Yoga Practice Style: Jivamukti
Website: Coming soon...
Instagram: @ericernerstedt

What’s your story?  I grew up in the small town of Lycksele in the Lapland region of Sweden. Pretty early on I had dreams that stretched beyond the realms of my hometown and the more common after school activities that were offered. I would always get a special feeling of excitement when opening an atlas, looking at all these unknown places, and wondering what life was like there - and the exhilaration of thinking that one day I might travel there and find out. 

When I was ten years old, I let go of some extracurricular activities, and was getting a bit too comfortable on the sofa, so my mother signed me up for classes in a Swedish partner dance called Bugg. I started competing in this style and a few others, and really liked it. With my love of dance, what seemed like a natural ability, along with my sense of having to do things my way, I think it’s no accident that I moved to Stockholm at the age of 16 to train at the Royal Swedish Ballet School in their contemporary dance program. Everything after that has been a winding path of fun and crazy things in different parts of the world, leading up to where I am today – acting, dancing and teaching yoga for a living.

What did you want to be growing up?  I never really had a clear vision, but in my early teens I realized I wanted to do something that involved languages. My dad has worked as a truck driver all my life, and I used to ride with him all over Sweden and liking it, so it’s a bit funny how that never once crossed my mind as a potential career path. 

How would you describe yourself?  Organized, driven, spontaneous, someone who wants the good things in life, traveller, polyglot, quick thinker, food lover, good cook, loyal, likes company and needs alone time. 

How would others describe you?  My guess would be sociable, good listener, trustworthy, goes for what he wants, stubborn, friendly, kind, naïve, uncompromising, enigmatic, has high standards. 

How would your mother describe you?  Things that I’ve heard over the years (both out loud and tacitly) are: good boy, gullible, clever, brave, has strong beliefs, critical, needs to stand up for himself, and last but not least, has expensive taste. She really just tries to either commend my success or encourage me to be even braver. She’s the best. 

What do you most value in others? Why?  I value authenticity a lot. That is, people who are honest with who they are, what they think and feel. People who accept themselves, rough edges and all, and also strive to be kind and generous. That’s a great strength to me.

Is there anything you preach but don’t practice?  Ehm, tough one. If there were to be something I guess it would be my telling off a close friend for being a time optimist and letting me wait time and time again. I very much have the same tendency myself, and even though I don’t really let people wait for me anymore (because I’ve sweated a lot to get better at this) I still miss trains and flights, which can be pretty tough on my stress levels and not to mention on my wallet. 

We’ve all done a few things we aren’t too proud of, care to share one?  When I was about eleven, some friends and I found a hidden door in the boys’ locker room at school leading through a tunnel to the store-room where they kept all sorts of teaching supplies and sports equipment. We made a plan to sneak in there late at night when there were evening activities in the gym, and take some stuff. I remember carrying home half a dozen erasers, a bag of tennis balls and a small bicycle pump. I never dared to use the pump for fear of my parents asking me where I had gotten it, which sort of added to the pointlessness of the whole thing. Not very gangster!

When did you last cry? What was it over?  It was a few days ago, when I found out that I had been rejected by a pretty prestigious acting school here in Stockholm, for the second time. I had a moment of “who am I kidding?” and feeling sorry for myself, until I reminded myself that no one has ever become successful by wallowing in self-pity, and thought of the thousands of other opportunities I’m fortunate enough to have in my life.  

What's your favorite book? Harry Potter! I started reading them in my early teens, and they were the first books I ever read in English that weren’t part of the educational material at school. They helped my English reading comprehension a lot, and they increased my vocabulary massively. I thank J.K. Rowling not only for a riveting story encouraging people to be different and to be themselves, but also for useful everyday words such as cauldron, moor, cloak and of course expectopatronum! 

Ok, let’s talk about yoga, how’d you get into it?  I got into yoga through dancing. I had tried a few postures that dance teachers had incorporated into our warm-ups but I didn’t take a full yoga class until late 2007, when I was in London for an audition. Alas, I was cut at the very beginning, and so I had a few extra days in London. A friend took me to Jivamukti Yoga in West London, and I absolutely loved it. I had no idea what we were chanting and we were doing some pretty intense postures. I found it really challenging, and I left totally elated and curious. A few months later, I went to NYC for three weeks and went to the Jivamukti Yoga School in Union Square almost every day. At that time I was barely two years away from deciding to do my teacher training at the Omega Institute in 2010. 

What was the biggest challenge when you first started practicing?   To build up a daily practice. I came back from NYC inspired, but soon realized it was way harder to actually carve out the time of the working day to practice, especially when I was so new to it and wasn’t quite sure what I was doing.

Why do you keep coming back?  I have had times where I’ve missed practice for a week or two, and I realize an incredible difference in my well-being. That reference point alone keeps me coming back to the mat. I believe the holistic nature of yoga practice makes it applicable to anyone, anywhere, however - it’s a mindset you incorporate into daily life.

What would make you skip practice?  A hangover would definitely make me skip physical practice. I’ve done asana with a pounding vodka-induced headache and with legs weighing what feels like a tonne, and it’s not even funny. This of course makes me choose practice over alcohol at least nine times out of ten. Also, those times I’ve dated a guy for a while and started staying over at his house it’s definitely tricky to find a spot to do morning meditation, and even harder to do asana. In those cases I’ll aim to do practice later that day, provided I actually get home that day, haha. 

Do you teach?  I’ve been teaching since 2010. I find it the greatest learning opportunity - learning how to become articulate with things that come easy to me as well as the things I find more challenging is hard but rewarding work. Having someone else take the time to listen to what I have to convey as a teacher is both inspiring and humbling. I’ve always felt that when I find something that’s fun I want to share it and that’s a big reason when I teach. It doesn’t get more fun than a practice that seems to inevitably lead to greater happiness!

Other than yoga, what keeps you busy?  Right now I’m working a lot on my acting career. It takes time and patience, but I’ve learned to pursue the things I love and I like the challenge. I’m also working on a few entrepreneurial projects, I never know where this stuff will take me so I’m excited to see where I’ll be in a few years’ time!

What advice would you give to someone stepping onto the mat for the first time?  Breathe, breathe again, and do your best not to compare yourself to anyone else in the room, or even to yourself and “how you used to be”. 

Tell us about a time your yoga practice came into play off the mat.  A few months ago I was dealing with the pain of unrequited love. In the past I have often taken to distractions to avoid those uncomfortable feelings of inadequacy and what have you, but this time I allowed myself to just sit with it, for as long as I could, during the bouts of sadness. And it really helped me to realize the temporal quality of these feelings (and all feelings really). Somehow, in the midst of all the sadness, I was happy about the fact that I could feel that way, and for how alive I felt. It was a moment of celebration for my capacity not only to feel great sadness but also to feel great happiness. I don’t think I would have gotten there without yoga. 

What challenges or issues have you experienced being a guy who teaches and practices yoga?   Sometimes people (myself included) think that yoga teachers are meant to be flawless, and look to them with such great expectations that they’ll only be disappointed when they realize how human they are. I often wonder “how do I convey something that is geared toward the absolute, while still being in this limited body with a limited mind bound by time and space?” The musings of a confused human being!

What does the BOYS OF YOGA project mean to you?  It means new, exciting encounters with other cool peeps all over the world! 

If you could spend more time with one of the other BOYS, who would it be? I want to meet all of them, but for this weekend I’d have to say Victor Chau. I’ve never been to Hong Kong before, and I’d love to go. Also, we seem to share an affinity for arm balances and exploring nature. 

What’s your favourite pose?  Can you cue us into it?  I like Vishvamitrasana a lot.
Step your right foot forward into lunge, and bring both hands down on the inside of your right leg. Spin the left heel to the floor and ground down through the entire foot. Get your right shoulder as far in under your right thigh as possible, and place the right hand to the outside of your right foot. Press into the right hand until your right heel lifts off the foor, and with your left hand, reach across to hold the outer edge of your right foot. Shift the weight completely into your right hand and left foot, finding a side balance, and pull the heel of the right foot toward your belly. On the next exhale, press the right foot into your left hand, as the leg extends and the right hip moves in under the left. Finally, inhale and open your chest toward the sky and gaze up. Ta-da! 

What pose do you fucking hate?  I honestly haven’t encountered a pose that I hate (yet) but anything with half or full lotus variations just gets me. I feel awkward and clumsy, and I get frustrated and push myself a little too hard, until my knee hurts, and then I avoid doing it for a few months until next time, when I expect things in my hips to have magically evolved. 

Yoga is… taking responsibility for your happiness. Basically it implies being willing to look deeply into the choices we make in our lives and the effects these have in the world. When we actually dare to do this we give up tendencies to blame someone or something else for our present situation, and instead we take hold of the reins of our lives, and work in the best way possible way towards happiness for ourselves and everyone else. 

Your quote or mantra:  Om gam ganapataye namaha. I say this every morning to start afresh, and to ready myself for any potential obstacle the day may present. 

Interviewed: November 29th, 2015

Photos by @michaeljameswong and property of BOYS OF YOGA Ltd.