A playlist that includes Rage Against the Machine isn’t necessarily the type of music you expect to hear in a yoga studio, but at Electric Soul Yoga in Studio City, it isn’t at all unusual. Owner Eric Paskel likes his yoga to rock, and he attracts a group of students who clearly love it loud.
The students in the studio aren’t the only fans. In 2014, Paskel brought his Yoga Rocks Bootcamp to Ford Field in Detroit, for an event that broke records for the largest-ever indoor yoga class. And at BhaktiFest Midwest, the infectious energy of his teaching and music brought in hundreds of happy yogis, “The class just kept growing!” laughed Paskel.
Eric grew up in Detroit, Michigan. He was always curious, a self proclaimed “escape artist.” In his teens, he became addicted to drugs, and then found sobriety just shy of his 18th birthday. Rock-star handsome, he was encouraged to move to California to try his hand at acting but his heart just wasn’t in it, particular when it came to the endless audition process that seemed like such a waste of precious time. Eric was always searching and he needed an outlet for all of his boundless energy, so he tried yoga. At that time, the fit wasn’t there. He enrolled in college and earned a degree as a marriage and family counselor, still going on auditions and continuing to feel restless and unsatisfied.
In 1998, Eric returned to Michigan, where he gave yoga another chance. Always a zealot in his approach to life, he committed to attending 90 classes in 90 days. This time the practice fit. Eric says, “I learned 12 years into my sobriety that yoga was going to be essential in my ongoing recovery. As soon as I stepped onto the mat, I couldn’t hide from myself anymore. Yoga and recovery are spiritual kin. It is all of the practices: Karma Yoga is the action of selfless service, Bhakti Yoga is the acute awareness of the infinite blessings that surround you, and Jnana Yoga is the study of the universal principles of living — these yogic traditions are the heart of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps.”
In 2001, Eric started his first “official” Yoga Rocks class after teaching different variations of the class for three years. To his surprise, 135 people showed up, and Eric knew he was on to something. His playful classes added some high-energy fun to the practice. Three years later, Eric opened the doors of his first Yoga Shelter Studio in West Bloomfield, Michigan. There are now seven in Michigan, and one in Studio City.
Traveling around the globe teaching, lecturing, and leading retreats and trainings is a large part of Paskel’s passion. On his blog, he shared his thoughts on an inspiring trip to Africa: “I have literally lived in palaces, tends and today, I sat in a prison in Zanzibar. I have reflected. I have learned. I have witnessed the ‘quit’ in me, the desperation to avoid discomfort in so many ways. I have witnessed the strength in me to keep going; the power to carry on; to journey forth and to keep moving forward.”
Each year, Eric travels to India to spend time with his teacher/guru Swami A. Parthasarathy. Swami Parthasarathy is an acclaimed expert in Vedanta, one of the ancient philosophies of India and his life is spent in dedication to the study, research, and propagation of this philosophy. Yoga Shelter operates by all the principles of the Vedanta philosophy. Vedanta points out that “all sorrow and misery you experience in a life belongs to your egoistic self.” Paskel adds, “Let us drop that little “I”, the “me”, and the “my.” Yoga Shelter was founded and is run with a “we” attitude.
Often, Eric will quote his teacher, “To be sorrowful is a social, moral, and religious crime. You do not spread the disease of melancholy to your fellow men. Your highest duty, your religious duty in the world, therefore, is to keep yourself peaceful and joyful. This is the duty demanded of you by your nation, society, family and yourself.”
Eric had just returned from a recent trip to India when we met for tea in Studio City. This journey was special, he said, because he was accompanied by his love, Rina Jakubowicz, and his sister Caren, who is a teacher and a leader at Yoga Shelter in Michigan. Rina and Eric met at a Yoga Journal conference in October, 2013, and the two are devoted to each other. “Living at such a distance is no obstacle,” says Eric, smiling. “Moderation and regulation of contact is imperative to keeping any relationship healthy. Most relationships fade because we indulge, we smother each other and the enjoyment disappears.”
Paskel plans to take Yoga Shelter to new heights this year. His new company will franchise Yoga Shelter studios, and a repeat performance at Ford Field is on the books. There are also plans to add some new classes and new training formats, including a 500-hour program. Eric is also a featured teacher at upcoming Yoga Journal Live, Wanderlust, and Kripalu events.
Eric offers some simple advice when asked for any last words of wisdom. He says, “Yoga is not about standing on your head or hands, it’s about learning how to stay on your feet and being able to stand for yourself.”
Read more about Eric and Electric Soul Yoga: Electric Soul.Yoga
HAIR, MAKEUP AND STYLING BY Dawn Sorenson
MATS BY LULULEMON AND MANDUKA
ALL PHOTOS BY Jeff Skeirik, Rawtographer