Sabbatical practice

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.

Atmajyoti - 8Viveka 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.


Psychedelic Strasbourg

On Friday night of our Alsace weekend, Christel’s mum took charge of the kids so we could venture into Strasbourg, thirty minutes east of Marlenheim. The city was celebrating the millenial of its iconic cathedral with a stunning sound and light show projected directly on the building. Some photos and footage below (transition at 1:00 captures a little of the magic), or see the full-length version online.

Alsatian spirits

As the Swedish summer ended, Christel Lagier invited us for a final taste of the season in her hometown Marlenheim, in France’s eastern border region of Alsace. Route des vins (wine trail)Christel, husband Andy, and their three children were joined on the trip from London by equally longtime friends James and Amanda, and their toddler Cerys.

We guests found generous accommodations with neighbors Doris and Vero. But most days Christel’s mother Rosemarie hosted the multi-generation circus, including Christel’s brother, sister, nieces, nephew, and extended family.

We celebrated several late-summer birthdays with a choucroute garnie feast that tested even the stronger stomachs. Paul Lagier’s tartes flambées (savory and sweet versions) were a gentler flamboyant treat.

Marlenheim marks the porte de la route des vins d’Alsace (gate to the Alsatian wine trail); our bedroom faced the sloping vineyards. Wine tasting at Charles Muller was a revelation in pinot gris.

We were even luckier to score a tour of the Hagmeyer eau de vie stills in Balbronn; sureau noir (elderberry) and poire Williams (Bartlett pear) were especially divine.

Thanks to the London bank holiday, we extended the weekend with a visit to Christel’s classmate Lisbeth at her family’s spa-hotel La Clairière, outside the medieval village La Petite-Pierre. We attended Andy and Christel’s wedding here in 2009, and the hotel—especially its elegant mineral baths and steam rooms—lived up to all our memories. This time we worked in a hike through the neighboring Loosthal forest, with views across the hazy valley.

It’s something special to feel at home so far away.


Our boys seem to have recovered thoroughly from their dental work: one left his mark, and a hefty bite, in the meat pies Sandra prepared for baking this weekend. As she reports:

Forensic evidence plus an eye witness left Watson no option but to plead guilty and throw himself on the mercy of the court. He invoked the but I’m so cute exemption and got off with a stern glare and temporary banishment from the kitchen.

We’re glad he’s back on his feet and demonstrating our excellent disciplinary training.

At home in Östermalm

Balcony breakfast over Gärdet
Balcony breakfast, Gärdet

We enjoyed a tranquil week in David’s sunny studio between the Karlaplan and Gärdet districts of Östermalm, Stockholm’s manicured east end.

For 250 years, the clearing at Karlaplan was a toll station on the eastern edge of Stockholm; lands beyond were the yttersta mörkret (utter darkness). The city’s expanding and prosperous population replaced the toll booths with large stone houses at the end of the 19th century, and the area became famously home to August Strindberg, the Shakespeare of Sweden. A certain drama remains in the Flygarmonumentet, commemorating the disastrous 1897 Andrée arctic balloon expedition in which Strindberg’s second cousin Nils perished with his two crewmates; the statue’s apparent Nazi aesthetic has generated repeated controversy.

After a brief return to agriculture in the first World War, Karlaplan and neighboring Gärdet were more thoroughly developed in the 1930s with modernist apartments and garden walkways. In our short time there, the roses lining Tessinparken added welcome color to the fading summer.

Hipsters on Ship Island

Skeppsholmen (yellow)
Skeppsholmen (yellow)

In our ongoing tour of Stockholm’s islands (7/14, so far), we spent a Saturday on Skeppsholmen (Ship Island) east of the old city in the Saltsjön (Salt Sea). In the 16th century it was Lustholmen (Pleasure Island), a recreational park for the aristocracy, but it became the royal shipyard in the early 1600s. The landmark Admiralitetshuset (Admiralty House) was built in 1647; its ornate Dutch gable facades are anchored to the roof to withstand the Swedish winter.

Skeppsholmen remained an important naval base through the 1950s, when it was converted to public and cultural use. The Museum of Modern Art moved into several former military buildings, along with the Center for Architecture and Design (their standing Architecture in Sweden exhibit was helpfully immersive) and Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities. The island marks the western edge of Ekopark, established in 1995 as the first national urban park in the world.

On Skeppsholmen today, weekends also bring the distinctly 21st-century Matholmen (Food Island) food truck fair. Viewing the shipyards over California veggie burritos was a stimulating mix of anachronism and nostalgia.