Dean Mahan has the calm, self-assured demeanor one would expect of someone who’s been practicing yoga for ten years and meditating for more than 20.
In the serene, window-lined main space of his new yoga studio on West 7th Street – Yoga Vida’s second location in Austin – the stressful moments of the day seem to vanish. Mahan’s Yoga Vida has been drawing Austinites into the practice of yoga in the hills of Westlake since it opened in 1999.
Mahan, a resident of Austin for the past 26 years, took a circuitous route to becoming an entrepreneur and yoga devotee. Years ago, he was driving up I-35 with his first partner not long after relocating to Austin from Gainsville, Fla., when his partner asked if he’d found them a house. Mahan pointed to a shiny metal roof he’d spotted off the interstate.
Unbeknownst to him at the time, there was in fact a “For Rent” sign on the house. “Just because I saw a little flash of light on a roof, my whole life changed,” he says. “I got a home, a business.” After opening a travel agency with his partner and then seeing the world – Mahan’s been to Kenya, Sydney, London, Paris and Tokyo, to name a few spots – he later bought, renovated and sold the house next to theirs, using the profit from the sale and the travel agency to purchase Yoga Vida.
Mahan’s original career path was medicine. He earned his master’s degree in education after receiving his bachelor’s degree in physiological psychology from the University of Florida. He also briefly taught children in third grade. The woman who originally owned Yoga Vida saw that Mahan could work with students and teach them. She asked if he could teach them in silence – and he obliged.
Mahan is grateful for the position he’s in. Through his practice, he’s helped students overcome not only physical challenges but also emotional pain.
“I’m a doctor to them and I’ll tell them, let’s find out what that’s about,” Mahan says. “They’re telling me, ‘Dean, it’s awesome. You teach this connection to the present and it keeps us from really dark pasts.’”
Mahan has taught mothers who lost their sons high, as well as women who have been raped and are dealing with body self-image issues as a result. “I get the gift of hearing what their past was. I’m also gifted by helping them see how divine and how wonderful this present moment is.”
Friday nights were when he taught at the Westlake studio and classes were initially offered for free that night. Now, the studio is so popular that they’re turning people away ten minutes before classes begin.
“People are so energized and excited about this opportunity,” Mahan says. “I hope the mission here is that we hold a space for good and light in this town, so people can practice doing good.”
Yoga Vida, one of the first heated yoga studios in the city, is also a Baptiste Power Yoga Institute affiliate studio – meaning that many of its teachers have studied with, or learned from, world-renowned yogi Baron Baptiste, whose disciples include people like Madonna. Mahan and 14 other teachers offer classes seven days per week for a variety of skill levels. Mahan, who lives a few blocks from the new studio in the Monarch, sees his practice as being part of something much larger – and he wants to have the studio be a space for local artists to share their work.
“It’s not just about yoga,” he says. “If you say something nice to someone you don’t know, everyday, or practice saying ‘I’m grateful’ everyday, it’s transformative.”
Mahan was on his 1,177th consecutive day of practicing yoga when we talked – a journey that began on Jan. 2, 2006. “I had too much champagne in me to start on the 1st,” he says with a smile.
“I feel very connected with my practice,” he says. In Sanskrit, “Gu” is darkness and “Ru” is light or radiance- thus a guru is someone who facilitates a shift in thinking or consciousness, moving from darkness to light. Mahan, the consummate teacher, believes strongly in the power of yoga to radically alter one’s life and one’s perceptions.
“Most people have built walls around themselves; so I can help break them down,” he says. “Anything to help people find empowerment within their own hearts is beautiful.”