Having encountered yoga briefly as a dance minor in college and studying abroad in India, I only began practicing semi-regularly last year at my campus gym. This summer, on recommendation of fellow Skidmore chemist Bea, I spent three days at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, and enjoyed a few more classes on a mom-and-me Heartland Spa trip. With such limited experience, I was lucky to find my way to Atmajyoti shortly after arriving in Stockholm. The 2–3 weekly Hatha classes I’ve taken there have become a home base of familiarity and focus, while navigating new environments and ideas at work and at home.
Atmajyoti’s wiry and enormously driven founder, Viveka Blom Nygren, was a busy ground-floor employee of the Scandinavian branch of financial giant E-Trade in the 1990s. But after discovering Ashtanga yoga in Mysore—and tasked with dismantling many of E-Trade’s European holdings in the dot-com collapse—she left her corporate position to open a small Ashtanga school outside Stockholm in 2002. She taught a rigorous schedule of ~20 classes per week for nearly a decade; eventually the studio moved to the city, took the name Atmajyoti (light of the soul), and grew a staff of teachers, many of them trained on-site.
Viveka tells a compelling story of the serious illness that placed her school’s future in doubt in the late 2000s, and the family and community members who helped it survive. Fellow teacher and Atmajyoti trainee Lena Gummesson joined as a business partner, and the school was reborn in newly renovated studios in Stockholm’s central Norrmalm neighborhood in 2013. Viveka now teaches Pranayama and oversees the center’s daily activities; later this month she will lead a retreat to Mallorca, and in fall returns to India for further study. She is also exploring opening a second space dedicated to Pranayama and meditation.
As Viveka recalls, her first school followed the strict and physically challenging Ashtanga practice she learned in India: on the second day we did inversions, on the third day headstands. More recently Atmajyoti has followed what she sees as a widespread, and positive, trend emphasizing consciousness, breath work, and open access. In addition to Ashtanga, the studio now offers weekly classes in Hatha, Yin, Pranayama, mindfulness, and restorative yoga; there are sessions for children, teens, pregnant women, men, and seniors. Three weekly MediYoga classes are intended for virtually everyone, including people with physical or psychological limitations.
Many Atmajyoti teachers have studied in both India and the US; Viveka finds particular inspiration in the Los Angeles community. Regarding the growth of yoga and related practices here, she describes Sweden as a land of early adopters, interested in international models of personal as well as technological development. These connections run deep: earlier this year, several studio members participated in an inaugural research conference on MediYoga organized by the Karolinska, my current place of work.
Since first encountering it abroad, I am aware of the tension between yoga’s Indian origins and its manifestation in the West, particularly corporate and middle/upper-class culture. Still, it’s hard not to be inspired by Viveka’s personal story, and the community of practice she’s built here. I can only hope the joy I’ve found at Atmajyoti does more good overall than harm—and carries forward, at least in part, to my next steps on and beyond sabbatical.