Though his name in Tibetan means “great bliss,” yogi Dechen Thurman took a rather meandering path to enlightenment. The son of Columbia University professor Robert A. Thurman, one of the most eminent Buddhist scholars in the United States, Thurman found early success in the worldly sphere as a model. His 20s were divided between performances with the downtown experimental collective Teleotheater NYC and doing bit parts in films. “I was, for a brief time, even a fake yoga teacher—that is, a sad actor looking for a job who thought he was just going to do this for a little while,” says the 39-year-old instructor at Jivamukti Yoga School, the New York institution whose patrons have included everyone from Woody Harrelson to Thurman’s sister, Uma. “Come rain or shine or hangover,” Thurman has spent the past six years teaching upbeat, collaborative vinyasa yoga practice, which incorporates such seemingly incongruous elements as extended guided meditations, sanskrit mantras, wry humor, vegan activism, and music ranging from Jeff Buckley to Kanye West. For acolytes, morning classes provide an intensely individualized experience whereby following a vigorous yet calming series of poses, the student can experience a deep communion with the natural world—or simply appreciate a good body stretch. “I’ve scaled back my goals a bit from spiritual revelation,” says Thurman. “It turns me on just to see a big tough guy having to relax his upper back and feel his heart and how clogged it is.”
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