Rocking the Yoga World

Teacher Eric Paskel talks about his yoga classes, and you won't believe what goes on inside them.

If the nuts and bolts of your practice include pranayama, asana, and mantra, Eric Paskel’s take may shock. This Michigan-bred yogi blends rock ‘n’ roll, F-bombs, I-dare-you challenges, and professional psychotherapy with nary a syllable of Sanskrit. How did he veer so far off the beaten yogic path? (Meet the man himself here.)

“When I started there was nothing that was at all close to what I was looking for,” he says. Having overcome addiction and practiced clinical psychology for a decade before coming to yoga, what Paskel was looking for maybe have been something more than most yogis are in their first trip to a studio. Already well-versed in introspection, he began taking one “celebrity” yogi’s class after another trying to find a fit. Then he stopped looking to others and began looking within. “Smile is my style of yoga,” he says. “Strange, but it was non-existent.” He brought it to life opening the first Yoga Shelter in West Bloomfield, Michigan, in 2004. (Now there are nine locations in Michigan and California.)

“I want to make this the easiest practice when you open the door and walk in,” he says. “Easy in: This is familiar. This is fun. This is relative. This is pertinent.” Instead of the sounds of harmonium, chanting, and prayers to Hindu deities, his Yoga Shelter studios blast music you know, instruct in plain English, and welcome everyone—and their baggage—to join the party. Yoga arms might be a byproduct of the Yoga Rocks workouts, but Paskel is after so much more.

“A great body doesn’t equate to a great life,” he says. “If you only have so much time in a day, how much of it are you gonna focus on this great body of yours? It’s not that big of a deal. And if you’re not focusing on your body, what do you focus on?”

That’s where the critical part of his practice comes in. Paskel takes what he learns from his trips to visit his teacher Swami Parthasarathy, a Vedantic philosopher in in India, and distills it into terms everyone can understand. Off the mat, he suggests his students begin by questioning everything.

That’s what he did. And now he practices what feels familiar, and music is a big part of that. “Yoga is about creating a silence within you,” he says. “But that can’t mean that you need a silent room externally.” Paskel thinks music can be a game changer, especially for newbies. “It can take an incredibly deep spiritual discipline and make it friendly, familiar, and less intimidating,” he explains. Rock on. Now let’s get loud.

Check out Paskel’s 14-day Yoga Rocks program here.