Peter Sterios - Gravity & Grace

You all know that we have a great affinity to Manduka yoga products here at Eco Yoga Store, we’ve been bringing them to you since 2008, and we know from your feedback that you love them too, but what you probably don’t know is that the founder of Manduka, Peter Sterios, has written his first yoga book, Gravity & Grace: How to Awaken Your Subtle Body and the Healing Power of Yoga.

Peter has been part of the global yoga community for over four decades, as a trainer and teacher (E-RYT 500), including teaching yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiative (2011-2013). He is also an award-winning architect, specialising in green yoga studios and retreat centres.

Aside from these activities, and of course founding MANDUKA™, he is also the founder of LEVITYoGA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organisation for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua.

It is fair to say that Peter’s influence through his teaching, writing and innovative design has been felt worldwide!

The following is an extract from Peter’s book that he has kindly allowed us to publish here, talking about his relationship with meditation…

Gravity & Grace: How to Awaken Your Subtle Body and the Healing Power of Yoga - front cover on a blue background - Peter Sterios | Eco Yoga Store

Where Mind and Body Meet

Peter Sterios ©2022 

Meditation and I have had a bittersweet relationship. Early on, I sensed that a meditation practice was useful for the hyperactive mind I possessed, but the difficulty of sitting for long periods was a never-ending saga of epic battles between the urgency to fidget away from painful sensations my stiff body produced, and the mental obligation to remain still, follow instructions, and meditate the “right” way! 

This struggle involved my belief that hatha yoga and meditation were separate - the former focused on sometimes intense movement of a physical nature, and the latter mostly a cerebral practice that seemed “anti-physical”, meant purely to focus attention on witnessing thoughts and feelings with the goal of mental “stillness”.

It took decades for me to realize the irony in this common perception, mostly through the practice of yoga which slowly prepared my mind for the rigors of sitting. The dichotomy in these two practices eventually showed me that the joy of movement was a necessary component of learning how to sit quietly and contently.  That insight allowed me to undertake the other forms of meditation practices found in Patanjali’s eight limbed system of yoga and the recommended steps towards yoga’s ultimate promise - freedom from the fluctuations of the mind.

Breath Retention (kumbhaka)

In yoga, breath retention practices are powerful ways to build mental energy and create deep inner tranquillity and poise. Mastering breath retentions involves a series of slow and patient practices that take years to develop, involving preliminary periods of deep relaxation and stillness, in comfortable seated or supine (flat on your back) poses. Retention practices can be a form of meditation by themselves, or they can be integrated into the practice of individual yoga poses or dynamic sequences. Here is one of my favorites: 

AS A BREATHING PRACTICE, start with a comfortable seated or reclined position and consciously slow your breath until you have established an effortless three-to-four-second inhale, and three-to-four-second exhale. Do nasal breathing for each phase, keep the sound of your breath (ujjayi) soft and the texture of your breath smooth. After an initial four to five rounds of breathing, change to a rhythm of six-to-eight-second inhales and six-to-eight-second exhales.
After four to five rounds, when you have settled into an effortless rhythm, again change the rhythm, aiming for ten-to-twelve-second inhales and ten-to-twelve-second exhales. At whatever level your breath rhythm reaches for the longest (and effortless) duration, stay there for another four to five cycles of breath.
When you reach the last exhalation on the last cycle, slowly initiate the next inhale until you’re comfortably full (don’t overinflate) and hold your breath (inhalation retention). As you hold the breath, consciously soften your diaphragm and feel your abdominal organs sink a little. Gently swallow once. Re-release your diaphragm if it contracted during the swallow. Hold your breath as long as you can without anxiety. If you feel any anxiety rising, try swallowing again and re-release the diaphragm to help retain the breath a little longer.
When you need to, slowly exhale and resume normal breathing, with whatever rhythm the breath naturally finds without effort. Breathe like this for four to five rounds. You can also repeat this same practice for increasing your exhalation retentions.

Breath retention helps concentrate mental energy while simultaneously withdrawing energy from the sense organs and turning your attention inward. It creates a state of being where time and outside concerns dissolve. It changes brainwave activity, slowing the frequency of neurological impulses and producing deep calm and contentment. It also provides a glimpse of the frontier that separates life and death and builds an appreciation of living in the moment and gratitude for the life you have.

Our mind, when properly trained, can be seen not as an enemy to conquer, but a powerful tool for living life fully. Its ability to self-reflect allows an impartial witnessing of behavior, whether conscious or unconscious, and the decisions about how to perceive, evaluate, or react are totally a matter of choice. Through my own practices, I have come to realize what ancient yogis taught and wrote about, that the purpose of poses (asana) is part of a process to prepare the body and the mind for meditation, and through the extraordinary experience of both, they come together, awakening the visceral and inseparable nature that mind and body form. Both practices open us to the latent energetic connection we have with all things. 

Excerpt from GRAVITY & GRACE: How to Awaken Your Subtle Body and the Healing Power of Yoga, by Peter Sterios (Sounds True 2019). Reprinted with permission.