Every great business idea must start somewhere and for Peter Sterios, that somewhere was in a small garage, at the back of his home in California with $25,000 investment and the vision to create a high quality, eco-responsible, yoga mat, that would last.
Manduka Yoga Products launched in 1997 and within year two of sales, the credit card debt that Peter had built up to fund the business was cleared and sales doubled year on year for ten years. Manduka had fans from all around the world, including many celebrity yoga teachers and global retailers such as Amazon, Whole Foods, BeachBody, Nordstrom Rack and Lululemon to name a few.
Now with over 20 years in business, Manduka is available in 87 countries across the world with annual sales of over $150M. Being an award-winning architect and internationally recognised yogi proved to be the perfect recipe of skills to build and grow a company rooted in innovation and performance.
In 2007, Peter stepped down as CEO and his role of Chief Product Innovator in 2013, so he could return to both teaching and designing. He leads teacher trainings and retreats around the world, and for three years (2011-13) was an invited teacher at the White House as part of Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity programme. He’s also involved in a number of design projects for various architectural and product design clients in the US, Canada, Nicaragua, Argentina, New Zealand, and India. Balancing passion and profession being the main aim!
With yoga being practiced by more and more people, Peter shares his tips on how to weave yogic principles into your professional passion so you too, can be inspired to find that balance.
Welcome Challenges - Cherish Curiosity
Whatever the industry, whether as a yoga teacher getting their studio or online classes off the ground, or as a business professional who regularly practices yoga and recognises the value of yoga in their day-to-day lives, always nurture your passion. Passion is the ‘fuel’ to keep you going when experiencing challenges, which is inevitable in yoga, life and business. Welcome these challenges and never take your foot off the pedal of curiosity. There’s no end to the discovery that comes with being a yogi, whether practicing or teaching. It’s often when I’ve been challenged to the edge of my capacity, confronting what appears to be unsurmountable obstacles, that something intuitive picks me up, giving me the energy to fill up my ‘empty’ tank, and sends me on my way again. I attribute yoga to that.
Often Western society, and the mindset it produces, urges us to follow rules and mimic the techniques or moves by an ‘expert’, like the teacher in a yoga class, and if we are good at following instructions, we feel like we’ve accomplished something at the end of class. However, true ‘success’ or what we think it is, comes from a shift in mind-set. As a yoga teacher, when we shift our attention internally or into the moment, like the way we ask our students to do so during class, we get a taste of something more subtle and curiosity is aroused, propelling us along to challenge our creativity and ourselves further, i.e. taking new risks. And even when you ‘fail’, the new mindset you possess sees failure as yet another learning opportunity to refine your intuition, strengthen your curiosity, and re-direct yourself again, down another path with the knowledge gained from your previous experiences.
The Role as Teacher
For new and existing teachers, it’s natural to feel some uncertainty how your passion for what you do will translate into teaching students, training associates, or attracting clients. After all, your progression and even your career depends on your ability to connect with those who surround and support you, what you offer them, and what they take away from what they learn and share with their network of associates, friends, or students. Thoughts like ‘what if they don’t like my ideas’, ‘what if they know more than I do’, or ‘what if they leave and don’t come back’ can pop up, and are common at the start. However, these concerns fall away when your role as a teacher is truly understood, and over time, you realize your primary task is to open doors for your ‘students’ to learn, explore and connect to their true potential. For example, in yoga it can often be a scary or vulnerable time for students new to the practice, to abruptly face having to learn new things as a ‘mature’ adult, to be with their bodies and minds in new ways, and then realiseyogicly, they aren’t quite as ‘mature’ as they thought - physically and even psychologically. In addition, students often turn up with their own preconceptions about yoga and/or personal agendas, which can challenge you as a teacher. But as you gain teaching experience, you learn ways to connect energetically with students who are ready, willing and open to explore their own creative potential with your guidance. Others may not be ready initially, but with your patience and consistent instruction, they begin to feel a new desire and motivation for change. And those who don’t connect with you at all just naturally fall away. You can’t be all things, to all people, in any moment. Its best to focus on being genuine to yourself, and people will follow. This is exactly the same in the world of business!
Continue To Evolve - My example as a Yoga Teacher
Yoga was born in India, but the evolution of it, much like that of a child growing up, meant that it left home and moved into the world. Although some may argue otherwise, the practice of yoga is maturing, and making it’s own mistakes which ultimately are learning opportunities. As a yoga teacher, I see it as part of my job to bridge the gap between tradition and innovation, and still produce the effects that ancient yogis set out to create.
Many of the most financially successful yoga teachers in the West have cultivated personal styles that they have trademarked, creating a perceived value, or commercialisation of their ‘yoga’. It is a very modern approach. Typically these trademarked styes have created ‘recipes’ to follow, a set of sequences designed to be memorized, and a “one-size-fits-all” mentality, that may appear to be financially successful in the short term (5-10 years). However, this was not my path. After a decade of teaching, I recognized a paradox - that although many of these styles, taught by sincere teachers professing their unique ways, had the appearances of being the ‘correct’ way to practice, I could not guarantee my students a single way or style would be a perfect fit for everybody unless their own creative and intuitive forces were involved. I then explored, mostly through trial and error, the ways I had worked through serious injuries or illness on my own, and then began teaching students how to discover what would work for them intuitively, finding what they needed and were naturally drawn towards like I had. After years of seeing teachers I have trained teach, I can honestly say no two are alike.
Another difficulty I saw teaching, was the conflict found in group class situations, by trying to lead numerous students with the same instructions that focused only on physical effort. This is most common in today’s class situation, yet untraditional as a way to teach yoga and the ultimate necessity in yoga philosophy to turn away from any outside authority (including the ‘teacher’), and take responsibility for one’s own actions. What has evolved in my teaching is a style of ‘no-style’ yoga, one where students are encouraged to release effort, turn most of their attention away from my voice towards the inner sensations created by their movement or posture, and access the deepest most essential part of themselves. It is here they realize they don't need a teacher telling them what they need. Talk about paradox! So teach from a place where its personal, but offer principles of practice rather than specific technique.
No-Rule Recipe Book
The more you accept self responsibility, the more your teaching reflects your practice and your life. Yoga is not a series of recipes about how to move limbs. Sooner or later, the type of teacher who follow recipes will run out of them, or drown in the boredom found regurgitating old ones!
This discovery was solidified while in the audience of a Cirque du Soleil performance in Las Vegas. Besides enjoying the show, the yoga teacher in me started to study the dancers’ movement, what they were doing to create such effortless effort, which in my eyes, was exactly what yoga taught me. There was a simultaneous lack of tension in their bodies with incredible strength. Their faces and muscles were soft, while performing incredible balancing acts. The idea of balance is so intuitive in all of us. As adults, we don’t think about balance anymore because we’ve mastered it, so we get our directions intuitively. However, on a sub-conscious level, we do make these decisions, but our analytical minds are too busy with other things to realise we are doing so. As a yoga teacher, I guide students to turn attention back to this subconscious level and offer instruction from a place where only a few basic ‘rules’ or principles exist.
Listen, watch, explore… and be patient as it takes practice! Teach from a place where the group energetics of people doing yoga together can benefit all of those in the room. Stimulate creative channels in your own psyche and be in direct connection with your experience. As teachers, we have a responsibility to carry that communal energy. Learn from peers and other successful yogis who have gone before us. It’s not that dissimilar to when you’re about to become a parent for the first time, you can read mountains of books on parenting, or listen for hours to other parent’s stories, but at the end of the day, intuition and personal experience will be the biggest driver.
The Path to Success
Release expectations, recognise the beauty in things as they are, in any given moment in the world we all share, and look for the seeds of intuition and creativity - the never-ending gifts that keeps on giving. Be taught by yoga, fine tune your listening skills to life, your own body and the people who support and surround you, and let vitality, longevity and success come to you.
Globally recognised yogi, Peter Sterios of LEVITYogaTM, will visit the U.K. this July and September to run his first ever U.K. 200HR Yoga Teacher Training in the beautiful, tranquil location of the Blackdown Hills, Somerset, in partnership with Pause Wellbeing Escapes and Hannam Health. To find out more or to book onto this unique teacher training with Peter Sterios this summer, email firstname.lastname@example.org or peter@LEVITYoga.com.