Yoga for youthfulness

Acclaimed Yogi Peter Sterios unlocks the keys to longevity

Rugby. Women. The Ego. These are not the reasons for studying yoga that you’d expect to hear from Peter Sterios, a world-renowned yoga master who has taught yoga at the White House and who founded the massively successful yoga mat company, Manduka. But nothing about Sterios and his yoga style is as expected. 

Enter any Hatha yoga class in the country and you’ll find yourself spending most of your time in the classic downward-dog position. But in Sterios’ class, the pose barely comes up once. Instead, he asks his students to breathe through doubt and fear while stretching their joints in what seem to be counterintuitive ways: squatting atop the face of the toenails; bending the wrists backward; going into a tripod headstand, balanced on the point of the chin. 

For anyone who has spent any time practicing yoga, it’s enough to make your downward dog’s head tilt to one side in bewilderment. 

His yoga style is unique, but it turns out, not random or unfounded. Sterios came to yoga in the most ordinary of ways. An architecture student and basketball player at Cal Poly in 1976, he passed by a rec room full of college women flaunting their incredible flexibility and in a split-second decision, wagered probable embarrassment for a chance to join them, and perhaps even impress them with his athletic ability. An hour later, he emerged, humbled but hooked. 

“It was a lot harder than I thought and the competitive athlete in me said, ‘I want to get good at this,’ because I totally sucked at it when I started. I guess you could say I was driven by ego more than anything.”

His practice stayed with him as he graduated, moved to New Mexico, joined a rugby team, and visited New Zealand for a tournament. Sterios immediately fell in love with the country, and decided to stay. But soon, rugby led to injuries. That’s when he began practicing yoga daily with a teacher that would become his mentor for the next 20 years. 

By this time, Sterios says, “The effect of yoga took root. I had always been a high-strung person and I noticed when I started to do yoga on a regular basis, I was a lot calmer, I had more friends. At some point, the yoga became not a discipline, but a desire, a gift.” 

A few years later, he moved to India for 12 months to continue his studies, spending six or seven days a week, six or seven hours a day, on the mat. “It just changes you—it changes you physically, it changes you psychologically. That was a pretty profound year for me, literally reinventing myself.” 

When it was over, Sterios left India and, after nearly 10 years abroad, returned to San Luis Obispo where he was stunned to find that there was still no yoga center. He immediately got to work to change that, founding the original Yoga Centre of San Luis Obispo in 1992. Soon after, he discovered a yoga mat from Germany that was black, thick and sturdy—unlike the thin, flaky, pastel mats then used in the States. He bought a whole pallet of them, unknowingly making the first investment of the world-wide eco yoga products brand now known as Manduka. 

As his company grew (after 12 years, so fast that Sterios sold it), Sterios’ connections in the yoga industry grew. Moving to LA for a time, he became a contributing editor for the Yoga Journal and a sought-after yoga instructor for workshops across the country, including repeat visits to the White House. He also compressed his years of yoga practice and philosophy into a critically acclaimed yoga DVD, Gravity & Grace.

Now, 20 years after founding the first Yoga Centre in SLO, and 37 years after stumbling awkwardly into that first class at Cal Poly, Sterios has a home studio, mBODY Yoga, and has also firmly established his own yoga style, emphasizing the use of gravity rather than force. Founded on countless hours of studying the gurus before him, and countless more assessing and adjusting those known styles, his specific discipline confounds expectations. It is ancient, yet completely novel. It’s dynamic and challenging, yet more static and subtle than the typical pumped-up “power yoga” classes. 

And for Sterios—a man who, at almost 60, appears youthful and athletic—the formula has worked. His herniated discs, torn rotator cuffs, and sprained and broken ankles from rugby, basketball and skiing have made way for a limber body and an intimate understanding of the vast curative capacity of yoga, which he is anxious to share with anyone—of any age or ability. His new DVD, Gravity & Grace 2: Yoga for Longevity, released in December 2013 and featuring a 70-year-old yoga model, is directed especially toward beginners or people with limited mobility.

“This DVD is about giving people tools to maintain quality of movement, quality of life, right up to the end of their life.” 

Will it actually make you live longer? He can’t say for sure. But we can guess.

Check out the DVD (available on Amazon or or take a class with Sterios at mBODY Yoga, located at 780 Caudill Street, San Luis Obispo.

Jamie Relth - local writer and photographer