The Modern Yogi

 STEFANOS PANTELAS

Of sunkissed Cypriotic descent, Stefanos lived in London for the last 20 years. Working as a music publicist, he promoted acts like Kruder & Dorfmeister and Fat Freddy’s Drop. As of December 2012, he can be found in warm(er) climates again, predominantly Australia/ NZ, South East Asia and California. One of his soul reasons: yoga.

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Photographed by Josephine C

 

Can you remember when you saw your first yogi?

I had no exposure until I walked into my first class without expectations. I didn’t even know what it looked like. I soon started feeling changes and got really excited and started doing research. I was very impressed with David Swenson doing the primary series of Ashtanga yoga: his flow, the softness and precision of movement. I try to incorporate this but it comes only when one truly concentrates on the breath and energy flow. The flow and the softness will happen when we can master the breath.

What kind of daily rituals does your practice entail?

I meditate every day, mainly vipassana. I also practise pranayama and asanas five to six times a week. I tend to have more energy on full moons, so I like to practise around these sometimes. On new moon I take it really slow and if I’m lazy, I just don’t practise.

How has yoga changed you over time?

Let’s just say, before yoga my world was black and white, and after yoga it became Technicolor. It gives me better perspective on life, peace of mind, improved health, a lot of letting go of behavioural patterns, fears, and doubts. It’s been a letting go process for me. Lifestyle wise, it moves in ebbs and flows, I definitely felt like eating more healthily, even though I was quite healthy in my diet even before yoga.

Which teachers have you been studying with?

Back in London I was studying with an amazing teacher, Gingi Lee. I was really lucky as he is a very good teacher and within six weeks it really worked for me: I really got it. I have been on many workshops and retreats too, with the likes of David Swenson, Danny Paradise, Dena Kingsberg, Prem and Radha Carlisi, John Scott, Kirsten Berg and Mitchell Gold. When I travel I just do my own practise, and recently I’ve started experimenting with the form and trying variations and different things. Not being exposed to many other kinds of yoga before Ashtanga, I now find other postures not in the series of Ashtanga that have a great effect on certain parts of the body.

Can you give us an example?

There was a course here at The Sanctuary (Koh Phangan, Thailand) with Randall O’Leary, who is an amazing teacher, the first yoga teacher that started at The Sanctuary in the Nineties. He’s a very good friend and he’s been going back and forth to India for the last 20 years studying with the saddhus. He’s actually an initiated saddhu himself and studies the philosophy, the ceremonies and the deeper meanings of the devotional aspects behind them. He also knows a lot about mantras. I took a lot of his teachings on board and I started to use new tools, experimenting and developing my own practice – based on my body and on nature, on the elements, on where I am, what time of the day it is, and how I feel. But centrally, Ashtanga really works for me, so for a few times a week, I still practise the primary series, and the rest I do my own practice.

What are the strangest locations that you ever did yoga in?

I can think of one that was strange, if only because of how challenging it was. I was in the Himalayas, in Ladakh, 4000m high! And I was trying to do ashtanga when I could barely breathe (laughs). I have also practiced on rooftops, car parks or fields filled with flies and mosquitoes.

Stephanos

Photographed by Josephine C

What’s always in your yoga mat bag?

I always carry my mat, and a sarong or cloth. Furthermore I have some normal tiger balm as well as a brand of oil from Kerala, India, called Kaja balm which is really good for getting rid of soreness and for opening up the sinuses. It’s more effective than Tiger balm.

Do you have a favourite yoga text or sutra?

Yes, the yoga sutra I, ii. “yogash chitta vritti nirodhah.” It basically means, ‘yoga is a method to stop the fluctuations of the mind.’ It means that yoga gives you the ability to navigate through the stream of thoughts in a more harmonious way. For some people, it may even stop completely, but most of us find a way that is smoother and more enjoyable.

Have you had any injuries from your practice and can you give us some advice on how to avoid them?

I had my share of problems with my wrists. There definitely are a lot of chatarungas and jump backs in the series! So my advice would be to do a lot of wrist- and core-strengthening exercises and to train the tips of the fingers as each one engages different muscles in the arm. Another precaution is doing shoulder opening exercises as the shoulders get contracted from chatarunga.

What makes yoga more than just an exercise for you?

I’ve never seen it as just an exercise. The physical aspect of it is an added bonus of course. For me, yoga is a metaphor for life. What we do on the mat is a formal practice that prepares us for life. What you take on on the mat – you take it on to the rest of life.

 

What is your purpose in life right now?

Being alive, really, just to be here.

 

(April, 2014 @ the platform, Koh Phangan)

Stefanos is also a wonderful DJ, check out his sets in soundcloud link above.

 

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