With a $25,000 investment into his first shipment of German-made yoga mats, Peter Sterios launched Manduka Yoga Products from a small garage behind his home in California, back in 1997.
In an era of low credit card bank fees and easy credit, he funded his endeavour with cash advances on multiple personal credit cards. Within his second year, he was out of debt, with sales doubling for each of his first 10 years in business. His vision and success with Manduka started with one product – a high performance $70 yoga mat – at a time when mats were cheap, poorly made and selling for $15-$20.
Sterios’ roots as an award-winning architect and an internationally recognised yoga teacher were the perfect foundation for a company built on performance and innovation.
With an initial client list that included many of the top celebrity yoga teachers in US and Canada, it gradually grew to include retailers like Lululemon, Dick’s Sport’s, Amazon, Whole Foods, BeachBody, Nordstrom Rack, and more. This year, Manduka will be celebrating its 20th anniversary, with offices in Los Angeles and Antwerp, selling eco-responsible yoga products including mats, props and clothing in 87 countries with annual sales surpassing $150M.
Having stepped down as CEO in 2007, and his role as Chief Product Innovator in 2013, Sterios has returned to his love of both teaching and designing. As a yoga teacher, he leads teacher training and retreats around the world, and from 2011-2013 was an invited teacher at the White House as part of Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity programmes.
This August, as part of LEVITYoga, Sterios will visit the UK to run his first ever 200HR Yoga Teacher Training in Blackdown Hills, Somerset, in partnership with Pause Wellbeing Escapes and Hannam Health.
With more and more executives and self-employed people practicing yoga, Sterios’ story proves that it is possible to maintain yogic principles and professional passion while creating and growing successful businesses.
Here he shares a snapshot of his journey from yoga teacher to yogiprenuer and back.
In any industry, whether as an individual yoga teacher setting up a small studio or online classes or as a yoga-practicing business professional who recognises the value of yoga personally, maintaining a passion for whatever you do is key.
Passion is the ‘fuel’ to keep you going when experiencing challenges that appear along the way, which is natural in yoga, life and business. So, welcome challenges, and never take your foot off the pedal of curiosity.
Often, when I’ve been challenged to the edge of my stamina and capacity –– confronting what appears to be insurmountable obstacles and the desire to quit –– something intuitive appears, picks me up and gives me the energy to continue. I attribute yoga for the ability to be open to that intuition.
Western society and the mindset it produces can urge us to follow rules and mimic the techniques or moves of ‘experts’, like a well-known yoga teacher, or a successful business coach. And if we are good at following instructions, we feel like we’ve accomplished something when we become “good-followers”. However, true ‘success’ yogically comes from a shift in mindset.
As a yoga teacher, I’ve noticed when I shift my attention internally or into the moment, like the way we ask our students to do so during class, I get a taste of something more subtle and my curiosity is aroused. This encourages me to challenge my creativity and take new risks.
Your Role As A Teacher
For new and existing teachers, it’s natural to feel some uncertainty surrounding how your passion for yoga will translate into teaching students, training associates, or attracting clients.
After all, your progression and even your career depend on your ability to connect with those who surround and support you.
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’ll realise 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 new students when having to learn new things or be with their bodies and minds in new ways. 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’ll learn new ways to connect energetically with students who are ready, willing and open to exploring their own creative potential with your guidance.
Others may not be ready initially, but with your patience and consistent instruction, they will 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, so it’s best to focus on being genuine to yourself, and people will follow. This is also true of business.
Continue To Evolve
Yoga was born in India, but the evolution of it has meant that it has now left home and moved into the world. Although some may argue otherwise, the practice of yoga is maturing and making its own mistakes, which creates 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 form of ‘yoga’.
Typically these trademarked styles have created ‘recipes’ to follow; a set of sequences designed to be memorised, and a “one-size-fits-all” mentality, that may appear to be financially successful in the short term however, this was not my path.
After a decade of teaching, I recognised a paradox – that although many of these styles, taught by sincere teachers professing their unique ways, had the appearance of being the ‘correct’ way to practice, I could not guarantee my students a single style that would work for everybody. So I explored, mostly through trial and error, the ways I had worked through serious injuries or illness on my own. I 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.
Teaching from a place where it’s personal, and offering principles of practice rather than specific techniques, is more authentic –– the same method also works when running a business.
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, so sooner or later, the type of teacher who follows recipes will run out of them, or drown in the boredom of regurgitating old ones.
As a yoga teacher, I guide students to offer instruction from a place where only a few, basic ‘rules’ or principles exist.
Listen, watch, explore… and be patient as it takes time to 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, because as teachers we have a responsibility to carry that communal energy.
Learn from your peers and other successful yogis who have gone before you. But, remember –– 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 always be your biggest driver.
The Path to Success
Release expectations and 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. But be taught by yoga, fine tune your listening skills to life, your own body and the people that support and surround you, in doing so vitality, longevity, and success will come to you.