Happily ending a long sleuthing hiatus, I dug out my rusty gear and ventured to my favorite Manhattan yoga sanctuary. Entering Jivamukti the enticing smells of the day’s specials simmering in the café almost distracted me from the mission. But I knew a greater treat was in store for me at the end of the long hall, in the Goddess studio, where Dechen Thurman was about to offer us a generous helping of asana topped with a formidable serving of yoga philosophy.
Dechen taught an expertly sequenced and challenging class, all the while sharing in-depth discourse on the nature of reality according to yoga. It is unusual to feel immersed in the Upanishads and simultaneously be practicing asana, yet Dechen managed to achieve this result for me.
Jivamukti founder Sharon Gannon writes in her notes on ‘Intention,’ which was the focus of the month for February, about how few Westerners practice yoga with the intention whereby it was created: to bring us lost humans to spiritual enlightenment. Dechen’s class is truly the antidote to this state of affairs. From start to finish, he immersed us in the deeper teachings of yoga and kept us focused on the aspects of the practice beyond the poses.
“We need intention to vitalize our lives, to get us out of our selfish existence and give us meaning,” he said.
I set the intention to stay connected with my higher self rather than obsessing over minutiae like how tight my yoga clothes had gotten since last time I wore them. Firing us up to achieve our intentions, he led us through three rounds of Kapalabhati, one to clear the clutter of today’s unneeded baggage, one for the past week, and one for the past two years. Sweet relief!
We chanted “Om hram hrim,” a mantra to awaken the solar plexus and help us bridge the gap between ‘self’ and Self.
As we moved through the typical Jivamukti progression of Sun Salutations and standing poses, Dechen drew us into the world of Hindu mythology where the devas (representing our higher nature) and the asuras (representing our selfish needs and desires) are perpetually at war. “The solar plexus is the interface between our self-preservational needs and our service to the world,” he told us. A series of seated twists helped us wring the toxins from this chakra to bring balance and clarity.
“When we’re confident we tend to shorten our exhale, and when we’re challenged we shorten our inhale. We can keep our intention focused on the breath to balance the inhale and the exhale and keep us even emotionally,” he said. He reminded of this during difficult poses like Headstand and also during restful poses like Paschimottanasana.
“Top off the breath – as if you’re at a gas station filling a tank and you know it can take a little more even though the gauge may appear full,” he said.
Toward the end of class Dechen asked us to reflect back on our intention. “Did you keep sight of it? If not, when did you lose it? Maybe it changed during the class.” I realized my neurotic mind had taken hold of me at times, and renewed my commitment to stay with the breath and let go of judgment.
As we reclined in fish after a long shoulderstand Dechen caught my attention saying, “This practice helps us prepare for our death. When we take on the animal shapes of the poses it allows us to connect energetically to our past and our future, where we may exist in different incarnations. Maybe when we come to it, death will be less painful than an asana class.” Laughing at this thought, I stretched out in Savasana.
As I lay contemplating past and future lives, John Mellencamp’s “Authority Song" reverberated in the silence of the room. In a brilliant close to the class, Dechen led us in chanting the chorus, “I fight authority, authority always wins” in Sanskrit cadence. This unusual mantra hooked me right back into my intention: I visualized my higher self as the ‘authority’ and made a renewed vow to let her lead.
-Lauren Tepper for Yoga Sleuth
Single class $20; discounted class cards available.