Getting Strong and Calm at Strala Yoga


As you may have gleaned from my tweets and mentions on Facebook, I am a little obsessed with Down Dog Yoga, my heated flow studio in Georgetown. I would go so far as to say that discovering Down Dog was the moment when I truly began to feel at home in Washington. I never imagined that I’d find a studio I loved as much as Laughing Lotus (my yoga home in NYC, though there are many studios I go to). Much to my surprise, I fell in love instantly with everything about Down Dog–the practice, the heat, the instructors, the community. And it offered me a great deal of relief and comfort this summer, as I adjusted to the demands of my new program.

Not surprisingly, I’ve been terribly homesick for my studio over the break. I’ve been comforting myself with hot classes at Yoga to the People (in fairness, also a fantastic studio). And this week, I decided to try a brand new (and highly recommended studio): Strala Yoga.

Strala is the child ofTara Stiles, who is the author of Slim Calm Sexy, the star of the Yoga Anywhere DVD series, the new face of fitness for Jane Fonda’s WORKOUT series, and the personal yoga instructor to Deepak Chopra. (She also happens to be a pal of my pal Kris). She founded Strala, she says, to provide “an authentic form of yoga that clears the body and mind, and brings you back to your self.”


Tara has been depicted in the media as something of a yoga iconoclast: in a famous NY Times profile, she was described thus:

Tara Stiles does not talk about sacred Hindu texts, personal intentions or chakras. She does not ask her yoga classes to chant. Her language is plainly Main Street: chaturangas are push-ups, the “sacrum” the lower back. She dismisses the ubiquitous yoga teacher-training certificates as rubber stamps, preferring to observe job candidates in action.


She rejected the city’s yoga scene as exclusive and elitist — it reminded her of the mean girls in high school, only with incense and bare feet. She refused to pledge allegiance to one teacher, one studio or even one style of yoga. She charges $10 a class, a bargain in Manhattan. And her short online videos have catchy, user-friendly titles like “Yoga for a Hangover” and “Couch Yoga.”

“I feel like I’m standing up for yoga,” Ms. Stiles said. “People need yoga, not another religious leader. Quite often in New York, they want to be religious leaders, and it’s not useful.

I appreciate a bit of chanting and mindfulness in my yoga classes, but I must confess that the more secular approach appeals to me. (Laughing Lotus strikes me as a far more spiritually oriented studio, for the record, but its exuberance and charm win me over regardless.) I don’t really practice yoga to see the divine–I practice because I love the physical process, the health benefits, the community. (I also realize that yoga is a lifelong journey, and that I may be blogging about my experiences with deities and chakras in 20 years, or two–the only thing I know for certain about yoga is that it likes to surprise me, and change my mind.)

In any case, after I read up on Strala, I was excited for a strengthen &  tone kind of experience. And who better to have that with than Melissa–my fave fitblogger! Yesterday, we braved painfully cold temperatures and wind to meet downtown at Strala. We were greeted by this bright, warm space:


And by a smiling and intensely calm Tara. She and I had a few moments to chat, which was lovely, before the practice itself, which was just what I needed on that chilly morning. It was definitely strengthening and toning, but frankly, it was also a lot more restorative than I expected. For all of Strala’s reputation of being more down-to-earth than other studios, it didn’t strike me as an entirely secular place. There was a sense of spiritual communion in the room, to be sure: far more, actually, than I ever feel at Down Dog (which I can only describe as an intensely athletic studio). And in spite of the fact that this was a strength based class, the flow was moderately paced, the movements graceful (even balletic). My typical practice is a very fast flow, so it was actually good for me to hold my poses for a good long while. And I went to bed with the sore thighs to prove it!

In all, I really enjoyed my Strala experience. It’s yoga for the people, sure, but it’s not lacking in spirit. And students, take note: student rate is $10 with a full time ID.

Having now gone on for a while about my yoga class, I realize that I’m overdue for a proper Down Dog post when I get back to DC. Till then, I’m really curious to hear about what kind of practice/studio you guys enjoy, and why?

On this topic, I’ve now added a response to the question “what’s your workout routine like” in my new and improved FAQ tab. Check it out when you have a moment!

And switching topics: since you guys seem to relish my meal-sized salads a lot, I thought I’d share a closeup of last night’s: brown lentils, steamed beets, celery, cabbage, broccoli, carrot, radish, and some of my zucchini dressing, which is rich in nutritional yeast, lemon, and green veggie power. It was great.


I swear I don’t eat a giant salad every single night. But to be honest, gosh, I so happily could. A little boring, maybe, but I guess that’s a part of my food identity, no?

Tomorrow: a new recipe for a very high-protein breakfast bread that is homemade and bursting with plump raisins. Yum.

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  1. In the city, I highly recommend Kula which I think is what you’re looking for. It’s hot and sweaty and the classes are very intelligently designed with total focus on alignment and creative sequencing. Nikki V, Schuyler, and Stephanie are my faves but I’ve never had a bad class there and am totally hooked!

  2. I love salads too, but the winter definitely deters me. Having a drafty Chicago house is part of that because when I am all hot and sweaty after a walk or a yoga session, I always crave giant salad. But not regularly anymore. We need door and window insulation.

    I can respect Tara’s feeling about yoga, but I am doing the teacher training right now, Ashtanga focus, and it has just given me a lot of insight, knowledge, food for thoughts, extra details, fun stories, and deepened my practice. I may have gotten all of this from years of intense practice and travels to india or elsewhere, but I think teacher training is really great and even goes over things like teacher ethics and how to deal with tough situations. I’ve learned more about yogic ideas and safe movement through this program. It is just another resource to deepen the practice. I don’t think the certification automatically makes someone a good or qualified teacher. That comes with time, passion, and natural teaching ability or persistence to improve as a teacher. That’s my 2 cents I guess. I think yoga overall is wonderful, no matter the medium because it helps people move, relax, and connect with themselves, the world, and others. Simple and lovely.

  3. I practice Ashtanga Yoga here in Paris and I just love all about it. I am a member of the official ashtanga yoga studio here and can enjoy community classes three times a week for five euros! The rooms, the atmosphere and the teachers are incredible and the whole experience helped me a lot, also to find my way in this new city.
    Don’t wanna live without yoga anymore!!!

  4. as a fit young girl it always killed me that I could never get one of those snazzy Presidential Fitness Award t-shirts in gym class because I would epically fail at the sit and reach, how lame! I always knew I should improve my flexibility for my overall health and fitness but felt that yoga was one of those things that would require lots of dedication and time (time I felt could be better spent running or hiking) before yielding any noticeable results. A 10 day silent meditation retreat that included about an hour and half of really low-intensity yoga totally proved me wrong! After a mere 6 days of mellow morning yoga I was blown away by my physical improvement. Anyways, just wanted to throw this out there incase any of your readers have been resisting yoga for similar reasons.

  5. I love practicing yoga and am still looking for a studio to love (I just moved). My favorite studio, the place where I felt ‘at home,’ is now over 2 hours away. 🙁 Your post gives me hope though that I will find another! For a while I thought I couldn’t move because that was THE ONLY studio I would ever like. 🙂

  6. i teach vinyasa flow and some modified ashtanga vinyasa yoga but my favourite classes to attend are dynamic ones like power yoga and jivamukti. well i guess it also depends on the mood I am in and how i feel that day because sometimes a slow class can be more energizing and enlivening than a fast one. I think the most important thing is to listen to your body when it comes to exercise. Of course good training will help you improve but its not beneficial if you feel stressed and have low energy. great post!

  7. This isn’t totally new, but yesterday I realized how long it had been since I added salt to anything! Obviously I have to watch my salt, but I find it impressive that after years of LOVING salt and adding it to EVERYTHING, now adding salt to veggies or homemade soup or recipes never even crosses my mind. It’s funny how the palate adjusts both ways.

  8. Hey girl! I am so pleased to hear of your awesome yoga time. There is nothing like a good class in my opinion. I used to practice Iyengar yoga, which is ALL about holding the postures for a LOOOONNGGG time. Then I went into my teacher training, and was introduced to sun salutations. The first couple of practices I was totally upset about them! I remember thinking “what the hell is all this about?! This isn’t yoga! Why are we moving so fast!?” Since then, I have moved to Vancouver Canada, home of the vinyasa power flow class, and I will admit, it is my most favourite style to practice now! I have this feeling about yoga that the spirituality of it always sneaks up on us, in ways we do not always expect. We are not all going to become spirit people who walk around chanting, but I have yet to meet someone who practises on a regular basis that has not had their way of being impacted. Also, thanks for the workout question girl!! Glad it made it on there! 🙂

  9. Yoga can certainly seem elitist, but only if you allow it to make you feel inferior in anyway. I don’t know if that makes sense. It’s also how I feel about art. Allow yourself to feel invited and the spiritual, cerebral stuff doesn’t seem quite so highbrow. Also, I enjoy the spiritual stuff sometimes. I feel like the yoga sutras and Bhagavad Gita have a lot of wisdom to offer, and the spiritual side of yoga helps me connect my mind and body. Some days I do enjoy a good strong flow, but most of the time I use yoga to unite my body and spirit, because as an artist and writer, I spend too much time in my head without connecting to my body.

  10. Wow, this post really helped me out today. I’m a power vinyasa teacher. I teach a heated flow and sometimes I struggle with finding the devine. Sometimes I just want to teach a kick ass class and let people know they are perfect how they are, they are doing something good, and a calm mind is a happy mind. That is it. Nothing beyond that. I have not heard of Tara so I’m interested to learn more about her. This post just gave me faith that I’m doing the right thing teaching yoga. I was about ready to give it up, but I feel renewed.

    It is so great to have a home studio though, right? I love my Zuda Yoga in Sacramento. It is my yoga home. Have a great day!

  11. Awesome! Tara Stiles seems really lovely.
    I just started doing Vinyasa (not heated) consistently a few months ago and have tried Bikram but didn’t find it flow-y enough for me — I LOVE it! It’s helping me to fix shoulder and lower back issues that previously required P.T.
    I’m extremely fortunate because as a grad student at Stanford U. I have access to the Stanford Aerobics and Yoga program which is only (drum roll) $70/quarter or $200/year! There are people of all levels so it’s a wonderful place to start.

  12. I’m still a yoga newbie, I’ve only been doing it consistently for maybe 6 months, but I LOVE It! I’m still working on some seriously tight hamstrings, but I’ve improved in many other ways and I have some bangin biceps to prove it. I find the breathing of yoga very intuitive (unlike Pilates where I inevitably am breathing the exact opposite way of the instructor) and I crave that feeling of balance, stretched-outness and strength that I get after every yoga class. That being said, I prefer classes that are less about strength and more about stretching and flow. Yay for yoga!

  13. I wish I could find a yoga studio that I like as much as you like yours! I have tried a few here in Ottawa, but not found one that ‘clicked’ with me. I will keep searching though, because I know once I find a comfortable place I will really begin to enjoy yoga.

  14. sometimes it feels as though i live at yoga to the people — the bikram-style traditional hot studios, though — not vinyasa. how many times have you tried bikram?

    • 3 times: One on 72nd St here in NYC, one at Yoga to the People, and one at Bikram DC. I wish I could like it!

  15. I practice Forrest yoga, and I can say without a doubt that I would have collapsed during the trials of these past few years without this practice. Forrest is rigorous, but the intensity burns away stale and stuck energy and heals you, emotionally and physically. It’s not as widespread as vinyasa (which means there’s a small, supportive community of Forrest teachers and students), but it’s growing. The NY Times published an article in July on one of the few New York Forrest teachers, Erica Mather; it’s worth checking out.

    Enjoy your yoga and the rest of your winter break!

  16. what’s neat about strala is just what you touched on – how naturally spiritual the place feels without even trying. all of the teachers i’ve taken at strala certainly exude a certain sense of calm, confidence, and dancer-like grace, which certainly shows through in the practice. though strala’s classes are often slower-paced, the burn is certainly there – i was hurting for DAYS after taking brigitte’s class. glad you switched things up a bit stylistically and still enjoyed 🙂

  17. Gena, I can really relate to this. For the last six years, I practiced at a lovely studio in rural East Texas, owned and run by my best friend. It was a beautiful space with a welcoming atmosphere and the greatest little community of diverse yogis. This summer, I moved to North Carolina and have had a hard time finding my yoga groove. I’m poor (back to being a full time grad student) and ended up joining the YMCA, where the yoga classes are hit and miss. Yoga is important to me, though, so I’ll keep going and keep doing my best to make it work. I feel like my practice here is starting to click, so that’s something!

    As for the spiritual aspect of yoga, I do like to be mindful and move with compassion, but I prefer for the instructor to keep things vague. I believe you can have a secular practice that isn’t reduced to push ups and cardio. You can think about your place in the universe, send out good energy to those in need, and treat your body well, all without any kind of “higher power.”

  18. You’re gonna think I’m nuts, but practicing yoga is the best way for me to connect with the divine, although it doesn’t come from sanscrit words or oming. It is created with the breathing and movement that calms down my overcharged brain and lets me out of myself. I LOVE IT. The end of my yoga classes are the best part of my week. Looking forward to today at 4 at Cleveland Yoga (also a warm, flow studio).

  19. I enjoy the occasional restorative / yin practice, but I’m definitely a vinyasa person Though I do prefer a slower flow with longer holds – I’m not a fan of power yoga). I like to focus on “graceful transitions” and I can’t do that if I’m in and out of poses in seconds. (Still haven’t managed those “off the mat,” but it’s because I don’t practice enough! I’m a big believer in “practice and all is coming.”)

    I enjoy a heated room, but only to a point. Most “heated yoga” too hot for me.

    My favorite studio in Boston is Back Bay Yoga. Regular drop in rate is $15, but monthly passes are only $99 and it includes mat storage. Which means you can run to the studio! And there are a ton of $5 “community classes.” The studio is home to some hard core practitioners, but retains a warm, friendly vibe.

    Laughing Lotus is my yoga home away from home!

  20. Thank you for this post, it’s so nice to get an open perspective. I too have never sought to practice yoga for the spiritual side, just because I like the physical and health benefits I get from it.

    I tried bikram and didn’t like it at all, but when I found ashtanga yoga in my home city I immediately loved it. I hate gyms and gym type environments but this studio had a really warm, down to earth feel. Yes there are candles and incense and other spiritual totems, but I found it just made the experience richer and paid homage to the roots of yoga and I don’t really mind having that as part of my practice and it isn’t forced down your throat, it’s kinda just in the background to be respected, which I think is nice. My yoga evolves a lot too and I like to mix my practice up with some vinyasa and restorative classes. Although I have never tried hot vinyasa, we dont have a studio that offers it here so when you refer to it I always just assumed it was bikram! 🙂

  21. Thanks for this post! I’ve been a lazy ass over the holidays and haven’t been to yoga in at least 3 weeks. All week I’ve been telling myself “I’m going to go tonight” but keep bailing because it’s cold out (and there’s probably some laziness to blame too). Anyway, this post and the comments have helped to boost my motivation to get back on the yoga/fitness wagon as of tomorrow, so thank you!

  22. Finding a style of yoga that suits me physically and mentally is an evolving thing – what I practise depends on the day, my mood, my body and what I want from the session… I bounce around many different styles – intuitive yoga maybe?!

  23. I love to hear your thoughts on this and your constantly evolving dance with yoga. Beautiful irony that there’s now something in Georgetown for which you feel ‘homesick!’

    I do the Five Tibetans every morning, which is yoga-esque, but it’s a while since I’ve taken any yoga classes, although I do feel very at home in that environment (apart from feeling awkward about my body if taking a class). I was just talking with a friend yesterday, who was recommending a particular teacher here in town and saying how much yoga is helping her both with her fitness practice and with her general self-care.

  24. What a detailed review, with a lot to think about. The only yoga experience I have is a bit with Bikram (not my favorite, plus it was expensive) and classes at the Y. Never at a studio, save Bikram. My city is very low-income and yoga is not a priority and therefore studios are shutting down. There was ne within walking distance that just closed as of the New Year. No matter, I definitely need to explore having more yoga in my life!

  25. I love this post – as you know, I have done yoga for several years, but my practice has waxed and waned. In the last couple of years, though, it has definitely become cornerstone (again) of who i am, and can be so gratifying. My “home” studio has also become a community for me which is something I am really grateful for. That said, I always love trying different studios and exposure to different teachers – sometimes that is in person, and sometimes through a review like yours 🙂

  26. I’m usually so hesitant to go to yoga classes for this very reason – I love the physical experience, but I don’t want the history and spiritual side of things. I will definitely be checking out Strala when I move back to NYC (of course, the student rate is awesome!).

  27. I am so happy for you and that you connected with this studio, the teachers, the practice and that this is what’s helping make DC a home. I remember when I moved to CA about 8+ years ago, I knew no one. But the shining moment, the time when I felt at home, was when I found the right yoga studio and those people, my Guru, THEY are what made me feel at home. And for the next few years, I dedicated myself to the practice, with a daily in-studio asana practice, meditation, and the whole nine yards. I spent hours every day at the studio or with studio friends studying the practice, and living yoga off the mat. It was a gift that I can’t imagine having now as a busy working mother, but then, it was just what I needed and helped me connect so much to Cali, too.

    SO happy you have this yoga studio in your life, now 🙂

  28. Thanks for this review! I’ve heard so much “bad” about Tara Stiles and I am glad for an unbiased opionon of her!

  29. I really love Tara Stiles, so I am envious of your experience! I love yoga and do it every day, but I actually hate the ‘spiritual’ aspect of it because I am a heathen!

  30. I’ve been looking at different studios in NYC and was considering a class at Strala, so I’m glad to hear that you enjoy it. I also want to try Yoga for the People too.

    I’m a member of equinox and on the whole I’ve found that a lot of their classes are superb. One class I love is called slow flow yoga and it sounds a lot like the class you did. You hold the poses for 5 breaths or take the movements really slowly and it’s surprising challenging.

    I’ve sampled Bikram classes and am not impressed but am interested in trying a hot vinyasa class, hence my interest in Strala and Yoga for the People.

    Enjoy your break and good luck next semester!

  31. SAT NAM! I just found your blog a week ago and I am so excited to read it everyday (I am reading all the archives too)! What an inspiration you are GENA!

    I practice Kundalini Yoga. I’m in Oklahoma and I found it 3 years ago. My teacher moved to DC for a new job and although I miss her terribly, she taught us so much that I practice at home and use a video taught by Gurmukh. It is challenging but also spiritual, which I do desire with my practice. One thing I notice when I am faithful to practice and meditation is I can handle anything. My reactions to difficult situations are not anger or stress but “welp, how can I handle this?” And then I do. I am a happier person and most important, CENTERED!

    Good luck with next semester (IT IS MY LAST ONE!) and enjoy your last couple of days in NYC!

  32. After reading your Tweet I could not wait to read this! I still have mixed feelings towards Stiles, after taking a class on Yoga and Religion, but I also appreciate her ability to reach out to all “types” of people, not just hardcore yogis who have tons of free time to do downward dog. I am so beyond jealous that in NYC you have so many yoga studio options!

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