocks. It’s almost neon but not abrasive like Times Square. It doesn’t hurt your eyes.
Q: Does having synesthesia makes it easier to meditate?
A: I'm not sure if it makes it easier, because that has been my experience and seeing the colors around me was definitely a big factor in drawing me deeper into meditation and meditation-like practices. I think I have always felt deeply connected to meditation practices; seeing the colors was a way further in. I suppose it becomes for me, a gorgeous light show to enjoy and further the meditation experience. When my mind isn't calm and the thoughts are creeping in, the colors aren't there, so it's probably a chicken and the egg situation. I have to be calm to see the colors, and have to stay calm to see the colors, and I only see the colors when I'm in a meditative state.
Q: How do you define yoga? A: A simple practice that already exists in everyone, connecting you back to everything in you and everything that exists. It’s realizing that everything that exists is already inside you. Your body gets healthy, mind gets healthy. There are no spiritual moments; rather every moment that exists is spiritual. It’s just how it is and just gets richer and fuller and more connected, the more you practice. Yoga is experiential. You have to practice to understand. Just like water, you have to drink it in order to experience it.
Q: How do you cope with criticism?
A: Something shifted in me a few months ago and I did stop looking for external validation. It’s not like ‘oh, I don’t care,’ but I’m so interested in what I’m doing and excited about possibility in my life and helping others that it doesn’t matter. If there is no criticism, then there’s not enough reach. It used to bother me a little before; I thought people were maybe jealous or didn’t understand. But most of the time when they come to the studio or class, it changes their mind.
Q: What are you working on?
A: My DVDs with Deepak Chopra have been released and I have a new book coming out in April called “Yoga Cures.” I’m also doing videos for You Tube’s new health channel which is sponsoring a new show called Yoga Solutions for the Livestrong’s women’s channel.
Q: How did you meet Jane Fonda?
A: I’ve watched a bunch of her movies and always been drawn to her. She basically created the fitness industry. She made fitness something that everyone could do without feeling bad about yourself. She was relaunching her Workout brand and trying to assemble a younger generation team. So I got a call from my agent saying Jane Fonda wants to meet you in LA next week.
Q: What was the meeting like? A: I was so nervous. I couldn’t even sit on a chair waiting for my turn; I just sat on the floor opposite her feet and thought, ‘great, now I’m on the floor and I can’t get up,’ but she loved it. We immediately got along. She said, ‘You used to be a dancer, I can tell by your body,’ and I talked to her about yoga. From there we became friends. She invited me to be her date at a Shape Magazine party, when Dr. (Mehmet) Oz gave her an award for being the most influential woman in history. She couldn’t be sweeter.
Q: Who in the yoga world would you like to me and haven’t? A. Rodney Yee. He was one of the first to bring a very simple form of yoga through his videos. He comes from a dance background like I do and seems easy going and not caught up in a specific yoga scene or school. Schools are very rigid; it’s their way or the highway. He has navigated through all that and stayed true to himself.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times